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Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: No, I want to make some progress.

I said that there were four questions, but there is a fifth, which defies adequate explanation. It concerns the position of the Conservative party. As we know, it is now led by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), his support for Maastricht notwithstanding. He is leading the party towards an anti-European view, which underlines a profoundly defeatist view of Britain's position in the world. Beneath that lies a sense, based on the Conservatives' experience of the Major Government, that Britain lacks influence and will be unable to punch its weight in any international forum, including the European Union.

The leader of the Conservative party is now calling for a referendum on this treaty. He said before that there had to be a referendum on the Amsterdam treaty, because it was


I have looked at the Amsterdam treaty again, and I cannot see for the life of me what caused such a fuss. What is it about the treaty that the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes thinks will lead us towards an integrated federal superstate? He does not know, although he keeps quoting it. The leader of his party said that Amsterdam would lead the way towards an integrated federal superstate. Can he name just two or three items in that treaty that would lead the way towards an integrated federal superstate? He cannot name one.

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There is one thing in the Amsterdam treaty that the right hon. and learned Gentleman might have begun to support, if Conservative Members had even bothered to read it before coming out with this nonsense. The Leader of the Opposition talks of supporting a more flexible Europe, in which groups of countries can come together and do their own thing without necessarily having an impact on other countries. That was in the Amsterdam treaty. It is called flexible co-operation. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman welcome it or reject it? Every time a treaty has been produced since we came to power—though never before it—the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his leader have said that it will take us towards a superstate. Subsequently, however, it becomes apparent that we are nowhere near a superstate, which rather undermines the right hon. and learned Gentleman's judgment today.

I gather that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) is half back in favour with Conservative Front Benchers. He said of Nice that


Several years have passed since the Nice treaty came into force, and parliamentary Government seems to me to be alive and well in Britain. Indeed, the Conservative party is making use of it.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Straw: I shall give way in a few moments. Contrary to the myths peddled by Conservative Members, no superstate has appeared: Britain maintains its seat of the UN Security Council; NATO remains the cornerstone of European territorial defence; and Her Majesty the Queen remains our Head of State.

Mr. Shepherd: The Foreign Secretary's parliamentary sidestepping is one thing, but the truth is that the people who should be asked about the Amsterdam, Maastricht, Nice and other treaties are the British public, who have never been consulted. That is the crucial question that lies before the House today.

Mr. Straw: At least the hon. Gentleman is being consistent—[Interruption.] I know that he has consistently argued for a referendum, and may I say that my party is the only one ever to have provided a referendum on the EU, back in 1975? The hon. Gentleman can make his point, but the Conservative Front Benchers cannot. The issue now is not the aggregation of the treaties, but whether or not we have a referendum on this specific constitution if it becomes law.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Notwithstanding the sins of the Conservative party—signing up, among other things, to the common fisheries policy—is there not a wider issue concerning the disconnection of the wider public on European issues? Would not a referendum be a good way of closing and ending that disconnection? In that context, is the Foreign Secretary aware that there is a Bill before the Scottish Parliament to legislate for a consultative referendum on the constitution? Would it not be odd to have a vote north

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of the border—I would, of course, welcome that—but deny the voters of England, Wales and Northern Ireland their say on such an important matter?

Mr. Straw: I understand the hon. Gentleman's case, which has been made by several other Members who support the draft and our membership of the EU. In our current judgment, it is better to scrutinise it here.

Mr. Cash rose—

Mr. Straw: I shall give way one last time.

Mr. Cash: The Foreign Secretary has repeatedly stated that this is no more than an accumulation of treaties. Does he not accept that the final provisions of the proposed constitutional treaty state that all those treaties will be revoked, but reapplied without prejudice to the acquis communautaire, so they will fall within the legal framework of the new constitution, which is quite a different thing?

Mr. Straw: With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I have never said that it is just an accumulation of treaties. I said rather that it is a consolidation of existing treaties, which partly changes the decision-making process and partly provides for new powers. We need to examine it in each particular respect. I do not subscribe to the Conservative view that we should exaggerate the effect of the draft treaty, but equally I have never sought to minimise it. What we need is a straightforward debate. On any analysis, however, I do say that it involves less significant change than either the Maastricht treaty or the Single European Act. I believe that that is absolutely the case.

Even on the role of European Court of Justice in respect of common foreign and security policy, article III-282 states clearly:


they are the paving provisions for foreign, security and defence policy—


So everything that relates to common foreign and security policy, with some tiny exceptions, is excluded under that provision.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: No; I want to make progress and there are others who want to get in.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory rose—

Mr. Straw: All right—I shall give way one last time.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I am grateful, but it is pure sophistry on the part of the Foreign Secretary, who ought to know what is in the draft constitution, to deny that the European Court of Justice will have jurisdiction

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over the whole of article 15, which binds member states to giving active and unreserved support to the common foreign and security policy


If a state strays from that obligation, it will therefore be breaking the constitution, and that question will be decided not by this House but by the European Court of Justice. That is what the constitution clearly says, and no amount of talk about paving clauses or other articles can alter that fact.

Can we get back to some honesty and clarity in this debate, and stop the Foreign Secretary trying to pretend that the constitution contains elements which it does not, and that it lacks elements which it does in fact contain?

Mr. Straw: I should tell the right hon. Gentleman, as he calms down, that I understand the point he makes. I raised it during the intergovernmental conference, and with the legal experts who work for the Council, not the Commission. Their counter-argument is that there is no need to exclude the jurisdiction of the ECJ under article 15 because it has no jurisdiction under that article. Its jurisdiction only arises operationally, under chapter 2 of part 3, and after examining this issue in immense detail I am satisfied that that is so. If I can be convinced that we are wrong—by just slightly better lawyers than the right hon. Gentleman—we will reconsider the charge, but there is no issue of principle here. What we need is a mature debate. Rather than creating the myth that this provision will lead to the ECJ's telling the House whether or not we should be loyal to the European Union, or that we should take a different view in respect of Iraq—such things could never happen—we should apply ourselves to the text and recognise that much of the wording on the common security and defence policy was first included in the draft not by the Convention, but by those who drafted Maastricht.

Lady Hermon rose—

Mr. Straw: I am going to close. The myths about the constitution leading to a European superstate are now the stock in trade for today's Conservatives, who would put British jobs, British trade and British influence at risk by marginalising this country within Europe. This is the clear political divide on Europe: between a party of isolation and weakness, and a Government who are getting on with the job of reforming the structures of an enlarged Union, so that it can better deliver on the issues that matter to people. In the light of cross-border threats and of the chance to develop a market with which we do half our trade, the idea that Britain should withdraw into splendid isolation and detachment from the European Union is frankly absurd. We need to engage in Europe to make it more effective at dealing with common threats, and more effective at delivering the jobs and growth that people want.

We are negotiating a treaty that, if satisfactorily concluded, will help Europe better to deliver on these issues. The treaty sets out clearly the framework of an effective Europe of nation states. It acts only where its member states have conferred power upon it, and it is able to function more efficiently. Parliament has already been involved in this process to an unprecedented

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degree, and it will be for Parliament to decide whether the treaty becomes part of British law. I therefore urge the House to oppose the motion and to support the amendment.


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