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Mr. Cash: Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we simply put into our criminal justice Bill the words "notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972" and followed that with what we wanted, we would be able to achieve our objectives?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: With his ingenious Bill, which I have signed, my hon. Friend would go a long way towards establishing a bulwark against the new constitution. I wish him well with that, but it forms no part of the Government's case in the forthcoming negotiation. The irony is that the entire exercise was supposed to be not about writing a new constitution—that is alluded to only at the end of the instructions given to the convention—but about bringing democracy to Europe. That means bringing Europe closer to its citizens. That was the instruction given to us. How does it bring Europe closer to the citizen to take more decisions away from member states, away from the people and upwards to the most remote tier of Government of all in Europe? That is why this is in essence a democratic issue.

In my view, this is not only wrong, it is dangerous. It breeds alienation and despair, and ultimately extremism, if decisions that should be taken here about the coercive power of the state, about imprisoning people, about our foreign policy and about the conduct of our economic and employment policies, are taken away from the Chamber, which is answerable to an identified electorate, and given to a Union that is beyond any sort of democratic control.

There is only one solution and that is to ask the people. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) that that is not merely an option, it is essential. The Government have no mandate for this European constitution. I have a copy of the relevant part of the Labour party's manifesto on which it stood at the last election. There is nothing whatever in it about a European constitution. That differs from the Maastricht treaty,

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which featured prominently in the Conservative manifesto of 1992. In any event, we shall have a referendum about Maastricht when and if the Government make up their mind about the big issue of Maastricht, which is the European currency, the euro. As I have said, there is nothing in the manifesto, on which the Labour party won the last election, about a new European constitution. That is why we need to ask the people.

If the Government are right, and conceivably they could persuade the people that this is only a modest consolidating measure of no great consequence compared with weighty issues—such as whether Hartlepool should have a mayor, or whether Sedgefield, I think that that is the next one, will decide whether it will have a mayor—let them have the confidence to advance that argument and win that argument. That is, if they really can persuade the people that this European constitution is of no great importance. I will put my case, and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends, to the arbitration of the British people.

Let us remind ourselves that the opening words of this constitution are about reflecting the will of the citizens and states of Europe. How do the Government know that it reflects the will of the citizens of Europe without asking them? It would be an outrage if the Government were to bounce this issue through a supine House of Commons in which they have a temporary majority and take us into a binding written constitution for the first time in our history without asking the people for their consent. That is why federalists and those who want an integrated Europe joined forces with us in a common endeavour to ask the people, to trust the people, and to get a vote on the issue this year.

6.13 pm

Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough): I am grateful for the opportunity to follow the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). I listened with great care to what he said. He confused a series of concepts. The idea of having a referendum for a mayor is a local issue and entirely separate from a national issue as to whether there should be a referendum on joining a European constitution. In the United States they have many referendums on, for example, whether people want a supermarket. That is not the same as a national referendum on a national issue, which would lie within the heart of this Parliament.

One of the earliest stories that I learned many years ago was that a senior figure, Lloyd George, brought in a younger man called Harold Macmillan. Harold Macmillan asked him what was the essence of a good speech. Lloyd George said that it was to choose one's themes and to stay with them. I will do that in the time that is available to me.

My first theme is that of ever-closer union. The right hon. Member for Wells referred to the people, the citizens of the European Union. The citizens of the European Union benefit from free trade and the single market because the Single European Act was signed in

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1986 under Lady Thatcher's leadership. They benefit from the sense of security, because the continent was ravaged by wars for 1,000 years.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): That is because of NATO.

Sir Stuart Bell: I will come to NATO in a moment, and it is part of my theme—I am always grateful for sedentary interventions by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth).

We will discuss the global war on terrorism, but EU citizens have those two major benefits, which bring the citizens of Europe closer to the concept of the European Union. The concept of the ever-closer union was adopted by Sir Edward Heath way back in 1972, when we signed up to it for the first time. We moved closer when we signed the Single European Act; we moved closer still when we signed the Maastricht treaty; and we will go closer again when the European Union moves eastwards and grows to 25 states—as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, it may grow to 27 states. That is the ever-closer union that we are debating tonight.

In this debate, I have been struck by how the House of Commons has suddenly become a Chamber for barristers. Perhaps that is because the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) are barristers.

Mr. Forth: What are you?

Sir Stuart Bell: I shall make my confession in a moment. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) is a QC, and I must humbly admit that I, too, am a barrister. However, I will not dwell on the legality of the debate. We have examined clauses, interstices in Lords reports, article 12 and article 13A—I almost stood up and asked what article 15 says in the hope that someone would give me an answer. The debate is not about the pernickety points of the various articles in such a huge constitutional document; it is about the principle of ever-closer union and whether it should be put to the test of a referendum.

When I listened to the right hon. Member for Wells I was struck by the reversal of Conservative policy. Over the past century, Conservative party policy was to win an election, govern the country and, after four to five years, to return to the country, render an account and seek a further mandate. What has happened to that principle? The only time that principle slipped was on the Maastricht treaty, when, in order to keep the Tory party together, the Prime Minister at the time offered a referendum on the single currency. The only time that a Conservative Government have ever offered a referendum was on joining the single currency, and the only reason for that was to keep the Conservative party together.

I shall make another confession, since I have made one already: in opposition, I would never have agreed to a Labour Government having a referendum on a single currency. I take the single currency not as a constitutional matter, not as a matter of profound

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significance to our country, but simply as completing the architecture of the single market, which Lady Thatcher introduced in 1986.

Mr. Hendrick: Does my hon. Friend agree that we are watching an Opposition tactic? Because they cannot win votes in the House, they are trying to persuade the wider public, with the help of certain friends in the media, in order to obtain a no result. Hon. Members such as the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) want not only a no vote from the country in a referendum on this issue, but to unravel the Amsterdam treaty, the Nice treaty, the Maastricht treaty and earlier treaties, which were agreed by previous Conservative Governments.

Sir Stuart Bell: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We are seeing opposition for the sake of opposition. Everybody who watched the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes could see the great difficulty in which he found himself, which happened because he does not believe in the argument.

On opposition for opposition's sake, I sympathise with the Opposition because day in, day out we sat through the debates on the Maastricht treaty. I remember coming into this Chamber in daylight and going out next morning in daylight, never having seen the evening.

Andrew Selous: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that political power is given to this House by the British people at the time of a general election and that that power is not ours to give away to any other body without the express consent of our electorate?

Sir Stuart Bell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing me to my third theme—leadership. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is in his place, because with his French background he, too, will remember Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin. He is nodding, of course, because he has read his history books. In 1848, that gentleman was the leader of a faction that stormed the National Assembly. Afterwards, he was found at the very back of the crowd, and someone said, "What are you doing? You're their leader." He replied, "Yes, I am their leader. That's why I'm here at the back—I'm following them." We saw from the leadership of the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes that he was following the crowd behind him. That is in the interests of neither the Conservative party nor the country.

My fourth theme is NATO, which the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst mentioned from a sedentary position. A significant event took place yesterday, when seven new nations from the east joined NATO and added to the sense of security to which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary referred. NATO is responsible for our territorial defence; it is equally responsible for those other countries and for the European Union as a whole.

So, as Europe moves into this new century, we have the security of NATO, ever-closer union, the free market, and stability and prosperity the likes of which have never been seen before. We have to decide whether we will do our constitutional duty by debating this ever-

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closer union in this Chamber, taking into account the views of our new-found barrack-room lawyer friends on both sides of the House.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) is still in his place, because he and I have debated many issues. Sometimes we are on the same side of the fence, as on first past the post as opposed to proportional representation, but we found ourselves on different sides on the single currency. I should like to refute a comment that he made earlier. Those who support the single currency have not lost any battle. We regret the fact that a referendum did not take place early in 1997, but it will take place eventually when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has set down the most rigorous conditions for entry and has twice said that we have not met them, agrees that that has happened. The battle is not lost: my hon. Friend and I will meet again on this economic battlefield.

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