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Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): It is important that we have a referendum on the single currency. I wish that we had already done so, because the people would have had their say, almost certainly to vote no overwhelmingly. The hon. Gentleman says that this constitutional issue should be debated in this Chamber. That is true, but why not debate it in the country as well? Why does he not trust the people to debate the very serious issue of how we are to be governed in future and let them have a say in a referendum?

Sir Stuart Bell: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I respond by saying that the day must come when the bridge between civil society and political society is cleared of the distortions of the media; then we can have a proper, genuine debate on a whole host of issues. We know full well that those debates cannot be held on equal or neutral terrain.

Let me make another point to those who claim that a referendum is in the interest of this country. In 1969, when General de Gaulle held a referendum on regional assemblies and reform of the Senate, it was converted into a debate about whether people wanted him to stay in power. It is therefore not sensible to hold a mid-term referendum on such an important issue. I make a distinction between local referendums, which the right hon. Member for Wells mentioned, and a national matter, which falls back to the Chamber. We are elected; we have a mandate. The people—our constituents—expect us to do their work for them and make a decision in the interests of our country.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the House's conducting of a debate through the Standing Committee on the Convention on the Future of Europe is exemplary, and that a similar mechanism is needed to discuss the draft treaty and then the treaty?

Sir Stuart Bell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. The Foreign Secretary made it clear that the treaty is a constitutional treaty, which will be fully debated. The debate will be long and we may spend many a night rather than many a day here. However, the House is the place in which to hold the debate. We can

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have knowledge, information and a free flow of ideas, and ultimately the House will decide. At the next election, the country will follow that decision.

6.26 pm

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): Many Labour supporters, especially old Labour supporters, must be distressed to find that, when the glorious day in 1997 was repeated at the subsequent election, they elected a Bourbon Government. "L'état c'est moi"—what I say must go; I do not want to hear the views of others.

The struggle has been long. It was almost inconceivable in 1970 that we were on the threshold of constructing a new system of government that grants rights beyond the call of the British people. That is what we are considering—who is sovereign. The Labour party struggled to expand the vote because it knew that, through gaining seats and a majority here, it could establish what the law is and shall be. It could set wrongs right and look backwards and forwards. That glorious struggle formed part of our modern constitution. Today, we hear arguments that all that counts for nothing and that the House is sovereign.

I believe, however, that our modern constitution was declared at the turn of the last century by the new Labour party of the day. It declared that the people were sovereign and that the House was the means whereby that sovereignty was expressed. We send elected representatives here—they are here today and gone tomorrow. We may change them and by changing them, we change our law: the law that can send us to prison and the law that can make us free. Through that law and this institution, we protect and preserve our liberty. This place is about that essential trust.

Yet the Government say that they can redesign the constitution because they understand its essential vulnerability. It is not entrenched and no constitutional court secures it. That is why we have witnessed the mashing of the conventions that made our constitution work. The brave, new, Bourbon Labour Government say that they will sweep away the principle that no Parliament may bind its successor. In the past 30 years, the people of Britain have understood but a glimmer of that. The process of European integration and the new judicial and legal system have never received the direct attestation and consent of the people who sent us here. That is the heart of the matter. The sovereignty of Parliament is the sovereignty of the people. And when Labour Members are asked by their constituents, "Why don't you change the law to prevent the export of live horse meat to the continent?", the brave new Bourbon Labour Government say, "Oh no, it's not for us. We've given that power away." By what authority have they done so? By the transient authority of a temporary Government that in time will give way to another Government, which in time will give way to another Government.

The continuing constitutional necessity of this country is to ensure that the people are sovereign. The denial of the proposition that the people may make a judgment on any of the Acts that have removed power from their Government and the jurisdiction of their courts is wholly to be opposed. We will fight, and there

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are millions out there who are no longer prepared to tolerate the nonsense that goes on under the protestations of these Bourbons, who say, "It is a matter for us, but once we have cast our view, we want it to be immutable." Nothing in this world is immutable.

Mr. Hendrick: Is the hon. Gentleman making a case for no trans-national legislation whatever? If so, can he tell the House how pollution can be persuaded to stay within national borders, or, as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) put it, how fish can be persuaded on which side of a line in the sea to stay?

Mr. Shepherd: This Bourbon must return to his constituency and assure those poor, benighted people whom he represents why their views do not matter.

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) went to the heart of this debate with a question about the national health service, to which the Foreign Secretary replied that there would be a constitutional crisis. That is what we are reduced to—the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, having allegedly read the treaty, saying, "In the event that they do something that goes to the heart of what we stand for, we will have a constitutional crisis." It is not good enough.

Mr. Redwood: My hon. Friend is making a powerful and important speech. Does he agree that the Foreign Secretary's argument that because a few powers were given away under a previous treaty it is all right to give all the rest away under this constitution is a falsehood? Is that not analogous to my ordering a pint of beer, drinking a quarter of it, and the Foreign Secretary coming along, drinking the rest, and saying, "It serves you right, because you wanted the glass empty"? That is what this Government are doing to our pint of beer.

Mr. Shepherd: I am lifted by my right hon. Friend's contribution.

Let us consider the sophistry of the Bourbon Front Bench which purports to represent the national interest no less but will not allow anyone else to look over their shoulder to say, "We do not want this," or "We do want that." The concept that the Government set themselves—the test that was high—was that a Government in their maturity seek the consent of the people, not merely their acquiescence. This dire Government are satisfied at best with acquiescence and never go for consent.

The expression of consent on this measure, as has been pointed out by the Liberal Democrats, does much more for the body politic than this stonewalling. It would lend dignity to the Government if they would accept the proposition that these matters are profound, and that the constituents whom we temporarily represent cannot lose their inalienable right to determine who shall govern this country.

6.34 pm

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con): On 1 May, the whole House will celebrate the enlargement of the EU from 15 to 25 member states, a process ratified unanimously in this place. This enlargement process, however, could have been achieved by a simple

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accession treaty, which everybody in the House would have supported. Instead, this wonderful historic moment on 1 May will be overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the proposed constitution, with all its attendant baggage, which has nothing whatever to do with the enlargement, as the Prime Minister has in effect conceded.

The Laeken summit called for the simplification of EU treaties, for more openness and transparency, and for an attempt to reconnect the peoples of Europe with EU institutions. At the time, stirring speeches identifying the need to address the democratic deficit were made by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the then Minister for Europe. Yet—here I echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory)—no one in their wildest imaginings would believe that simplification, openness, transparency and reconnection characterised the constitutional package that is likely to be agreed in 12 weeks' time; quite the reverse.

This constitution was idiotically described by the former Europe Minister as a tidying-up exercise, and even more absurdly described as a constitution no more important than a golf club's, which would fit into a jacket pocket. Those were the words of the Foreign Secretary. In fact, the constitution is riven with contradiction and ambiguity—a veritable beanfeast for lawyers. In no way does it give the people of Europe any more control over EU institutions, or any enhanced level of accountability.

Tellingly, most of the constitution was opposed at different stages by the British Government, but then meekly accepted. Virtually nothing in the constitutional package bears the stamp of British influence; but what is most shameful is—once again—the truly terrible lack of leadership by Britain in the European Union. Britain has always been carried along in the slipstream of others, always—in this respect—wrongly and pathetically trying to secure influence by giving in on the constitution itself, the charter of fundamental rights, the single legal entity, the new Foreign Minister and the diplomatic service.

What is the result? Ten years ago, 72 per cent. of EU citizens saw their country's membership as a good thing. Today, less than half of them do. In Britain, only 29 per cent. do. The dangerous disillusionment grows, and by no stretch of the imagination will this constitution deal with it.

The key question is simply this: why do we need a constitution? It is a question that my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) and I have posed both in the House and to so many of our European partners, but we have never received a satisfactory answer. The constitution has nothing to do with enlargement, it does not increase accessibility, and its hundreds of pages are the reverse of simplicity.

The Foreign Secretary knows perfectly well that there is no real and universal enthusiasm for this constitution. The technical elements for enlargement were agreed at Nice. Everyone agrees that, in essence, that could be enough. Everyone knows that the gulf between the elites of Europe and the people is growing, and that turnouts will no doubt be down again in the European elections. So why do the Government not speak out against a

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constitution to which they were originally opposed? It is like the emperor's new clothes. If the Government could just once in our relationship with the EU—even at this stage—say no, others would be only too pleased to agree.

Why do the Government not do that? They lack the principled courage that would enable them to do it. That is entirely characteristic of a Government whose failure to show leadership ill serves the British people, and who have not managed to secure the return of a single power either to this Parliament or to the people of this country since they came to office.

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