|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con): The Foreign Secretary spoke at length about the balance of the relationship between member states and Brussels. He never once chose to mention the relationship between the governed and the governingthe citizen and the state. Does my hon. Friend share my deep concern about that?
Let me say this to the Minister. As we have seen in other countries, influence in the EU arises because member states pursue and protect their national interests vigorously and with determination. This constitution could have been strangled at birth if the British Government had insisted.
The devil is in the detail. We know from the ambiguity that surrounds the text that the unwelcome EU jurisprudence will spread in our national life. We need only read the House of Lords European Union Committee report on the future role of the European Court of Justice to see that. It envisages a considerable extension of the powers of the European Court of Justice, which will become the new constitutional court and the new supreme court for the Union. It is the self-same European Court that has repeatedly forced forward an integrationist agenda.
Mr. Spring: Exactly, a shared competence is one that has evolved from the European Union. It was notable in an earlier debate that the Foreign Secretary did not even know the definition of a shared competence. It is typical of Ministers to diminish themselves in the eyes of their European counterparts by interpreting EU decisions here in a way that would be laughed out of court everywhere else.
The truth of the matter is that six EU countries will be having referendums and quite possibly the Czech Republic and Poland, too. Others may follow. I challenge the Government to let us have a proper, open and transparent debate and to let the nation hear us argue our corners. The way to achieve that is through a referendum campaign. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson), who said
Some will be in favour of the constitutional package before us, and I respect their democratic right of opinion, but we take a different view. What unites so many across the party political divide is a clear recognition that this is of constitutional significance. If the good burghers of Hartlepool are allowed a referendum, so should be the voters of the United Kingdom. In that regard, it might be of interest to hear what the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) said in a speech in Berlin in March 1998:
The Government have sponsored dozens of referendums to legitimise change since 1997, but when we are confronted with the first written constitution in our history, suddenly every excuse is offered. Interestingly enough, Nigel Smith, who successfully led the yes campaign for Scottish devolution, recently described the same issue as follows:
For those of us who believe in referendums, the draft Constitutionwhenever it comespresents a classic case for initiating a national debate, followed by a binding vote for the people, all the people."
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): We have had an enjoyable debate, even if some of it has consisted of a re-run of speeches that we have heard for some time. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) said that Ministers should make the case for Europe. I try to do my modest bestprobably not with sufficient successbut I wish that he, too, would occasionally make the case for Europe, instead of constantly making the Daily Mail case for a referendum. Yet againI address my remarks specifically to himwe have had an essay on form, not substance. I want to talk about the important issues that Europe faces, and the important need to secure a constitutional treaty that brings together the elements of the existing constitution.
In my view, that constitution gives excessive power to the President of the Commission. The proposed draft will counterbalance that power with a new authority for the nation states of Europe, which are united through their Council of Ministers and their new standing chairman. My one small contribution to British diplomatic parlance was to persuade my Foreign Office colleagues to start describing that gentleman as the "standing chair" of the Council. In some other European languages, the word is the same as "President"; however, that term clarifies the situation.
Mr. Redwood: I am grateful to the Minister. We have had no referendum on the euro because the Government know that they would lose, and we have not been offered a referendum on the constitution because they know they would be slaughtered. Trade unionists and Labour voters, as well as Conservatives, would love to vote this disgraceful treaty down.
Mr. MacShane: As a rugby union fan, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that we would win. I shall come to the important question of why the gravediggers of parliamentary democracy, many of whom we have heard from today, should not get their way.
Mr. MacShane: I am not quite sure where he stands on other issues. He invited me to park the question of the constitution, but as a Minister it is not my job to park anything. I want to see a functioning and effective Europe.