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The Prime Minister: I can answer briefly on this. We are agreed on the basic position on the treaty and on the measures needed to secure further improvements in it. It is absolutely right that we engage in this debate in a way that allows people to debate the actual details of the treaty. I am sure that that is right. Obviously, the exact nature of any campaign can be decided later, and of course the position is a Government position. It is the Government's view that this treaty should be carried through, and I would expect that to be a Government position.
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale) (Lab): I welcome the Prime Minister's statement, particularly his announcement that full and proper parliamentary scrutiny will be applied to the Bill before any referendum. Perhaps history has been made today, because never in my 17 years in the Houseand I cannot remember any previous occasion eitherhas the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition come to the Dispatch Box and argued against parliamentary scrutiny. It is a moment of history of which everyone should take notice.
In any publicity when we have the referendum debate, whether in White Papers or reports, may I suggest that we make an annexe of the situation before and afterthe treaty as it is, and the treaty as it will be in futureso that we can have a proper debate? When Conservative Members criticise the changes in the draft treaty, they have a terrible habit of putting the blame as far back as the treaty of Rome.
The Prime Minister:
What my hon. Friend says on these issues is absolutely right, particularly as he is Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee. On issues of detail, given that the constitutional treaty is a 300-page document, it is surely right and better that the public have their say after an informed debate in the House in which we can thrash out some of these issues. I am happy to go back to some of the questions raised earlier, particularly about what the consequences would be if, say, we rejected in entirety the principle of the
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treaty. We can debate those issues here, and the country will then make its decision on an informed and better view.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Was not the Prime Minister's announcement today entirely consistent with the rest of his European policy, which is to give categorical and repeated assurances one way, followed by an ignominious retreat while pretending that everything is the same and that everybody has changed except him? Why does he continue to misquote and misrepresent deliberately my arguments in a pamphlet that I wrote last year? Is this to be the way he conducts the referendum when it is held? Will he give a straight answer to a straight question? If another member statea small countryholds a vote and rejects a constitution before we hold a referendum, will he, assuming he is still the Prime Minister, go ahead with his promised referendum, or will he use that as an excuse to cancel the British national referendum, even though that other country may subsequently be bullied into changing its mind?
The Prime Minister: No, of course not. The referendum should go ahead in any event. [Hon. Members: "Ah."] Of course it should. May I deal with the issue that I constantly misrepresent the right hon. Gentleman about associate membership? I assume that I have an accurate quote. This is what he wrote in his pamphlet on this issue:
"In practice, if a country voted no to the Constitution, the matter would eventually have to be resolved politically. The state concerned would probably allow the others to go ahead, having negotiated an associate membership of some kind".
The Prime Minister: This is where the Conservative party is very tricky. It says, "We are not actually advocating it." Let me explain why that is the consequence of its position. If its position is not simply to oppose one aspect of the constitutional treaty but the whole treaty, the political realityas it has made it clear that it will be running for a no vote in the referendum campaignis that no matter what emerges from the negotiation, it will say no. Therefore, it would not go back to the European Council and say, "We think this or that should be changed." It would be coming back and saying, "The whole thing should be scrapped." I will tell Conservative Members, here and now, that the political reality, which is why the right hon. Gentleman wrote what he wrote, is that the rest of Europe would say, "I'm sorry, we are determined to have a constitutional treaty. You move to a different form of relationship with the European Union." That is why he wrote:
"The state concerned would probably allow the others to go ahead, having negotiated an associate membership of some kind".
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab):
May I thank the Prime Minister on behalf of the majority of Labour voters, who have longed to hear him make the statement that he has made today? I congratulate him on resisting
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those pressures from colleagues who argued that at all costs he should not concede a referendum on the constitution of Europe. May I also ask him now to resist those same people who will be asking him to knock this issue into the long grass until after the next election? Does he appreciate that Labour voters will see all the difference between a promise that can be delivered before the next election and one that may be delivered after the next election? If the Opposition are genuine about letting the people decide, he may get his Bills on the constitution and the referendum through in such quick time that it would allow him to call the referendum before we vote in the general election.
The Prime Minister: I thank my right hon. Friend for his welcome for the statement. Even though we may be on different sides in relation to some aspects of the constitution, I am sure that he will conduct the debate in a sensible and reasoned way. The issue related to timing arises in this way: should the parliamentary debate come first or not? I happen to believe that this is a case par excellence of when it should come first, so that both Houses of Parliament debate it fully and properly, and the people then have the final say. That is the issue on timing, rather than other issues that must be decided at a different time.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Will the Prime Minister explain what is the difference between now and a few weeks ago when he was opposing a referendum? When did the change come? If this is a genuine conversion to the referendum, I applaud it. I would like to act as Ananias to him and say, "Welcome, Brother Tony, to the referendum supporters," as I believe that this nation should have a say. If it is an expedient U-turn, however, we find ourselves in great difficulty, in the country and the House. He owes the people of this country a solid explanation.
The Prime Minister: The position that I hold on the constitutional treaty is the same in terms of the details of that treaty. I believe the treaty to be right for Europe and right for Britain. I believe that the constitutional treaty is necessary if we are going to make the historic enlargement of the European Union work. I also believe that it does not alter fundamentally the nature of the relationship between the European Union and the member states. I would not agree to a treaty that put us on a path to a federal superstate. I will only agree to one that maintains the rights of sovereign independent states. I must accept that it is not merely that many people in this country want this matter decided finally in a referendum, but that, frankly, it is time to dispel the myths about Europe. The reason why I think people should have their say is not that I agree with the hon. GentlemanI do notbut that the question of myth versus reality on Europe should finally be laid to rest.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab):
I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and urge him to ignore the laughter from the Opposition parties for the time being. Once they have to explain their policies, the laughter will disappear quickly. I urge him to have a referendum on the constitution only and not to take this
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opportunity also to have a referendum on the UK's remaining opt-outs. Will he confine the referendum to that subject?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right; the referendum should be on the constitutional treaty. That is what we should do, and once we have cleared away all the arguments about process, we can have a proper argument about the substance.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): What is it about a referendum on a constitutional treaty that creates such chaos? The Liberal Democrats have called for one and are now gobsmacked that they have been offered it. Traditionally, my party has been against referendums but has suddenly decided that this one is a good thing. The Prime Minister has done a handstand so that the sun can shine out of part of his anatomy. A constitutional treaty is a complex document that needs to be debated and analysed by this House, and that should be the guidance to the public. Why has the Prime Minister suddenly changed his mind on such a fundamental principle of Westminster democracy?
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