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Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): In the spirit of Christmas, I welcome the Foreign Secretary back to the Floor of the House. We genuinely missed him during the foreign affairs debate on the Queen's Speech. We fully understood why he could not be here, but I can only say that his absence was a disaster. The Secretary of State for Defence was reading from a brief that he clearly had not mastered and the Minister of State, winding up the debate, obviously believed that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery.
Today we have been treated to our biannual dose of what I call the European Strawfestthat somewhat indigestible mixture of cautious Europeanism, garbled and deliberately obtuse detail and, of course, the inevitable anti-Tory rant. At least the Foreign Secretary mentioned Europe, but what a different Europe from the one that we discussed in similar debates two years ago. In those debates, all the Government's dogs were barking. Now they are much more muted: it is almost as if the Foreign Secretary has lost his enthusiasm for the great European project. Today, the only dog that really barked was that pathetic mangy old mongrel that seeks to base the terms of the debate on a false choice between signing up to the constitution and getting out. We have heard that over and over again. The Foreign Secretary knows it is false, yet he continues to employ it. I have always found that particular dog a somewhat welcoming mutt, as it nearly always signals that the Foreign Secretary has nothing positive to say about Europe. In the words of the former No. 10 adviser Derek Scott
"the Government never saw the discussions on the constitution as an opportunity to stand back and think clearly about the appropriate political and economic framework to sustain the EU. There was no strategic thinking."
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) may say "Not again", but I think that Derek Scott, given his experience of
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Downing street and what went on there, is a man to whom we should listen. If I may quote the Home Secretary's famous phrase, the Foreign Secretary has once again presided over "a giant mess"and today, as he prepares to attend this weekend's Euro summit, he is once again in a mess.
Let us leave aside the detail of the constitution for the moment. What has happened to it in practice? This time last year, it was so central to the Government's European policy that it could not even be put to a referendum of the British people. Last year, the Prime Minister described it as
That was a welcome U-turn, but where is the constitution now? Where is the road show that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz)who is barracking from the Back Benchespromised us three years ago? I can only assume that it is an invisible road show.
The ratification Bill is the only piece of Foreign Office legislation in the Queen's Speech. What has happened to it? During a little publicised meeting of the parliamentary Labour party on 29 November, the Foreign Secretary apparently told his colleagues that he hoped they would
Where is this refreshing Bill? There will be no sign of it before Christmas. The Government Chief Whip is briefing that it will not be passed before the next general election. There are suggestions that it will not even be introduced before then. Who is right, the Foreign Secretary or the Chief Whipor is this just another Straw mess?
The text for which we were told we would have to wait is now with us. The Foreign Secretary said that he wanted a document that he could put in his pocket. This is it. What are the Government frightened of? Could it be the fear that, before the election a full debate, far from being refreshing, would awaken the British people to the extent of the betrayal and sell-out of Britain that the constitution engenders? If the Government had the courage of their convictions, they would introduce that legislation now.
Perhaps the constitution is becoming like the euro, which seven years ago was so important and central to our role in Europe that the Government lambasted my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) for seeking to rule it out not just for the last Parliament, but for this one. That period, mocked by the Government, is now almost complete, and there is still no referendum. Once again, it was all wordsbut now the words are changing. The other day, the Minister for Europe helpfully described the single currency as "economically irrelevant" and the Chancellor's five tests as
A moment ago, I unfairly accused the Government of producing an invisible road show. I was unfair to the Minister for Europe, who has conducted a road show in at least one roadsomewhere in the vicinity of Durham university. The transcript reveals just what a road show that was. It makes great reading. Listen to this:
Angus Robertson: Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman share my surprise that the Minister for Europe favours scrapping the common agricultural policy, but not the common fisheries policy? He is happy to see the CFP entrenched in the European constitution at a time when Socialist International colleaguesfrom Portugalare saying that it should not be in the constitution as an exclusive competence.
It is unusual for me to say this to a member of the Scottish National party, but that is a very interesting question, and I hope that the Minister for Europe will answer it when he winds up the debate. In
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fairness to him, however, I should point out that he described his decision to get rid of the CAP as a start. We do not know what other policies are being changed.
The Minister went on to talk about the treaty establishing the European constitution. He described it as "not the last word". That has been our warning for some time, but until now we have not heard it from the Government.
Next, I have an extraordinary quotation that I have been reading and rereading. I can only deliver it to the House verbatim and leave it hanging there. Perhaps the Minister will then explain what he meant. He said:
"I phoned up the King of Spain and said 'Buenos dias, your Majesty, I understand that a gentleman from Brussels is going to come round and measure up curtains in the Royal Palace'and he put the phone down because he doesn't talk to lunatics".
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