Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Yesterday the Foreign Secretary told the European Scrutiny Committee that he did not see any need for the Bill to be
9 Feb 2005 : Column 1532
repealed should there be a no vote in a referendum. That being the case, would the Bill remain on the statute book to be used for a second referendum on the treaty?

Mr. Straw: The Bill cannot be used for a second referendum. There would be no point in repealing it in such circumstances, because its purpose would have come to an end. I understand the question, but because he asked it—

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): I asked it.

Mr. Straw: The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) asked me that question. I have double-checked the matter, and I refer the House to clause 10 (4) and (5). Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill can come into force, and an order be made, only if there is a yes vote. There cannot be a second yes vote; that is absolutely clear.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): Does the Foreign Secretary accept that some Labour Members who will vote for the Bill welcome the referendum, although they will argue against the Government's case during it, but do not accept, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) has argued, that it will be a defining moment for the country if it is lost, although it will clearly be a defining moment for the Government?

Mr. Straw: I am glad that my right hon. Friend is being consistent in his position, and I hope that his advice will be accepted as wiser counsel on the Opposition Benches. I look forward to a continuing discussion with him and one or two other hon. and right hon. Friends about the merits of the Bill. What we know of the public mood is that the more they see the good parts of the treaty, the more likely they are to support it.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): There are those of us who support the treaty but think that the decision to hold a referendum was one of the weakest U-turns that the Government have performed on any issue in their history. Were I to vote for the Bill tonight, would the Foreign Secretary take it that I had been inconsistent in voting for the referendum? Would he advise me to vote against it, so that at least the dignity of Parliament and its right to determine the issue might be restored?

Mr. Straw: The right hon. and learned Gentleman has taken a consistent position on the matter—he is against a referendum—and I respect him for that. Those on the Conservative Front Bench, however, are in a completely absurd position; he knows it, and so do they.

The Bill presents a choice on whether to approve the new constitutional treaty. It is important to be clear about the nature of that choice. If Parliament and the British people approve the treaty, we will fix the framework for our sort of Europe, with the reforms that I have described, but if we reject it, we are in unknown territory, and I suggest that we will be weak and isolated in Europe. We would have no option but to go cap in hand to Brussels to ask our partners to start all over again, reopening negotiations in which we had secured such a good result. If we got any deal at all, it would be a worse and not a better one, negotiated from a position of weakness, not of strength. The long-term effect would
9 Feb 2005 : Column 1533
be Britain falling into a semi-detached position in Europe while others went ahead without us. We would be left without influence, out on the margins and with no say in Europe's future direction.

The choice is genuinely this: strength for Britain or isolation and weakness. We shall either endorse the reforms that we have secured, guaranteeing a strong Britain in our kind of Europe, or reject the treaty and step into the unknown, with all Britain's power and prosperity and all we have achieved in recent years at risk. Yet the official Opposition explicitly want to provoke just such a crisis in our relations with Europe. Indeed, just as many other nations are queuing up to join the EU, many in the Conservative party are doing their level best to reject it.

Mr. Allen: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: I apologise to my hon. Friend, but I am coming to the end of my remarks.

Let us be clear. The Conservatives say that they want not only a rejection of this new treaty, but a renegotiation of the texts of the existing treaties as well. At best, that is pure fantasy, and most will see it as deceit. Such an approach—to use the process as a Trojan horse to deliver renegotiation of existing treaties—is literally undeliverable. It would require the agreement of every other of the EU's 24 member states. Yet the Leader of the Opposition cannot point to one other member state that supports the Conservative party's position.

The Conservatives' kind of Europe is what Lord Willoughby de Broke, a former Conservative peer, described thus in a speech last June:

That is, it is very nice to have, but it is simply "not on the menu". That is the truth of the matter. If the Conservative party's policy on Europe reflects nothing else, it reflects a deeply felt pessimism about its own future and the future of this country. The Conservatives say that their policy is about sovereignty, and that that is the purpose of their reasoned amendment, but it is not so. Their policy could represent only an inexorable weakening of Britain's power and influence. The Conservative party mistake isolation for sovereignty. By definition, a castaway on a desert island is sovereign, but he has no power. By playing a strong role in the EU, Britain strengthens the power of this nation. The alternative, offered by the Conservative party, is exactly the isolation and weakness that would be so damaging to our power and prosperity.

If, as I believe we do, we in Britain want to enhance our power and influence in the world, to shape global markets in our interests and to protect the British people from global threats—if we want to do all or any of those things—we must build strong alliances, not cut ourselves off. We have to be inside our largest market, shaping our rules, not outside it. With great respect to them, we are not Norway or Switzerland; we are one of the largest economies in Europe and in the world. The idea that we could simply take instructions from
9 Feb 2005 : Column 1534
Brussels by fax, which is the alternative offered by associate status, is simple nonsense, but very dangerous nonsense.

Whether it is in getting proper elections in Ukraine, or in taking part in negotiations with Iran to suspend the processes that could produce fuel for a nuclear bomb, Britain is stronger when we work with others in Europe. We have to maintain that power and influence, not put it at risk.

There is a clear patriotic case for this constitutional treaty—for a strong Britain in a reforming Europe, for increasing our prosperity and our security, and for promoting our values and enhancing our power. As the debate continues in the House and in the country, I am confident that the patriotic argument for Britain in Europe will win against the narrow, pessimistic isolationism of the anti-Europeans. I say that because this is an argument about this country's future, about choosing to take our opportunities, to lead by engagement and to work with others to increase Britain's prosperity and Britain's power. I commend the Bill to the House.

2.21 pm

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

Despite the welcome provisions in the Bill for the holding of a referendum, our amendment shows clearly why we will decline to support this Second Reading today. The Bill seeks to do two very different things and deliberately ends up confusing them, and the Foreign Secretary's speech has in many ways tried to increase that confusion. First, it seeks to import into our own law the provisions of the constitution for Europe, and, secondly, it enables the referendum to be held. There should have been two separate Bills. As with devolution, it would have made sense for Parliament to know the public's mind before legislating to implement.

We were told in last week's White Paper that

on the constitution. What did the Foreign Secretary mean by informing public debate—surely not the propagandist speech to which he has just treated us?

It is clear from the Bill and its timetable, and—I have to say with a certain amount of respect as this is probably the shortest speech that the Foreign Secretary has made on Europe—the length of his speech itself, that far from informing the public debate, the Government are desperate to keep it as short and as propagandist as possible. They have started already.
9 Feb 2005 : Column 1535
Last week—he did it again today, and I am sure that he will do it over and over again—the right hon. Gentleman boasted that he had delivered a constitution that every other country in Europe is calling a great British success. Once again, he quoted one or two French sources, but he is obviously selective in his reading.

On the UMP website, President Chirac, the leader of France, says:

On the same website, Alain Lamassoure, one of France's constitution draftsmen, described the constitution—this is important in this context—as

Even Nicholas Sarkozy, the leader of the UMP, has said that

There appears to be a severe breakdown of communications between the Foreign Secretary and his French colleagues.

The truth is, as Mr. Sarkozy suggests, that this constitution is bad for Britain and for all those who seek to retain and develop a Europe that is a true partnership of sovereign nations. That is why this reasoned amendment seeks to distinguish between the welcome prospect of a binding referendum, which we have long sought, and the rest of the Bill, which sets out to impose upon the United Kingdom a European constitution, which leads us through that gateway towards a country called Europe where we do not want to go.

Next Section IndexHome Page