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Mr. MacShane: Since it is 4.33 pm and anything that I say here will remain so secret that not even the Freedom of Information Act 2000 will get it into the public press, may I say that what frightens me, as a Labour politician, more than anything else is the prospect of the Conservative party becoming sensible again on Europe?
Mr. Curry: I am delighted that that prospect, which I regard as inevitable, terrifies the hon. Gentleman. This Government's sheer lack of guts on Europe, the sheer unwillingness of the Prime Minister to get out there and argue his case, and their absolute refusal to take on this challenge mean that, if the referendum is lost, the Prime Minister will have only himself to blame. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) suggested that the Prime Minister gave a speech on the European Union only about once a year, usually in Warsaw. It would be a bit more helpful if he spoke more frequently on the subject in the United Kingdom and argued his case more effectively.
An awful lot of idiotic claims are made about Europe, both for and against. The sword and shield of our post-war world have been provided by NATO, not the European Union, but the European Union has been its ploughshare. The rooting of democracy in Europe and the establishment of civil society in previously dictatorial and communist regimes represent a colossal achievement for Europe. That civil society would not exist had the aspiration to join the European Union not existed, and had not the rules been laid down to specify what criteria had to be met in order to do so.
We are now seeing that aspiration, that impulse to move towards the European Union, in Ukraine and Turkeytwo extraordinarily different countries. That should tell us how fundamental a part that institution has played in the organisation of the post-war world. The six have become 25, and the Balkan states are knocking on the door. Such countries increasingly see the European Union as the anvil of their modernisation. In Britain, however, we are still impaled on the ambivalence resulting from a resentment at what Brussels does to us and a fear of exclusion. The constitution will not solve that problem, but it will take us one step down the road to the solution.
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok) (Lab/Co-op):
I rise with some joy to make my speech as the first Labour Member to speak against the constitution. It is important to make it clear that the Government party is divided on this issue, just as the main Opposition party is. I am going for the treble here. It is important to recognise that the people who are most enthusiastic about the constitution are also those who wanted to give us the euro. We were successful in beating that
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proposition back. Indeed, I was disappointed that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) did not repeat the comments that he made only last week when we were on the radio together. He said that he wanted the referendum on the euro to be held on the same day as the referendum on the constitution. Bring it on, I say. At a time when 5 million people are unemployed in Germany, the more we can link those two together, the better it will be for my argument.
The second question on which I was glad to be able to persuade the Government was whether there should be a referendum at all. I am glad that my side won. Some of the arguments heard today against consulting the people smack of sheer snobbery. The implication seems to be that people are too stupid to understand the issues, which is presumably also a strong argument against having general elections. That might be the position of some Opposition Members, but it is certainly not my view.
I recognise, having listened to the speeches of some of my colleagues, that I am in a minority among Labour Members. All that I have on my side are the facts and the people, and I look forward to proceeding, with them, to a victory in the referendum. I recognise, however, that the results of some recent polls show that we should not be complacent. Those on my side of the argument have perhaps taken too much for granted. So, as far as I am concerned, there will be no more Mr. Nice Guy. We need to step up the argument against the constitution.
Mr. Hopkins: My hon. Friend talked about the elitism and snobbery of Governments throughout Europe who think that their peoples cannot make the right decision. Has not a lesson been learned in that regard in Sweden, where the elite and the establishment took one view, while the people took another and gave them a bloody nose?
Mr. Davidson: Indeed. Not only did the people of Sweden give their Government a bloody nose on the question of the euro, but their Government have now decided that they are not going to take the chance again. They are therefore going to refuse the people the right to a referendum on the European constitution. That will certainly spare them the possibility of a bloody nose, but it is not particularly democratic or illuminating. It shows us that so many of those who are in favour of the constitution are against consulting the people in a referendum.
I recognise that this Government have lumped two issues together here: the referendum, of which I am in favour; and the constitution, which I oppose. There is therefore a dilemma about which way to vote. In the circumstances, I shall vote for the referendum, because I shall have my opportunity to defeat the constitution in the referendum thus achieved. I will be able to ask all my colleagues in the Labour party and the labour movement who are opposed to the constitution to vote enthusiastically for the Government in the general election, especially in marginal seats, and then to poke them in the eye when it comes to the constitution. If anyone wants to send a message to the Government on a variety of issues, the time to do it is when we decide on the constitution.
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We heard earlier some talk about myths and the question of the monarchy was raised in that context. If anyone could provide me with more information on how the monarchy could be abolished under the new constitution, I would be very happy to receive it. Also in the context of myths, the question of the United Nations seat was mentioned. That is not simply a myth, because the relevant European Commissioner said within the last month that the Commission wants Britain to give up its UN seat in favour of an EU place on the Security Council, so there is substance to that accusation. We also need to be clear about the myths peddled by the yes side. The issue of withdrawal is not, in my view, on the table.
Mr. Quentin Davies : The hon. Gentleman seems to have misread the text. Many people want us to give up our Security Council seat, but that is no change and has probably always been the case. The constitution simply provides that, in the event of agreement on a common foreign policyunder the treaty, it must be unanimous, so we would be in favour of it by definitionthe European Foreign Minister would be allowed to borrow one of the permanent seats in the Security Council held by Britain and France in order to present the policy on behalf of the EU. If we are in favour of thatas I said, we should be by definition, as agreement has to be unanimoussurely we want that foreign policy to be expressed with the greatest possible force, so it makes sense to deliver it in that way on behalf of the European Union as a whole. That is what the treaty says and any claims that it goes beyond that are simply myths generated by the tabloids.
Mr. Davidson: It is very helpful to hear the yes side clearly support the idea that the EU should be able to borrow, when it so desires, Britain's UN seat. We would never be quite sure when we could get it back again, but giving it on a temporary basis is the thin end of the wedge and will end with us giving it up altogether. It is very helpful to have that view put on the record.
I return to the issue of the myths peddled by the yes side. Those who are against the constitutionon the Labour party side, at leastare not in favour of withdrawal. If we were in favour of withdrawal, we would say so. We are not in favour of it, so those on the yes side should stop peddling that suggestion. They should also stop peddling the suggestionmy right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) raised itthat there are 3 million jobs at risk. More jobs in the EU are dependent on trade with Britain than British jobs are dependent on trade with the EU. Under World Trade Organisation or other world trading rules, there is no suggestion that we could be cut off from access to those markets, so let us not have that myth peddled either.
I believe that the constitution is about the creation of a European superstate. It is not an isolated event, but part of a wider process, as those who drew up the constitution have made clear. Another constitution or a revised version of this constitution will be along in a while. The accession of Bulgaria and Romania lies ahead: a degree of renegotiation will be necessary, and then another constitution.
What of Turkey? When that country joins, as the British Government hope, changes will undoubtedly be made to the constitution. I look forward to hearing from
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the Minister for Europe whether he proposes amending the constitution or producing a wholly new constitution, going through the same sort of process as this one. There are important implications and people need to know what they are letting themselves in for. Is a vote on Turkish accession included or will it be the subject of a separate parliamentary vote later?
We have to be very careful about how the Government run the referendum. Every opportunity will be taken to influence and manipulate it. Mention has been made already about how the question is to be worded. It will be interesting to hear from the Minister for Europe whether the wording resulted from focus group research or opinion polling, or whether it was merely plucked out of the air at random. It is clear that it has been chosen to try to manipulate the outcome.
It is interesting too that the Bill allows the referendum to be held as a joint vote, perhaps on the same day as local elections. That is a deliberate attempt to blur the division between the yes and no camps in the constitution argument by means of the partisan battle that will take place during the local elections.
"the Foreign and Commonwealth Office works to ensure that all information it issues on the subject of the EU and the EU Constitutional Treaty is objective, explanatory and is in line with and supports Government policy."[Official Report, 19 January 2005; Vol. 429, c. 1020W.]
That Government propaganda can be objective and at the same time support Government policy is a claim that belongs in some sort of Orwellian world, where it is assumed that anything said by the Government is objective and that politics applies only to what other people say. We must be careful about that, just as we must be careful about the extent to which the EU is free to spend enormous amounts of money, either directly or through the various front organisations that it funds.
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