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Mr. Robin Cook: I am listening intently to my hon. Friend. He has made it clear that he is robustly against the European constitution, but I am having difficulty in understanding exactly why. The only reason that he has adduced so far is that it might put our seat on the UN Security Council at risk, and I believe that he is mistaken about that. He has produced no other argument to explain what is wrong with the treaty. What is it he objects to? Is it the charter of fundamental rights, or something else?
Mr. Davidson: I was too generous in giving way, as I was about to say that the constitution is not all bad. I have always supported EU expansion, and I look forward to further expansion in the future. I accept that the EU can be a force for good, and I recognise its influence in spreading democracy throughout eastern Europe. I hope that it will do the same elsewhere in the world in the future.
I and others have three main reservations about the constitution, and they can be headed Thatcherism, militarism and centralisation. The constitution is Thatcherite in that it is formulated in such a way as to open up free markets and drive down the social wage,
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and it does not give trade unions and other organisations extended powers. It is militaristic in that it clearly favours the establishment and use of a European armed force, and it is centralising in its approach to taxation and immigration, as we have heard already. People granted residency papers in Spain will be able to come to the UK, just as Somalis granted papers in the Netherlands are able to come here.
I want there to be reform and renegotiation. I want the CAP and the fisheries policy to be renegotiated, and the same applies to the EU's aid programmes and its structural and cohesion programmes. I want an end to fraud. Moreover, I find variable geometry in the EU to be acceptable, as the present structure is outdated and based on myths originating in the second world war.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) and I do not agree on many issues. However, we do agree that a democratic system exists to resolve differences, so the choices made by electors should lead to definable outcomes in accordance with democratic principles. It follows from what he saidI agree with him herethat all that will be at risk if those decisions are transferred to another jurisdiction so that the link between choices and outcomes is fractured for ever. Therefore, I agree with the hon. Gentleman's strictures about the constitution.
Constitutions have gone in and out of fashion over the centuries. Napoleon said that a constitution should be short and obscure, so the European constitution is only half right: it is certainly obscure, but at more than 500 pages long, it breaks the first rule of a constitutionthat it should be comprehensible to the public. The European constitution is not; it is a document written for politicians by politicians, and there is no chance of our electors reading or understanding it, let alone giving it their allegiance. The instruction given to the Convention, which drew up the constitution, to close the gap between the rulers of Europe and the people of Europe has been ignored.
The constitution should never have been. The Government did not want it and said so, but when the Convention started to it draw up, the Government said that they wanted one after all, provided that it was short. When it became a long one, the Government tabled more than 200 amendments, only a fraction of which were adopted. It is odd that we are getting a written constitution in this country for the first time since the 17th century, and we have not even written it ourselves. It was written for us by others.
Yes, I could almost hear it from my office. The relief was not just in Downing street but in the Foreign Office. That was a much unloved document, but the Government must now make the best of it, and the Foreign Secretary was at it again in his speech.
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Surely, the first job of any constitution is to solve the problem of who does what and to draw a distinction between what Europe does and what member states do. It should also overcome the wide perception, which happens to be true, that the European Union obtains more powers with each treaty, and that we have an activist Court in Luxembourg, which always interprets documents in a way that is in favour of more centralisation. The first job of a self-respecting constitution is to solve that problem, but this one does not. I shall give just one example. Most of the familiar policies that make up the daily work of this House are listed in article XIV of the constitution, but they will be so-called shared competences, which is Eurospeak for shared powers. The definition of "shared" is that when the European Union legislates in those areas in future, we will lose the right to legislate.
What is more, only the principal areas have been listed. Anyone reading the constitution will not have the slightest idea of who does what in five years or so, particularly when almost all those policies will be decided by qualified majority voting. It may be news to the Liberal Democrats that 63 new areas will be subject to majority voting, but it is a fact.
Another point that the Government have ignored is that the definition of majority voting has been changed in the constitution, which makes it much easier for a majority vote to be obtained. That means more legislation, more regulations and more interference. The European Scrutiny Committee, on which I serve, examined more than 1,000 new measures last year. That will accelerate and we will have more legislation, but less chance of stopping anything.
We heard again the tired argument about this new power for national Parliaments over subsidiarity. That is not new; we can object already. It is certainly not a power, as we can object all we like, and the Commission can go on ignoring us. All that we get in this constitution is a new right to be ignored. The Government know that, as they tabled an amendment to try to upgrade the power for national Parliaments to a so-called red light, and were overruled and ignored.
We have heard about the EU charter of fundamental rights, and I will not have more fun at the expense of the Government about how they promised that it was only of declaratory value and no more important than the Beano, whereas they must now make the best of it, as it will not only be legally binding but form the whole of part II of the European constitution. Another point about the charter is the uncertainty. The European Scrutiny Committee has received witness statements and taken evidence from constitutional lawyers about the charter. They agree that the ambiguities in the charter make it quite impossible to know what the future European Court will make of it. What they say is that the so-called safeguards trumpeted from the Treasury Bench, in order to prevent the charter seeping into national laws, will be inoperative and no safeguard whatever.
Does not my right hon. Friend also agree that those same witnesses were extremely concerned that our judges, when faced with competing jurisdictions
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with the European Court, could go in the wrong directiontowards giving too much power to the European Union?
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Yes, that is the so-called primacy point, which asserts unconditionally that everything in the constitution, all the laws flowing from it, and the charter, have primacy over the laws of this country. There has been a stand-off, which nobody has resolvedbut if a Parliament and a people sign up voluntarily to that assertion, it is certain that national courts will start to interpret national laws as inferior to everything that comes out of the constitution. What this charter does, at the very least, instead of ending an uncertainty, is to extend and create one.
We have heard today about the need for reform in Europe. Some criticism has been expressed of my party's position that we will seek a renegotiation of the treaty. Why should that be such a shock? We are engaged in a colossal renegotiation. The Convention on which I served was undertaking the most fundamental reform of the European institutions ever attempted. All the existing treaties are repealed by this constitution. We are therefore engaged in an enormous renegotiation. The point, however, is that that reform and renegotiation failed. Instead of creating that democratic simple Europe which was to be closer to its citizens, we have created a centralised, technocratic, legalistic, undemocratic Europe. If we say no to this constitution, the brief will return to the drafters of the constitutionbut next time they will have to listen to the instructions given to them, instead of creating a Europe in their own image. Today, however, this House will have to decide.
Of course we will have a referendum. I notice that the Government have already rewritten the rules on funding to ensure that they can go on spending taxpayers' money up to a month before the referendum, whereas the rest of us will be limited. The wording on the ballot paper refers to the constitution for the European Union, which implies that it is simply a rule for the existing Unionwhich, incidentally, simply gets abolished if the constitution comes into effect. They do not like the idea of the true wording, which is "a constitution for Europe", which perhaps sounds more ambitious and threatening. They cannot even get the wording right on the ballot paper.
Our task today is to decide what this House does. It is not our power that we are giving away, but that of the people whom we represent. What is British history if not a long struggle to get power under the control of people who are accountable to the electors, and who can be removed by those electors? What is British history but a long struggle to secure a parliamentary democracy, so that policies can be changed after elections and people can give effect to their democratic choices through a political system?
This constitution and this Bill reverse all that. We will be giving up these powers and transferring decisions about criminal justice, asylum and immigration,
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external relations, social security and everything else upwards, to the most remote tier of government of allthe new Union. Indeed, we heard a very good example concerning asylum and immigration. It really is outrageous, but when my party win the next election on a clear pledge to do something different about asylum and immigration, we will be told that doing so is illegal even under the existing treaties, because of everything that the Government have signed up to. Such action will be constitutionally illegal once we have adopted and ratified a constitution, because the UN charter on refugees is embedded in that constitution, and withdrawal will not be possible. So people will not vote at all. Why votewhy express choice?if such choice cannot, by constitutional law, lead to different outcomes? That is the democratic reality that we must face up to today.
We do not have a serious choice. We are being invited to give up powers that are not ours, so I ask this Chamber and this House to strike the first blow for the people whom we represent, and for democracy, by saying no to this constitution and this Bill this evening.
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