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Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): This is a very curious Bill; in fact, it is a Bill of two halves. Five clauses deal with the referendum and just five with the treatythe constitution is actually a constitution masquerading as a treatythereby establishing the treaty in British law. Today is the only opportunity that we will get to discuss this issue, because today is the only opportunity to pass legislation on the new European treaty before the referendum. In effect, if we pass the Bill, we pass the treaty. We have prepared the way for implementing it in British law, if the people give their consent in a referendum.
That is a very curious way to proceed, because as a result the House is not contributing its skill and knowledge, testing the argument or debating the issues. Nor is it examining the treaty at the same length or in the same detail that we examined the far less important and less substantial Maastricht treaty, which had far weaker effects on British polity and did not pose as a constitution. We are being asked to accept something that will change this country's constitution, and which establishes a European constitution affecting this country, on the basis of this Bill and three days' discussion on the Floor of the House. Frankly, that is not good enough for a major change such as this.
Those of us who do not like the constitution and who will oppose it are being asked to vote for it because we will then get a referendumwhich we should have been given anyway from the start. The powers that are being handed over and the roles that are being imposed on us are matters for the people to decide on. They should be able to decide whether to give their consent in any case, so the blandishment that we will get a referendumif we vote for the treatymeans nothing. A referendum on an issue as big as this is essential. We are talking about the people's power, and they have to give their consent before any of it is handed to Europe, or any other changes are made.
This approach was taken in order to get the issue out of the way before the general election, and it is true that we have had a lot of fun. The spectacle of my Euro-
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enthusiastic friends standing on their heads has been fascinating. My hon. Friend the Minister for Europe did so particularly elegantly. First he said, "No, we don't need a referendum; it's unimportant." Now he says that we must have onebut we should have taken that view from the start.
I support the provision to hold a referendum, but I have some doubts about the wording. A referendum is a conservative device that supports the status quo, and the Bill presents the constitution as the status quo:
That suggests that the constitution is a fait accompli, that it is pristine, new and gleaming in the distance, that everybody else is accepting it, so it would be churlish to turn it down. It would be better to ask the people whether they want Britain to accept the "proposed" European constitutiona more honest wording, which would favour my side of the argument.
It is crucial that the referendum include equal funding and equal time for both sides of the argument. That period of equal funding and equal time should be extended, because I do not want the Government telling a series of half truths and distorting the argument in the long period before the referendum. A balance must be maintained for a longer time than just the simple campaign. We do not want my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe rampaging around the country in his red socks putting across an incorrect view of the constitution. I do not want to see a massive outpouring of Government propaganda, and the votes should be published by constituency at the end of the referendum.
The constitution is an unnecessary, unwanted, unloved product of the European elite that has been foisted on the electorates of Europe, who are being conned into accepting it. The Convention on the Future of Europe started out loaded with Euro-enthusiasts, which was a condition for membership. The American constitution proudly states "We, the people", but all the European constitution can say is, "We, the Euro-enthusiast Euro-elite" think that this or that is self-evident.
The document is turgid, unreadable, stolid and legalistic. It has all the intellectual excitement of cold porridge; it weighs 2½ lb; and our two representatives on the central councils of the Convention, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), both rejected it.
I cannot accept the constitution, which strengthens the centre and is another step towards ever closer union. It also represents further progress towards the creation of a state with a full-time permanent President, a full-time permanent Foreign Secretary and an agreed security and defence policy, which will strengthen the ability of that state to overrule UK law.
The effects of the constitution are unpredictable and I do not believe any of the forecasts. If anything, I am inclined to believe Martin Howe's argument that the constitution will create uncertainty, which will create more opportunities to overrule British laws because of the surrender of our veto in so many areas. Although my
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right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary might be right that we will do better with qualified majority voting, he might also be wrong. The Government say, "There has been a change of mood in Europe. Britain is now more respected." Mood is, however, effervescent, and the psychology and nature of the European Union has not altered fundamentally.
Many new clauses have been added to the constitution. One trivial example concerns the common fisheries policy, which originally concerned the marketing of fish. The policy then became a matter of equal access to a common resource, and under the constitution it would become an exclusive competence over the marine biological resources of the sea. The Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament rejected that as unnecessary, but the provision remains. Why? Why should seals or jellyfish, vertebrates or invertebrates, be part of a constitution? Why do they have to be there? Is it some extension of power? What is it all about? It is simply madness on the part of those drafting the constitution.
Those are my fears. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary tells me that I am wrong. I always listen to him; he is a wise and sage individual and I am a big admirer of his. He tells me that my fears are wrong, that things will not work out that way and that the constitution is a triumph for Britain. Fortunately, he did not come back saying "Game, set and match", as people have said before him. But it is always the job of the British Foreign Secretary to make the best of a bad Eurojob, and my right hon. Friend is falling into that role.
The constitution does not allow for the uncertainties of the European Court of Justicewhether it will assert its power or whether its composition will be affected. However my right hon. Friend tells me that I am wrong, so let us put the argument to the test. Putting it to the electorate is no way of doing that, because the argument is likely to be detoured into simple half-truths, such as, "If we vote against it we shall be alone in the world," or, "We shall lose 3 million jobs," and all that kind of nonsense. The arguments to be put to the electorate must be prepared through argument and long discussion in the House, by our testing the argument to show what is happening.
As that is not the case, it will be difficult for me to vote for the Bill. In fact, it will be impossible for me to vote for it, because I am flatly opposed to this European verbiage-mountain of a constitution. My Eurosceptic friends have put it to me that I should maintain the ranks[Interruption.]
As we have an understanding that we do not want to divide the party before the election, I should vote for the Billbut I cannot. I shall devote the rest of the debate to deciding whether to bring the Government to their knees by voting against the Bill or, sagely, to abstain.
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Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I had 25 years in the European Parliament and I saw its evolution, if I may use that term. Those who, like me, went there to represent the people and to try to get a deal for those who needed one discovered that the powers that be had other objectives and aims. Slowly but surely, those aims are coming to fruition.
I am opposed to this constitution because it changes a treaty-based agreement between nation states to a supranational entity based on its own constitution. We must face the fact that there is a distinct difference between democratic Parliaments deciding matters that they need to decide for their own people and the coming together of a number of states that determine that they should decide what is best for the people.
I do not know what the people of Brussels know about a place called Ahoghill, which is in my constituency. In fact, they know nothing about it; when one of them visited my constituency they pronounced it "A hog hill". Those people are not interested in the ordinary people who need our representation; they have a policy of their own. This constitution formalises the primacy of EU law over national laws. The Foreign Secretary will remember that in a debate last year I asked him which came first, the supremacy of EU laws or the supremacy of laws in this House. He told me rightly that the laws of Europe have supremacy. That being so, Parliament deteriorates into a subordinate council of Europe and, over and again, we can see that powers are being taken to give more power to Europe.
The constitution bestows legal personality on the European Union, so that it can make treaties and binding international agreements on its own. That policy is the basis for its own Foreign Minister and common foreign and defence policy. In other words, there is no doubt that an organisation is being constructed in Europe today that will be in complete control of our people and our nation. It also puts in place the apparatus and trappings of statehood.
People ask me why Europe has not cleaned up its act with regard to fraud. I was in the European Parliament when we decided to put the former leader of the then Labour Opposition in charge of that. I had every confidence that he was a man of integrity and strength who would certainly do a good job, but he had to return and tell the European Parliament that he had come to an impossible impasse because the Governments of Europe were not prepared to face up to their own folly. So if the Governments are not prepared to face up to fraud, who will face up to it? That was not because of any non-diligence on his part and those associated with him, but because a blockage was put in the way, yet that is where we are asked to put our faith.
We know that, as we look upon the present situation, the devolution of powers to Europe reduces the powers of national Parliaments. More and more, we have creeping out of the national Parliaments those items and business that should be strictly under the sole authority of the nation, but outside interests from Europe seem to be able to exercise a strange, mystic power over those who attend to represent the various nations, and Brussels becomes stronger and stronger each day. We need to face up to that.
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On the powers that we had, I remember that when we heard about going into Europe, everyone said that all was well because we had the veto, and if Britain did not like what was going to be done, just one vote and Europe could not do itit would be stopped. Now, we have the wonderful words, "qualified majority voting". One has only to look at the list of matters where the previous rule of unanimity does not apply: the election of the President; the election of the Foreign Minister; setting conditions for control by member states of the Commission's exercise of implementing powers; approximating national laws to achieve an area of freedom, security and justice, which is vital to asylum controlthat is an interesting one; authorising annual expenditure; and proposals to promote social and economic cohesion. There is a whole list more: freedom of movement for migrant workers; measures necessary for the use of the euro; matters of particular interest for economic and monetary union; the prioritising of structural funds; measures on border controls, and so on. Those matters will all be covered by the new rule of voting, but qualified majority voting makes it impossible for one Government with strong views to stop such measures.
Anyone who has been to Europe knows that a lot is done by trading off, through which one country gets something and another gets something else, so they reach agreement. Before we know it, countries that have made deals stand by them, but other countries get no deal and go to the wall. That is happening over and over again.
Several aspects of the charter of fundamental rights are good, but others are bad. I was interested to read the other day that some people in France say that they should not go back to the days when the British won victory over Napoleon. They say that the keeping of Trafalgar day should be abolished in England altogether. That reminds me of things that are said in my country about great historic eventsusually those that happened around 1690, as my friend along the Bench, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), will well understand.
In France today, the situation surrounding civil and religious liberty is dicey. I am sure that many hon. Members from the various cities and towns of England will know of the Elim Pentecostal Church. I had the great pleasure of knowing the founder of that Church, Mr. George Jeffreys. France is now moving along the lines of the charter of fundamental rights and has decided that the state has the power to determine whether a Church is a sect, or a Church.
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