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Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage) (Lab):
After a European debate a few months ago, the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin)I still think of him as an hon. Friendremarked to me that it was interesting that the supporters of the measure that we are considering always refer to the "European constitutional treaty", while its opponents refer to the "European constitution". That theme has emerged extensively during the debate, not least in the speech
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made by the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). For myself, I say that it is just another European treaty, and I am glad that the question to be put in the referendum brings that out clearly. We have had the treaty of Rome, the Merger treaty, the Single European Act and the treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice. We now have the latest treaty in the series. In typical European language, it will probably end up being called the treaty of Rome bis, and I can well understand that the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) would oppose it for that reason, if no other.
Each of those treaties moved the European furniture around in different ways, and as it has been pointed out, some did so more drastically than the one now before us will. For example, the Single European Act, which was passed under Margaret Thatcher, extended qualified majority voting more widely than this treaty will.
Mr. Jackson: I shall be happy to discuss that point with the right hon. Gentleman. Of course we must consider not only the number of areas, but their weight and significance. He must accept that qualified majority voting on nominations to the European Court of Auditors is not quite as serious as other matters.
The Maastricht treaty gave a treaty base to various forms of interstate co-operation among member states, and thus did more than this treaty will to extend the sphere of European responsibilities. But the basic reason why I regard this as just another treaty, rather than a constitution, is that it leaves many constitutional questions unresolved, which is why I think that the language of the Opposition, particularly in their amendment, is unwarrantedly exaggerated.
The fundamental constitutional question must be whether the European Union is to remain as it isan association of sovereign states, pooling their sovereignty in certain limited areasor whether it will become a new political entity, somehow transcending the member states and reflecting a new European citizenship. On this fundamental question, this treaty maintains the radical ambiguity of the earlier treaties, going back to the treaty of Rome. To put the point more positively, this treaty preserves intact the unique hybrid nature of the European Union: not a federal state, but using shared supranational institutions for certain limited purposes. As long as this radical ambiguitythis unique hybriditypersists, none of the arrangements for shared decision making upon which the member states may from time to time agree by treaties between them can accurately, in my opinion, be described as a "constitution". Nor, therefore, can they be rejected in the fundamentalist terms that have been adduced by, for example, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who seemed in his remarks to discard the possibility even of common rules to apply to a common market. I thought that that at least was part of the acquis communautaire accepted by the Conservative party, but the right hon. Gentleman now seems to reject it.
The political reality of Europe remains what it has always beenthat power rests with the member states. Let me give two instances. The stability and growth pact
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of 1997 imposes legally binding constraints on the budgetary policies of those countries that have adopted the euro as their currency. Indeed, those provisions are embodied in the treaty that is now before the House. It is notorious, however, that they are not being observed by France and Germany, for the simple reason that it does not suit them to do so.
In 1992, the Maastricht treaty introduced legally binding requirements for mutual consultation and common action in the field of foreign policy. Those are retained in the current treaty, and its opponents make much of the constraints that that will supposedly impose on foreign policy. For example, we have had a discussion about Britain's Security Council seat.
Two years ago, we saw no evidence of such constraints having any effect at all when the chips were down over Iraq. There were no such constraints either on the foreign policy of the majority in the enlarged Union led by Britain, which supported the war, or on the foreign policy of the minority, led by France, which opposed it.
Europe will have a "constitution" only when it has acquired a real-world identity of its ownan identity that is more than the limited fiction of "legal personality" contained in this latest treaty. It will have a "constitution" only when there are genuine European citizens, as opposed to citizens of member states carrying a common-format passport. Neither of those things is actually happening, and with each successive enlargement of the European Union the prospect becomes more and more remote. The Opposition's fantasies about "a country called Europe" are simply thatfantasies.
In conclusion, let me sum up the question that the country will have to decide in the referendum, as I see it. The Leader of the Opposition has told us that Britain has no interest in the political development of continental Europe. He says, "If they want to federate, let them get on with itso long as Britain is not involved." What an abdication! What ignorance of the lessons of history! Will the country heed that siren voice luring us on to the rocks, or do we want Britain to go on as it is now, exerting a growing influence from within a European Union in which the balance of real-world forces is steadily moving in the direction that suits Britain and Britain's historic national interests? That is the choice that the British people will have to make in the referendum on the treaty, and I am confident, in the words of what used to be a Conservative slogan, that they will once again vote for "a strong Britain in a strong Europe".
Mr. Deputy Speaker:
Order. As a significant number of hon. Members are still seeking to catch my eye, in accordance with the Order of the House of 26 October 2004 on shorter speeches, a time limit of six minutes will
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apply from now until half-past 6 o'clock. I remind the House that in the period of shorter speeches, no added time is allowed for interventions.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): I would love to debate this subject at length with the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), and I am grateful to him for mentioning me. The fact that I am not able to do so underlines the extremely unsatisfactory way in which his new party is handling the legislation.
I believe in the basic principle of democracy: that a people have the right to govern themselves. Article I of the UN charter sets out the principle of "self-determination of peoples". It is not envisaged as something that requires the permission of a higher authority; it is an absolute.
Only three fundamental questions are raised in the context of a constitution for the EU. First, what constitutes "self-determination"? Secondly, what constitutes "a people"? Finally, does the constitution respect the self-determination of peoples? The Opposition's reasoned amendment is absolutely right to lay emphasis on the question of primacy. Ultimately, government is not about identity or particular issues, events or interests, but about the framing and implementation of laws. Therefore, to have self-determination, the people must have the means to frame and implement their own laws and system of government. In turn, that system of government must have the means to sustain and protect itself. That means it must be sovereignit cannot be subject to a higher authority.
I note that my hon. Friends' reasoned amendment uses the term "sovereignty". This is very basic stuff, but let us define our terms because the word has been misused. Sovereignty is not power, as the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) suggested. It is a different quality from power. It is not authority. Power is the ability to produce intended effects. It need not be legal powerto exercise power legally, one requires authority. The various written and unwritten laws of this country grant authority to our Ministers to exercise power legally. Where does that authority come from? The sovereign authority is the ultimate source of our law. Sovereignty is, therefore, a narrow legal concept. It is another absoluteit cannot be shared or limited. We either have it or we do not. Legal self-determination rests on the ability of a people's absolute authority to frame their own laws and to have the final say.
The second question is: what constitutes "a people"? Clearly, the EU is made up of many peoples. There is no such thing as a European people. I have always considered that the credibility of the so-called European People's party is somewhat undermined by its insistence that the apostrophe is in the wrong place. The flaw in the idea of the European Parliament is that politics remains national. At European elections, people elect MEPs on the basis of national political considerations, which is why the European Parliament remains such an utterly obscure and irrelevant institution.
The many peoples of the EU are properly represented by the Governments and Parliaments of its member states. It is the nations of Europe that are the
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democracies. To comply with the UN charter, therefore, we must strive to maintain the self-determination of the peoples of Europe.
Whatever the EU is or may become, it is not a democracy, but a bureaucracy. Governments from the Single European Act onwards have been much too eager to hand over more and more powers without regard to proper democratic scrutiny. Every time we do this, we take power from democracies and give them to a bureaucracy.
Despite that, I have never had a problem with the principle behind the existing legal basis of our membership of the EU. That is the principle of the delegation of national powers to the EU institutions. However problematic our relationship with the EU has become, it has only ever been a voluntary association of sovereign nation states. In the context of this debate, the only question that we must answer is whether the EU constitution represents a fundamental change to that principle of voluntary delegation of powers. Of course it does. Article I-6 states:
The Government will saywe have heard this alreadythat that merely reflects the existing precedence of the European Court of Justice, whose views on primacy are intended by the constitution to have full effect. The ECJ's view is that EU law has primacy over all national law, including national constitutional law. However, our courts rejected that idea, as recently as the "metric martyr" case in 2002. Our courts do not recognise the primacy of European law. By ratifying the constitution, the United Kingdom would effectively be committing constitutional suicide. Everything becomes subjugated to the ultimate sovereign authority of the EU. That is the intention that our courts will read, because we have enacted it on our statute book. It is utterly untrue for Ministers to claim, therefore, that the constitution is not a fundamental change. A secession clause needs to be added to the European constitution, because the present implicit right of secession would be compromised.
If the Government allow an honest debate on the subject, there is no possibility that the British people will vote for the constitutional treaty, but I fear it will fall to opponents of the EU constitution to make that explanation. Of course the Government will try to frighten people into believing that this is some kind of "in or out" debate, but the Minister for Europe has contradicted the Foreign Secretary by insisting that the constitutional treaty is not the final resting place of the European Union and that there will be further treaties. Why did he contradict his right hon. Friend?
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