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Mr. Quentin Davies: Blame No. 10.
Mrs. Browning: My hon. Friend says, "Blame No. 10". Well, I was a Minister in the last Conservative Government and I have to tell him that, as a Minister, I had great difficulty trying to argue the case when some of these proposals were made.
We talk about competition within the single market and I am a great believer in free trade, but there are 22 other countries out there that have free-trade agreements with the EU and a further 69 countries are currently negotiating such agreements. None of them is shackled by the regulation and statutory requirements that we have to face here. That is apparently the price that this country has to pay in order to be a member of this club. We hear all these euphemisms about where the train is going, what the destination is and so forth, but I say it is time to pull the communication cord.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con):
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate, albeit at a somewhat late hour and with just six minutes to run. I am glad to see that the reasoned amendment that we
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shall vote on this evening bears fair comparison to the one that I tabled a few days ago. I am equally glad that the issue of supremacy, extensively discussed today, relates closely to the decision taken last week by my party to support a proposition that I tabled in an amendment to the Constitutional Reform Bill.
The problem with the constitution, as I have said many times before, is the question of primacy. I do not need to repeat the argument today, as I have already explained it in my own terms over and over again. The plain fact is that the Foreign Secretary is blatantly wrong about the effect of the constitution on the United Kingdom. He mentioned the Vienna treaty, particularly article 27, but it is inconceivable that the people of this country could be governed on the basis of a decision taken by a treaty.
I return to what the Foreign Secretary said about 18 months agothat international treaties took precedence over national laws. That led to an exchange of correspondence, and a series of questions, between myself and him. At the end of that 18-month period, on 8 or 9 September last year, he effectively conceded in a debate that it was true that statute took precedence over treatyas, indeed, Lord Diplock had made absolutely clear in an important case in 1967. It is good law.
The way in which the Foreign Secretary replied to me yesterday in the European Scrutiny Committee is also inconceivable. I put it to him that the treaty could receive a no vote when the referendum is called and I asked him whether, if that happened, he would repeal the legislation that is being pushed through Parliament now because of the massive majority. He said that he would not repeal it, and then saidtwicethat to do so would be a waste of time.
What arrogance. The Foreign Secretary would not repeal this legislation, even though it had been rejected by the British people. He relies on his prerogative powers to tell the country what laws will govern it and the extent to which Parliament will be governed by the new EU constitution.
The hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) suggested that this treaty was just one in a series. That is arrant nonsense. Article 1.6 of the treaty states clearly that the EU constitution will take precedence over the laws of member states. When I put it to the Foreign Secretary that that precedence also included this country's constitution, he said that of course it did.
On the question of European Court of Justice case law, the treaty makes it clear that article 1.6 reflects the Court of Justice's existing status in that respect, and of course it does. Yesterday, I discussed with the Foreign Secretary the matter of the competing jurisdictions that flow from the European Communities Act 1972. Evidence from distinguished academics on constitutional law makes it clear that our judges are duty bound to give effect to decisions made by the House of Commons on behalf of the British people. However, the European Court maintains that existing case lawsuch as Enel v. Costa, or the Simmenthal verdictmeans that it has the right to decide questions of law in this country.
The fundamental question is one of political will. Who governs this country? People have fought and died over that question.
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The Bill should be rejected. The referendum should be the subject of a separate Bill so that we can ensure that this country is governed by legislation passed by this House, whose composition is determined by the will of the British people as expressed in general elections.
Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con): Some intriguing polls have been published in the past few days. In The Times, a Populus poll showed that 36 per cent. of people would say yes to the question whether we should approve the treaty, with 29 per cent. saying no. However, an ICM poll showed that 39 per cent. of people would respond negatively to the official question and that the same proportion39 per cent.would respond positively. When the same poll asked people whether they would sign up to the European constitution in a referendum held tomorrow, 54 per cent. said no and 26 per cent. said yes.
A poll by the Institute of Directors found that 49 per cent. of its members intended to vote no in the referendum, with only 29 per cent. planning to vote yes. That caused IOD director general Miles Templeton to say:
I shall use that as my starting point.
I have been a great supporter of Britain's membership of the EU ever since we joined 30 years ago. However, I am seriously concerned that in that time we have failed to take the people with us on the journey that has been the EU's development and evolution. We have now reached the stage where most people have little understanding of, and little confidence in, what is being done in their names.
Euroscepticism is not unique to Britain. It exists throughout Europe and the democratic deficit seems to be worse in some other European states, where people feel that it is inevitable and that they can do nothing about it. However, they will have the opportunity in referendums on the constitution to send a message to the political elites of Europe saying that they would like an explanation of what is going on and what has been done in their names during the past 30 years in this country, and somewhat longer in some other member states.
For all the Foreign Secretary's spin on the treaty, it does not provide the answer. When I read the Laeken declaration back in 2001, I thought that we were beginning to go in the right direction and to pose some of the right questions. However, when I read the treatyall 511 pagesI remembered one phrase from the Laeken declaration, which mentioned
There is no simplification in the constitution, and it contains so much detail that it can hardly be described as a constitution; it is a management textbook. The explanatory commentary, which runs to 500 pages, is supposed to explain it to anyone who does not understand the first 500 or so pages. The constitution is nowhere near being a simplifying treaty. It contains minutiae of management detail that one would expect those responsible for looking after our interests to come up with as their modus operandi.
Much of what is in the document could soon be out of date. What we now need is what the Laeken declaration referred tothe creation of European institutions that
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are closer to their citizens. The right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) referred to the fact that the Council will make decisions in public. That goes some way towards making the institutions more transparent and accountable. However, what is the point of making the decisions in public, but not holding the general proceedings of the Council in public? That is rather like putting cameras in the Division Lobbies here but taking them out of the Chamber, so that we can carry on our business in secret.
Most of our citizens support the broad aims of the Union, but they do not always see the connection between those goals and the Union's everyday actions. We all know that Europe has changed and is changing. With the 10 new countries that joined last year, it now has 25 member states. The enlarged Europe needs to be more effective and democratic, so we need a simple and transparent constitutional treaty, which is what the document was supposed to provide.
An effective European Union is in Britain's interest and it is in our national interest to be a member of that Union, because we have so many aims in common. We need a new treaty that spells out in black and white the powers of the various parties. It should state explicitly that the EU has only the powers that member states choose to grant it. It should clarify what the EU can and cannot do.
The constitution is unacceptable, but that does not mean that I have become anti-European, that I do not want the European Union to succeed, or that I want us to be relegated to the position of Norway and Switzerland, with an expensive, subservient and passive relationship with the European Union. That is not an option for the British people. We need a tidying-up and simplifying treaty, but that is not what we have. I can happily say that the leaders of Europe should go back and reconsider the constitution.
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