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Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter), who put his pro-European case against the constitution before us. It may be helpful if, at the outset, I put on the record the reference for which the Father of the House asked my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). It was a reference to comments made to the European Scrutiny Committee by Professor Sir David Edward. On the subject of the so-called emergency brake, he said in reply to a question from the hon. Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan):
We have had a splendid debate, with a good tone to all the contributions. We enjoyed particularly the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) revealing the secret about the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) frothing at the mouth during difficult EU negotiations on the treaty of Nice, and the right hon. Member for Livingston saying that the treaty did not involve any significant extension of competences. As he must well know, however, the list of 63 extensions of qualified majority voting is on the record. It includes
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such things as social security, structural and cohesion funds, agriculture and fisheries, transport, space policy, energy, culture, tourism, sport, civil protectionand much more that I do not have time to read into the record. Those are all new transfers to qualified majority voting[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that they are not new competencesbut they are new to qualified majority voting. I hope that he now accepts that point.
Mr. Robin Cook: The hon. Gentleman's reference is accurate in that I said that there was no substantial extension of competence. None of the list that he has given argues that I was in any way wrong about that. He is talking about something entirely different: an extension of qualified majority voting. In the European Union, 85 per cent. of all decisions are already taken by qualified majority voting, primarily because the 12 extensions of qualified majority voting under the Single European Act, passed by a Conservative Government, are the basis on which the great majority of decisions are taken in the Council of Ministers.
Mr. Brady: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for making it clear that we are both talking about an increased transfer of powers from the House and the United Kingdom to the European Union[Interruption.] He is starting to froth at the mouth again; he really should try to contain himself.
The right hon. Member for Livingston also made much of the public meetings that the Council of Ministers will hold. I heard the Foreign Secretary's comments in front of the European Scrutiny Committee yesterday, however, and he made it clear that decisions must still be made behind closed doors, and that the decision-making process would not work if it was in public. We are therefore hearing different things from different Labour Members.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) seemed to suggest that Parliament could not exercise powers not to follow the decision taken by the Executive to endorse this treaty, putting the Liberal Democrats firmly under the royal prerogative and apparently denying the right of the House to make such decisions.
One of the greatest pleasures in the debate, however, was the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) who spoke about public disaffection with the political process and the extent to which the public see a gulf between the people and the institutions of Government. As he said, this constitution will make it worse, citing instances from food supplements to asylum policy.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) spoke of his strong opposition to referendums. We differ from his views but respect his
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principle and consistency in these as in other matters. He put the view that Ministers are weakened by the use of referendums. All that I would say on that is that Ministers are weakened only if they are out of tune with the views of the people. We are in tune with the views of the British people, and we will be strengthened by the referendum if we see that no vote, whenever it may come.
The House has, in the short time allowed, been discussing a momentous decision. Contrary to the Government's claims, the new constitution would be a decisive step towards political integration. If we talk to politicians or diplomats anywhere in Europe, they will tell it to us straight: the constitution is part of the process of creating an economically and politically integrated Europe. Only in Downing street or the Foreign Office is the pretence maintained that this is a mere codification of existing treaties.
But even as the Government try to flog this outrageous porkie to the British people, they cannot get their own story straight. On the "Today" programme this morning, the Foreign Secretary said that the constitution
The Government maintain that the constitution is a great triumph for Britain, but as we heard earlier, the French are giving the game away. We have heard the views of President Chirac and of Alain Lamassoure, both of whom have made it clear that the constitution is regarded as a victory for the French vision of Europe over the Anglo-Saxon vision. Nicolas Sarkozy, leader of the UMP, said:
There is emerging evidence that the referendum question may need changing, but we welcome the fact that the Bill does provide for a referendum. Indeed, the British people are being allowed one only because of the pressure being applied by the Opposition. This Government saw no lofty principle in the idea that the voice of the British people should be heard. They struggled, blustered and resisted, but then, as the Minister for Europe told the New StatesmanI am paraphrasing, but one can imagine the scene as he and
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the Foreign Secretary sit there side by side"I turned to Jack and I said, 'Jack, we're stuffed. We've got to give a referendum. I don't think we can hold out.'"
Now we have the Government's grubby attempt to push the referendum back to autumn 2006the very last momentto prevent the people from having their say. What rich irony there is in a Prime Minister who once boasted of wanting Britain to lead the way in Europe now being found cowering in a corner, hoping and praying that the French vote no and get him off the hook. Even now, as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has said, the Government are trying to pull a fast one by smuggling the 448-article European constitution through Parliament via five clauses of an incomprehensible Bill that is supposedly about the referendum.
In promoting this constitution, the Government are missing the real challenges for Europe, including sorting out the mess of the EU institutions, which are riddled with financial mismanagement and fraud and have not been approved by the auditors for 10 years. Moreover, Britain's net contribution to EEC institutions is projected to rise, according to the Chancellor's own figures, from £2.4 billion in 200304 to £4.5 billion in 200708. Perhaps the Minister will explain in his response why such an increase is necessary.
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