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European Constitution (Spanish Referendum)

5. Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the recent referendum in Spain on the constitutional treaty for the European Union. [218397]

7. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the result of the Spanish referendum on the constitutional treaty for the European Union. [218399]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): The EU constitutional treaty is good for Britain and for the rest of Europe. While referendums are of course a matter for each individual state, we are pleased that Spain has approved the treaty in its referendum.

Mr. David: I thank the Minister for that reply, but does he agree that one lesson to be learned from the referendum campaign in Spain is that if any Government—including this one—take a decisive lead in arguing for a yes vote, a yes vote will be secured? Is he also aware that St. David was a good European?

Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend is wearing proudly on St. David's day the sign of the leek—[Interruption.]
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I meant to say the daffodil. All the founding members of the great kingdoms of the United Kingdom were fine Europeans and he is right: it is for the Government of the day to take a lead on this issue. No sensible British citizen, business or voluntary organisation that reads this short but powerfully written treaty will want to do anything other than endorse it wholeheartedly.

Keith Vaz: The Minister for Europe will recall that when the previous Conservative Government signed the Maastricht treaty, qualified majority voting was extended in a number of areas, as will be the case under this constitution. An analysis of the votes on the European Council shows that whenever that method is used, Britain is almost always on the winning side. Does he not agree that the extension of QMV is fully in line with Britain's reform agenda—as he pointed out in Sheffield's The Star last Saturday and in Le Figaro yesterday—and that it is extremely important that we make sure that that agenda is also part of Europe's reform agenda?

Mr. MacShane: If I may return from that fine European flower the daffodil, my hon. Friend is of course right: the substantive move to QMV happened under the Single European Act. Not a single part of this now open market of 450 million people buying British goods and services would have been possible without the very significant move to QMV that former Prime Minister Lady Thatcher initiated. Of course, the other big shift happened under the Maastricht treaty. It is a sign of the sadness and bankruptcy of the Conservatives that, having given birth to QMV to advance British interests, they are now resiling from a measure that is absolutely essential to ensuring the open playing field in Europe for British businesses that we all want.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): Before the Minister gets too carried away with the result in Spain, will he simply remind the House of the percentage of Spanish people who actually voted in the referendum?

Mr. MacShane: It was considerably more than the percentage who voted in the local government elections in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, considerably more than the percentage who voted for the European Parliament Tory candidates in his region, and a bit less than the percentage who voted in the US election. Some 42 per cent. voted, and the large majority secured within that figure shows that Spain has achieved the right result. I also welcome the ratification in Lithuania, Slovakia and Hungary, which I will be visiting later today. I shall convey to our Hungarian friends the Conservative party's opposition to their ratification of the treaty. The hon. Gentleman might care to reflect on the extent to which his party is isolated from every other Christian Democratic and Conservative party in Europe.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend accept that if there is not a decent vote in favour of the treaty in this country, the legitimacy of the whole process will be open to question? Should we consider, in the time-honoured way, whether there should be a minimum turnout level in order to give some legitimacy to our referendum?
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Mr. MacShane: I am not an expert on my hon. Friend's constituency, but I would caution him against setting minimum levels of participation under British constitutional theory and practice. Let us not forget that the treaty will be debated and voted on in the House of Commons. It will be a matter for discussion and debate during the forthcoming general election, when sensible patriotic candidates who support Britain in Europe will, I think, gain a handsome majority. When the referendum comes, there will be a clear yes vote. In my many years in politics I have enjoyed counting huge majorities, but I am always happy just to win.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): Given the Minister's welcome of the result of the Spanish referendum, what is his real view of Prime Minister Zapatero's comment at the time that, under the constitution,

At the time, the Minister described that on the radio as a "complete myth", but was not his friend the Spanish Prime Minister merely daring to tell a truth that the Minister and the Foreign Secretary are desperately trying to hide from the British people?

Mr. MacShane: If the right hon. and learned Gentleman were to say to the President of France, the Chancellor of Germany, or indeed the King of Spain, that their foreign policies would be decided in Brussels, he would be laughed out of Paris, Berlin and Madrid. Spanish, British, French and German embassies are not going to close. I am not responsible for what Mr. Zapatero says in Spanish—

Mr. Ancram: He is your friend.

Mr. MacShane: He is indeed my friend, and I believe that it is important to have friends in Europe. Perhaps at some time in the future the Conservative party might find some—other than the French Communist party and all the other loony nutters who are opposed to Europe. Under the treaty, foreign policy is decided by unanimity and there is nothing in it that works against British foreign policy goals.

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Minister agree that during the post-war period in which European unity and co-operation has developed, Britain has managed to avoid signing any treaty until it became pretty obvious that it was the sensible thing to do, at which point we have started to squirm? A little later, when it becomes inevitable, we sign—but always too late to have made a real impact on the value of that treaty to the British nation.

Mr. MacShane: If my hon. Friend is talking specifically about European Union treaties, he is right. However, we were present in shaping this particular treaty from the very beginning. I shall not waste the House's time reading out a list, but in much of the continental media, it is described as "la constitution anglo-saxonne", or even as a Blairite constitution, which is why it is so popular across the channel. The
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Government have taken a key lead in defining and shaping this constitution and ensuring that it works both to advance British interests and to enhance peace, stability and democracy in today's Europe and, I hope, in tomorrow's world.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House clearly whether it is the Government's intention that the Bill that secured its Second Reading some weeks ago will be brought back for its Committee stage before Easter?

Mr. MacShane: That is obviously a matter for discussion among the usual channels. I can speak only for myself, but I would be delighted to debate any of the Bill's provisions further. It is for the hon. Gentleman to ascertain from his Front-Bench colleagues whether they are prepared to help find time for this important issue.


8. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): If he will make a statement on recent political developments in Bolivia. [218400]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): Bolivia faces many challenges. The Government support President Mesa's efforts to achieve a national consensus on reducing social conflict and taking the country forward. We remain committed to working in support of democracy in Bolivia and to promoting the country's economic and social development.

David Taylor: Bolivia is south America's poorest country, but the last regime made the situation worse by caving in to World Bank pressure to privatise water and   sewerage services in exchange for financial assistance. Following huge public demonstrations, that privatisation has been reversed and the protesters now have ending the privatisation of electricity, gas and oil in their sights. Does my hon. Friend agree that to coerce the acquisition by foreign companies of an impoverished nation's vital resources is often morally wrong and economically pointless? It is also politically undesirable, in that it can destabilise poorer countries and weaken a nation's democratic control over its affairs.

Mr. Rammell: I do not believe in coercion, but neither do I agree that the private sector should never be involved in delivering essential natural resources, whether in Bolivia or elsewhere. One of the problems in Bolivia is that although the state water industry is effective at reaching existing markets, it is not very effective when it comes to securing the investment and resources needed in poor areas in marginalised parts of the country. Bolivia desperately needs foreign investment, and we are concerned to ensure that it gets it. Our aid programme, and in particular the debt relief announced recently by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—in which Britain is taking the international lead—will help to create the backdrop to the successful reform that Bolivia desperately needs.
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