David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con):
Will the Minister confirm that the referendum on the European constitution will go ahead in any event? Before he answers, I remind him that I asked the Prime Minister that question last year and raised the possibility that the
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Government might cancel the referendum here if another member state turned down the constitution. The Prime Minister said from the Dispatch Box:
The confidence with which we advanced the case for the constitutional treaty has been reflected in some of the commentary from the other side of the channel. The French newspaper Le Monde called the treaty "a British victory". The Corriere della Sera in Italy declared that
Indeed, those in this country who peddle the idea that the treaty is the end of Britain as we know it would do well to look across the channel where, at the moment, its opponents are arguing that the treaty is too British and too liberalin short, too much a model of an Anglo-Saxon European Union. As the House is aware, the Government will be introducing legislation, as a matter of priority, to provide for a referendum on the treaty, and I welcome the discussions we shall have.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Surely it will be the people of this country who will decide whether the treaty is British or not, not some French politician who has an axe to grind in another place.
Mr. Alexander: I can certainly confirm that it is the Government's policy to ratify the treaty that was signed by the Prime Minister in Rome, and that as part of that process of ratification there will be a vote by the people of Britain. On that, at least, the hon. Gentleman and I have common ground.
I welcome the discussions on the treaty that we have begun to have, in nascent form, this morning. Members will have the opportunity during these debates and
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discussions to expose the myths and distortions of the anti-Europeans for what they are. The case for the new treatybased on fact, rather than mythis the case for a modern, reforming Europe that is delivering greater prosperity and security to its members, and whose members are in the driving seat.
The treaty will give more powers to the member states, through the European Council, in which national Governments set the European Union's priorities and ensure that they are carried through. By replacing the current system of six-monthly rotating presidencies of the European Councilthe body in which the European Union's member countries set the organisation's prioritieswith a full-time Chair, we shall ensure that we, the nations, set the European Union's agenda and get it implemented. That is a widely supported reform, and I am pleased to say that its supporters include the leader of the Conservative party in the European Parliament.
Decision-making will be simpler, where that makes sense, but we shall retain the national veto on areas of vital national interest such as tax, social security, foreign policy, defence and key areas of criminal law, along with the European Union's budget and, of course, future changes to the treaty. For the first time, national Parliaments will have the power to send European Union legislative proposals back for review, if one third of national Parliaments believe that a draft law infringes the principle that the EU should act only where it adds valuethe so-called subsidiarity principle.
Peter Luff (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): Have the Government had second thoughts? Will they enable this national Parliament to express its view separately on the question of the ratification of the constitution and on the question of a referendum? Many of us would like to vote no to one and yes to the other.
Mr. Alexander: The House will be aware that during the previous Parliament we introduced a Bill that dealt with both the ratification of the treaty and the referendum. That would be our intention in terms of the Bill that we will introduce in due course. This is a treaty that sets out our kind of Europe: one of strong nations able to work effectively together to enhance their prosperity and security and add to their influence in the world. As the House is also aware, the United Kingdom will take over the presidency of the European Union for six months from 1 July. We will focus, first and foremost, on taking forward the agenda agreed with our European Union partners to ensure that the EU is equipped to deliver on the issues that matter most to the people of Britain: jobs, security and promoting peace and prosperity globally as well as at home.
We will work to enhance the security of the European Union's borders and to improve the security of EU travel documents, as part of the fight against illegal immigration and organised crime. We will also lead the EU's efforts to help to end conflict and tackle poverty in Africa, to engage countries such as China and India on climate change, to promote reform in Europe's immediate neighbourhood and to support democracy and human rights around the world.
I come now to my second theme: our work to make the United Kingdom more secure by working with our allies to tackle threats to international peace and
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security. The United Kingdom will continue to play a leading role in the global fight against terrorism and its networks of support. The recent detention of a leading member of al-Qaeda in Pakistan is another blow to that organisation and its aims. We will work to strengthen further the United Nations' response to terrorism, and that will include an agreed definition of such terror. I am pleased to say that last month the United Nations General Assembly reached agreement on the nuclear terrorism convention on which negotiations had been stalled for some time. In the G8, we continue to look to deliver improvements in, for instance, transport and security.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): In respect of terrorism, what exactly is the position of the United Kingdom Government on what is happening in Uzbekistan? Terrorism is undoubtedly being committed by the Government of the day. This is an example of tyranny if there ever was one, with so many people being massacred. One would hope that not just the British but, in particular, the United States Government will be consistent and do whatever can be done to ensure that the Uzbekistan Government are finished and the people there can enjoy some form of democratic rule.
This morning, the British ambassador in Tashkent travelled to the eastern part of Uzbekistan. I have not yet received a full response from him, but he travelled there with other ambassadors. We want first to be able to establish categorically what has happened. News reports that are already emerging are extremely serious. The situation has been discussed by the United States Secretary of State and the Foreign Secretary during discussions in Washington overnight, and I expect there to be further discussions with our European partners at the General Affairs and External Relations Council on Monday. Obviously, we cannot prejudge the international community's response to the facts once they are established.
Mr. Winnick: My right hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. Does he accept that there is a feeling that the United States has not acted on the issue because the Government of that country are such a close ally? There is an inconsistency. Cannot a comparison be made with Kosovo, where fortunately the allies acted to stop what was happeningethnic cleansing? Surely, more or less the same is happening in the country that I have mentioned.