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Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP):
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that those who made the test should stand by it? Those who legislated for the way in which the treaty would have been ratified want to change the law now that events have gone against them. How can the people of Europe believe in politicians who do not live up to their promises? Given that the ballot box has spoken loudly in France and even more loudly in the Netherlands, why are some people in Europe
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preaching, "We must obey the law. We must obey the test."? They are trying to undermine what they said was everyone else's duty.
Mr. Straw: I answer for the British Government, not other Governments. In my statement, I spelled out the position on ratification, which is also set out in one of the articles of part IV of the constitution. Each member state must ratify the treaty by their own national procedures. In some casesnine so farthose national procedures have been parliamentary. In three cases so farSpain, the Netherlands and Francethe national procedures have involved referendums. I have heard a lot of speculation about the future decisions that the European Council might make on the treaty's future, but I have not heard it suggested that Heads of State, Heads of Government or Foreign Ministers are seeking to undermine their own law or EU law.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that people in the Common Market and, latterly, the European Union have from time to time overreached themselves in trying to sell a package from the top down? For example, they almost went a bridge too far when the then Tory Government signed the Maastricht treaty. I voted against the European Union Bill on Third Reading because, once again, they had stretched the limits. From the moment that Giscard d'Estaing introduced this cock-eyed constitution, I have thought "Perhaps they have gone too far this time." Will the Foreign Secretary tell Chirac and Schröder that we will not go down the road that they are suggesting? Will he send them a copy of Monty Python's dead parrot sketchit is deceased; it is kaput; it is no more?
Mr. Straw: I understand that this afternoon's proceedings are being followed quite closely across Europe, but, for greater accuracy, I shall ensure that copies of the full proceedings, including my hon. Friend's remarks, are made available to Heads of State and Foreign Ministers.
In this country, we have strongly supported enlargement on a bipartisan basis. In my judgment, EU enlargement was essential, and it is a further achievement of the EU. Without it, those countries in eastern Europe that were not formerly democracies would not have emerged as quickly or as effectively from the shadow of the Soviet bloc and developed into fully operational democracies with the prospect of prosperity. I repeat that we can argue about the constitutional treaty, but in so doing, we should not damage the fabric of the EU.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con):
As someone who spoke on Second Reading of the European Union Bill and voted in favour of it, I add my opinion that it is common sense not to reintroduce it to this House or to proceed in any way with ratifying a treaty that is as dead as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has just described it. At the next Council, during their presidency, will the British Government try to persuade other Governments to forget about rule changes of all kinds for the foreseeable future, to live with the treaties
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of Nice and others, however unsatisfactory, and to get on with the real business of the Union? In particular, will they give priority to economic reform, to completing the single market in services as well as goods, and to trying to get closer to real co-operation on foreign and security affairs after the recent demonstration of how comparatively weak we all are in the world unless we improve the ways in which we collaborate with our partners in all those areas where we really have interests in common?
Mr. Straw: It is the self-evident truth, as I spelled out in the original White Paper on the proposals for the constitutional treaty a year and a half ago, that
"If a new Treaty cannot be agreed, or ratified, then the EU would still carry on under its current arrangements; and it would have the same functions as it has today."
I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, as I have with my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), that outcomes are crucial and that that is the test by which the European Union will be judged in every member state.
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): Although the Prime Minister, in answer to a question from me, said that there would be a vote on the constitution even if other countries defeated it beforehand, may I say that I accept as sensible the position that my right hon. Friend has outlined to the House? However, might I probe him further on the distinction that he made towards the end of his statement and in relation to the Liberal Democrat questionthe idea that there is a list of reforms with which everybody agrees and a list of contentious reforms? Would it be possible for him to put a note in the Library of what he believes are the reforms on which we are all agreed and a list of those reforms on which he fears that some of us might take issue with him, so that we can strengthen his position against those who will get this treaty, by hook or by crook, whatever the people of Europe say?
Mr. Straw: I thank my right hon. Friend for that sedulous invitation; I think that it requires a period of reflection. What I would say to him, again, is this: I know and respect the fact that he had a different emphasis from me about this treaty, but I do not recall him ever, for example, objecting to the proposals to strengthen the role of national Parliaments; his objection was that they did not go far enough.
Mr. Field: What about the list?
Mr. Straw: A second example, since I am asked, concerns the voting system, which is palpably in our interests and in the interests of anybody who wants a transparent system of democracy.
Let me just make this clear. As I said to the Opposition spokesman, there may be some perfectly sensible changes that we could introduce by other means, but there will be no proposals made by this Government that seek to bring in this constitutional treaty, or elements of it, by the back door. That is clear.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con):
May I remind the Foreign Secretary that my party is wholly and unswervingly in favour of the enlargement of the
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European Union? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore encourage the Prime Minister to use this moment of reflection to consider those rules that are not subject to treaty amendment and would enable the Union to function more effectively and more efficiently along the lines proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), at the same time as genuinely seeking a leadership role in the European Union when we assume the chairmanship and ensuring that it puts forward a plan for economic growth and for lower unemployment that will command the support of the greater number of the countries of the European Union?
Mr. Straw: The simple answer is yes, we are doing that. Indeed, on enlargement, as we flagged up in the Queen's Speech, a Bill will come before this House for ratifying the enlargement to Bulgaria and Romania, and we are not proposing to have a referendum in respect of that Bill.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): I am sure the Foreign Secretary would agree that among the things that are synonymous with the European Union are back-door and back-room deals. Will he assure me that one matter that he would certainly submit to a referendum is the creation of a Foreign Minister and a European President?
Mr. Straw: Those points are central to the European constitutional treaty, and of course I see no prospect of their being brought into force, save through the vehicle of a constitutional treaty.
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary understand that much of continental Europe is now very close to the political, monetary and employment disasters predicted in detail by those of us who spoke and voted against the Maastricht treaty in the House? Why, at a time when hedge fund managers are speculating on whether there is any long-term future for the euro as a currency, does he go on saying that it is in the British interest, and even in the interest of the peoples of western Europe, to allow a continuation of the ever-increasing federal follies that we have seen ever since Maastricht?
Mr. Straw: I did not say anything of the kind. The hon. Gentleman speaks of certain problems relating to the euro. I did not mention the word "euro" at any point in my statement, and the constitutional treaty is not about that. We have always made it clear that should there come a moment when we judge the economic tests to have been satisfied, there will be a referendum on the euro before the United Kingdom joins.
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