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Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): May I put it to my right hon. Friend that the tactic of using referendums to defer very difficult and important decisions on Europe is the equivalent of kicking the ball into the long grass? May I put it to him that if Blackburn Rovers adopted the same tactic, they would be playing alongside Preston in the football league rather than in the premiership, and would certainly have no chance of qualifying for Europe?
I do not quite follow my hon. Friend's point about Lancashire football teams, but I can say
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this. We have not used referendums very often in this country, but we have used them in respect of constitutional changes. For that reason, we listened carefully to the representations made about a referendum on the constitutional treaty and decided last Easter to recommend such a move to the House. I think that that was sensible, but it does not followand I do not think it is the Opposition's policythat we should have referendums to ratify all EU treaties.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I accept that the European constitution is indeed as dead as the Monty Python parrot. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that we need to reform European Union policies that undermine Europe? May we perhaps start with the common agricultural policy, which hurts developing countries, and indeed the common fisheries policy, which damages our coastal communities?
Mr. Straw: I agree with both points, but the British Government have been in the lead in reforming the common agricultural policy, to take one example. We have been able to make the reforms we have made so far only because of qualified majority voting, and because some of the countries that benefit unjustifiably from the CAP have not been able to exercise a veto. So yes, reform of the CAP and the CFP are priorities for this Government.
Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): The House should welcome my right hon. Friend's statement that he reserves the right to bring the referendum Bill back to the House if circumstances change. Is it not a fact that Europe has been built on the principle of stopping the clock at five minutes to 12 so that negotiations can continue beyond the deadline? Is my right hon. Friend not entirely right to extol the virtues of the treaty that is on the table now, and will be on the table for many a year to come?
In the context of the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), can my right hon. Friend assure the House that during our presidency, beginning on 1 July, we will not be deflected from seeking to enhance and advance the Lisbon agenda entered into in 2000?
Mr. Straw: I take note of what my hon. Friend said in the first part of his question. Yes is the answer to the second part: achieving outcomes and tangible objectives for the British people as well as for Europe's other citizens is central to our presidency.
Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): On 13 May, the Prime Minister told the editor of The Sun that even if the French voted no, this country would still have a referendum on the new EU constitutional treaty; he said that that was a Government promise. The French and Dutch national interests have been served; even the Spanish national interest has been served. Is it not incumbent on the Prime Minister and other Ministers who stand at the Dispatch Box to serve the British national interest? Should not they now give the British people the same rights as the French, the Dutch and the Spanish?
I spelled out the Government's position very clearly in my statement. The simple fact is that there
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is no point in proceeding with the Bill at the moment, because of the uncertainty about the consequences of the clear decisions in France and the Netherlands[Interruption.]
Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the priority for the European Union must now be to address the underlying concerns of the French and Dutch people, and many others across the European Union, and to come forward with positive, practical ways of dealing with the economic problems in Europe and strengthening Europe's voice internationally to deal with the issues that are important to European citizens? Would not that co-operation be put at risk by the kind of visceral Europhobia that we have heard from those on the Conservative Front Bench?
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): The British people have not had an opportunity to express an opinion on what was then the Common Market for 30 years. We applaud the fact that France, the Netherlands and even Spain have given expression to their views, but the British Government must understand that the British people may have severe reservations about the institutional architecture of the existing treaties: Maastricht, Nice and Amsterdam. These are the issues on which the British people need to express their views, and that is the justification for our having a referendum. We need to express our view on the position at which Europe has arrived.
Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the British people have not had a chance to vote on EU treaties for 30 years. It was the arguments that he and many others put forward that led us to the view that we should provide for a referendum on this constitutional treaty, and that is what we proposed in the Bill. He cannot have it both ways, however. The constitutional treaty is designed to amend the existing treaties, but as I understand it, the Conservatives are not proposing a total change in the Maastricht and Nice treaties, the Single European Act or the treaty of Rome. If they are, let them come forward with their proposals.
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op):
I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on making the best of a bad job. As I understand it, he accepts that the treaty is dead, but cannot say so in case he gets the blame. In those circumstances, I accept that there is no need for a referendum at this stage. However, I want to ask him about his little list of issues that he believes would be accepted by all. How does that differ from a "constitution lite", and does it represent an attempt by him to slip through a number of items from the constitution without the promised referendum? Will he
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also clarify whether he intends, as part of the negotiation process in Europe, to concede the British budget rebate?
Mr. Straw: I thank my hon. Friend for his compliment, and I take it in the spirit in which it was intended. Let me make it clear that there is no plan, proposal or intention to slip elements of the constitution through by the back door, to pick up my hon. Friend's phrase. I was making the separate and prosaic point that there are some thingsto do with strengthening the role of national Parliaments, for examplethat could be done separately. I think that even my hon. Friend would find it difficult to argue with those measures, as they are aimed at strengthening the role of national Parliaments, not weakening them.
So far as future financing is concerned, that was discussed two weeks ago by Foreign Ministers, and will be discussed again this coming Sunday and Monday. Our position on future financing and the UK's abatement has been made clear: we believe that the abatement is fully justified, and we will not hesitate to use the veto if necessary.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): May I bring the Foreign Secretary back to the issue of transparency raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell)? In particular, might his list of non-contentious issues include the proposal in article I-24 of the treaty that the Council of Ministers should meet in public when discussing legislative issues? Would he further accept that that reform can be achieved without a treaty change?
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): In welcoming the decision by the Foreign Secretary to postpone the referendum, which is only sensible after the outcome of the French and Dutch votes, he will know that in 24 days' time Britain will be in the leadership as far as these issues are concerned. It is worth reminding the House that it is not a question of having or not having a listBritain's commitment to the reform agenda goes back eight years, and it is set out in part in the letter from Chancellor Schröder and the Prime Minister on how the European Council can be reformed. When we take over the presidency, will the Foreign Secretary ensure that the reform agenda will be pursued and that, if there are sensible statements and policies that can be implemented with the agreement of all concerned, they will be implemented.
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