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Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): I listened to the earlier speeches in the debate today and I listened to much of the debate last week. I have also listened to several European debates in the past few years, and two things are immediately obvious. The first is that at the last three general elections in the UK the party that has been vociferously anti-European has been heavily defeated—

Mr. Paterson : Not in England.

Mr. Chaytor: I said in the United Kingdom. Therefore, for the Conservative party to argue that a single vote on a particular issue by French electors is a justification of their position is the triumph of hope over experience. The logic of their position is that they should abandon the attempt to win support for their anti-European views in the United Kingdom and simply export themselves to France or the Netherlands.

Mr. Hendrick: My hon. Friend heard the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) say that we did not win the election in England. Will he comment on the fact that the Conservative party now seems to regard itself as the English nationalist party?

Mr. Chaytor: I do not want to be diverted on to that specific issue, but my hon. Friend makes an important point.

It is glaringly obvious that these debates always start with a flurry of tabloid hysteria from Opposition Members, which is whipped up by the chauvinism and intense nationalism of some of them, but as they move on, we tend to hear a few more voices of reason and sanity on both sides of the House and a degree of consensus emerges, so I hope that I can make my contribution in that context. I associate myself with much that was said by the two previous Conservative speakers: the right hon. Members for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) and for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry).

I reiterate the point made by the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon about French farmers. It is ludicrous and self-defeating to delude ourselves into thinking that all United Kingdom agriculture is superbly efficient, but all French agriculture is immensely inefficient. Anyone who compares the range, quality and diversity of food production in France with what we produce and the circumstances in which we produce it would draw that conclusion. Equally, when considering the strength of the French and German economies, we must compare the number of British consumers who choose to purchase motor cars manufactured in those countries with the number of French and German consumers who purchase motor cars manufactured in Britain. That comparison provides us with an important comment about the relative strengths of our manufacturing economies.

I want to tell the House about the fruits of my recent experiences in France. I happened to find myself in France during the later days of the referendum campaign, so I set out on an attempt to convert a small network of my French friends to the virtues of the European constitution, which proved to be utterly futile and misguided because despite my passionate
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commitment to the cause of European union and general support for the European constitution, albeit in the context of my schoolboy French, I failed miserably to persuade a single friend or colleague to vote yes. However, that was significant because the people to whom I was talking were strong Europeans. They believed in the European Union and probably believed in ever closer union. They certainly managed to combine a strong sense of their French identity with a sense of European identity.

Those people did not vote against the constitution for the reasons outlined by Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen today and during last week's debate. They were not voting against the single currency because they strongly supported it, and nor were they voting against the precise constitutional changes proposed in the treaty. They were not necessarily against a directly elected President, a common foreign policy, or even the changes to qualified majority voting. They were voting on the grounds of anxiety, fear and security. I cannot speak for people in Holland because I suspect that there were one or two slightly different issues there, although many were the same. However, the theme of everyone to whom I spoke, every newspaper article that I read and every television and radio programme that I watched or listened to was economic, rather than constitutional, although it was certainly nothing to do with the single currency. That fact is really important, so our Government and all European Governments must take it on board.

The supreme irony—the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) made this point—is that the Conservative Opposition here believe that the result of the French and Dutch vote was a vindication of their economic policy. That is a delusion of a high order. The minimalist state—the ultra-deregulated economy and free movement of capital—is precisely what French voters voted against. They voted against the kind of economic policy that is dear to the heart of the Conservative party in Britain. We have to recognise that the vote was about economic insecurity as much as it was about the detailed text of the constitution. I think that my experience on that was widely shared.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's analysis of why the French people voted as they did, but in a sense that is less important than the constitutional and political repercussions of their decision. We can have an interesting debate about what went on in the minds and hearts of the French people and what motivated them, but that is rather academic. We are now in a constitutional crisis in Europe which obliges us to reconsider our future role in Europe and the direction of the Community as a whole.

Mr. Chaytor: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but the two issues are not completely separate. It is important to understand how the vote came about if we are to chart the way forward. We also have to recognise that 45 per cent. voted for a 191-page document of densely printed text. It is odd that the Conservative party can say that a 33 per cent. share of the vote in the recent general election represents a historic vindication of their leadership and an end to the terminal decline of their party, but that a 45 per cent.
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vote in France represents a complete rejection by the French people of the European constitution. That is twisted thinking.

I was not privileged to be in the Chamber to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins), but I disagree with his analysis of the constitutional treaty and the way forward for the European economy. However, I share his understanding of why many people in France and Holland voted against the treaty.

There is something else to consider. On the way to the Chamber, I called in at the House of Commons Library to get a copy of the constitutional treaty, not because I expected to read the 191 pages before the start of the debate, but because I wanted to see how accessible it was. There is no copy in the Library. There is an excellent research paper, but I could not access the treaty from the Library Desk. [Hon. Members: "Go to the Vote Office."] My point is that the document is not widely available to the general public in the United Kingdom, so it is highly unsurprising that we do not have a clear understanding of the issues. The document was circulated to every household in France, but if we expect people to take a considered view on a 191-page document, we are deceiving ourselves. There is a lesson for the leadership throughout the EU.

Kelvin Hopkins: I am interested in what my hon. Friend says. Was it not the case that the more people knew about the constitutional treaty, the more likely they were to vote no?

Mr. Chaytor: I disagree. It is a comforting thought that one's viewpoint is supported only by people who have the greatest knowledge, but that was not the case in this instance.

We are poor at communicating complex political issues. That applies to the UK as well as the EU as a whole. Who knows what will happen to the treaty? It is fairly obvious that there will be a gradual move to withdraw the document. Who knows what other nation states will do after the meeting of the European Council? I hope, as I think many Opposition Members do, that it is not the end of a European constitution.

In a Union of 25 nations, with more than 400 million people, it is evident that there must be a basic statement of principles and values around which a majority of the electorate can coalesce. The problem is that we have a document to which we refer as a constitutional treaty. The enlarged EU needs a treaty and it also needs a constitution; but to expect people to vote in a referendum on a constitutional treaty of such complexity is unrealistic.

I am conscious that time is short and I hope to allow one more Member to speak, so I shall draw my remarks to a conclusion. First, it is important that the treaty adapts to the new reality of the EU, and takes into account the fact that it is a Union of 25 nations and that the rules have to be changed. It is entirely reasonable that the leadership of nation states can choose to ratify such a treaty without a referendum. Secondly, if we are to continue to gain public support for the wider European Union, we also need a constitution expressed
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in simple terms. I would not necessarily cite the American constitution as an example, but other countries have comparatively simple constitutions that people can understand and remember, so they know what they are voting for.

We need a constitution that establishes basic principles. However, in whatever document we produce in the future—and there will have to be such a document—we must address basic economic security. Without withdrawing from the commitment to a market economy in the EU, we must recognise that the risks of globalisation are great and that the insecurities of ordinary people are immense. We must give reassurance about those insecurities, and I hope that our Prime Minister will take that message to his colleagues at the European Council later this week.

6.37 pm

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