Select Committee on Constitution Ninth Report


Reply from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Rt Hon. Jack Straw MP, to Lord Norton of Louth, Chairman of the Constitution Committee

Thank you for your letter of 16 June to Peter Hain about the Convention's draft EU Constitutional Treaty. I am replying as Minister with overall responsibility for government policy on the convention and the draft Constitutional Treaty it produced. I apologise for the delay in replying.

You ask, on behalf of your Committee, for the Government's views on the draft Treaty's potential impact on constitutional arrangements in the UK. I welcome your Committee's intention to report on this issue, and am happy to set out the Government's position. There is a great deal more detail in the White Paper we have just published, and a copy of which I enclose. I would draw your attention in particular to the section on Parliament and International Treaties, on page 23, which explains why the Government believes that for this Treaty, as for those resulting from previous IGCs, such as Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice, the right procedure is Parliamentary examination and debate, rather than a referendum.

A new Constitutional Treaty, like all the existing Treaties, would be implemented in the UK through an Act of Parliament, in the same way as the UK's accession to the European Communities was given effect by the European Communities Act 1972. The new Treaty could not enter into force if Parliament did not pass the necessary implementing legislation. So the UK's constitutional arrangements in terms of Parliamentary approval of the Treaty are not changed. Similarly, any future legislation needed to implement British obligations under the Treaty would, as now, be in the form of primary legislation enacted by Parliament or secondary legislation subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.

It will remain the case that any change to the EU Treaties is a matter for unanimous decision by Member States. Other Member States would also retain their distinct legislative arrangements in terms of the scrutiny, ratification and entry into force of the Treaty and subsequent legislation. The draft Treaty is a constitution for the EU, not for individual Member States although, since EU law has always had primacy over the law of Member States, we have obviously accepted that an EU draft constitution would potentially have significant constitutional implications for some Member States; but we do not for the reasons set out below believe this to be the case here.

The draft Treaty does make some changes to the existing EU Treaties. These are designed to improve the EU's efficiency and effectiveness. The Treaty proposes making co-decision the normal legislative procedure, thus giving the European Parliament a greater say in decision-making. It also proposes the extension of Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) into some new policy areas. But, overall, the draft text does not change the fundamental relationship between the EU and the Member States. Indeed, in our judgement, both the Single European Act, which opened the way to the completion of the Single Market, and the Maastricht Treaty, which established CFSP, cooperation in justice and home affairs, and the arrangements for the single currency, as well as extending QMV to 30 policy areas, introduced more profound changes to the EU Treaties than are involved in this proposal.

Moreover, the fact that such proposals have been put forward does not mean that they will be agreed. There are 25 states represented around the table. Consensus is required on each amendment to the existing Treaties. As in previous Treaty negotiations, we do not agree with all of the proposed provisions, and will argue our case accordingly. In particular, paragraph 66 of the White Paper sets out some of our main concerns. We shall insist on unanimity remaining for Treaty change, and in other areas of vital national interest such as tax, social security, defence, key areas of criminal and procedural law, and the system of own resources. Unanimity must also remain the general rule for CFSP.

As you will be aware, both the House of Lords European Union Committee and the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee have done extensive work already on the draft.

16 September 2003

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