§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Vernon Coaker.]1.19 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)
The subject of this afternoon's Adjournment debate is the draft constitutional treaty. Before I come to that, I should like to place on record, on behalf of the House as well as the Government, our abhorrence at the latest terrorist attack, which took place this morning in Jakarta in Indonesia, where a car bomb went off outside the building housing the Australian embassy and the Greek embassy, leading to at least eight people being killed and a large number of casualties, including diplomatic staff from Australia and Greece. Of course, we in this House remember how terrible it was when a car bomb went off inside the compound of the consulate general in Istanbul on 20 November last year. Whenever they go off, they are terrible.
I am sure that I speak for the whole House in expressing our outrage at this atrocity and in sending our condolences to the families of those who were killed and our sympathy to those who are injured. That message should go to the Government of Australia.
With this debate and to assist the House, I have today published Cmd. 6309, a White Paper on the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe.
Today is the first opportunity that the House has had for a full debate on the treaty since it was agreed at a political level at the European Council summit on 17 and 18 June. The origins of the constitution lie in the European Union's expansion with 10 new members, which was completed on 1 May. EU enlargement was an historic success and the fulfilment of a goal pursued by successive British Governments. It has created a single market of 450 million consumers, helped to entrench democracy and stability across the continent and given us new partners in the fight against drugs, illegal immigration and crime. However, it has been clear for a long time that the EU had to reform its institutions and procedures, for those were originally designed for just six members, but now have to work and to become effective with 25. In our judgment, the European constitution is a necessary counterpart to the enlargement of the European Union.
I remind my hon. Friends and Conservative Members that that is also the view of the chairman of the new European People's party group in the European Parliament, to which the Conservative party has just signed up. One of its vice-chairmen is the MEP and former Member of this House, Timothy Kirkhope. As is so often the case, there is an internal argument among the Conservatives about whether they have really joined that body, because they have not agreed to its terms. Mr. Roger Helmer, a Conservative MEP who is four-square at the centre of opinion so far as the Conservative party is concerned, has said, on whether they have to accept the terms for joining the EPP, that "HGP"—Hans-Gert Poettering, the chairman of the EPP—is right and Conservative central office is wrong.
In June last year, the Convention on the Future of Europe produced proposals for discussion by the EU's member states. Four Members of this House and of the 879 other place were members of the Convention—the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), and two of their noble lordships.
Last September, I published a White Paper analysing the Convention's proposals and setting out the Government's objectives and negotiating position for the intergovernmental conference that followed. Throughout the IGC, just as during the discussions in the Convention, the Government benefited from an unprecedented level of parliamentary and public debate and discussion. Altogether, we have had 24 debates and statements in both Houses and in Westminster Hall since the beginning of the IGC last October, and Ministers have attended 15 Committee sittings in both Houses. Britain's negotiating position was greatly strengthened by that parliamentary discussion and involvement.
The EU's Heads of Government reached agreement on the new treaty at the European Council on 17 and 18 June. The provisional text was put before the House as Cmd. 6289 on 19 July. The final texts in all the EU's 21 official languages are being prepared for the signature of the treaty in Rome on 29 October.
To assist this debate and wider discussion in the country I published earlier today a White Paper that sets out the main elements of the new treaty and analyses how the Government delivered on the negotiating objectives that we outlined here in September last year.
As today's White Paper makes clear, we achieved an excellent result. The new treaty incorporates all those proposals from the Convention that we welcomed, such as a clear definition of the EU's competences, but modifies the Convention's draft text in 80 areas. Thirty-nine of those 80 areas involved amendments that were advocated by the United Kingdom—a measure of the impact that we made on the negotiations. On 38 more areas, we were neutral on amendments proposed by others that were of no substantive concern to us. On the remaining three of the 80 areas amended, we secured changes at the European Council that made the proposed amendments acceptable to us. The details of all those amendments are set out in an annexe to the White Paper.
We now have a new treaty that achieves the objectives that we set out from the very beginning of the process. It gives us a European Union that is more coherent and logical in structure; that is more effective and efficient; that is a union of nations, not a federal superstate; that is more accountable and more flexible; and in which we have the right results on policy areas of particular importance to the UK, including in respect of the charter of fundamental rights and the veto on areas such as foreign policy, defence, tax, social security, criminal law and treaty revision.
Let me take those points in turn. First, the new treaty will clarify the EU's organisation, which has grown in complexity over time. It brings together successive EU treaties into a single, coherent text. The so-called three pillars of the EU, which had no basis within the treaties, will be replaced with a single framework that makes rational provision for the separate arrangements in respect of, for example, common foreign and security policy. The treaty reduces the number of legal instruments that the EU can use. It was rightly a 880 criticism of the existing overlay of treaties that we ended up with 10 different legislative methods—now, they are reduced to three. Next, the treaty will make the process of decision making more effective and efficient by adapting procedures originally designed for six members so that they work effectively with 25 or more.
One of the many charges made by the Conservatives against the new constitution and our approach to it is that—shock, horror—there is going to be a president of the European Council. I hope that the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) has by now realised that there has been a president of the European Council ever since the European Union and its predecessors were formed. We have sought a full-time president of the European Council in order to ensure that the opinions and decisions of member states are better effected through the institutions of the EU than they have been up until now. At 25, each member state can hold the presidency only every 12 and a half years. That is a totally different situation from when the EU was formed—then, with six countries, the rotation took only three years. The Conservatives have rightly complained that as the EU has grown there has been a shift, in terms of the implementation of decisions, from the presidency and the European Council to the Commission. We are pulling that influence back. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the Conservatives object to that, unless, as seems to be their position, it is because they want to keep the old system with its increasingly bureaucratic approach.
§ Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)
The Foreign Secretary mentioned the charter of fundamental rights. Will that be legally binding?
§ Mr. Straw
The legal position of the charter of fundamental rights is set out very clearly in articles 52 and 53 and in the explanations. In certain circumstances it will be legally binding, but in most circumstances it is simply a restatement of what is in existing EU law. As a result of our negotiations, the extent to which it can be legally binding in practice is very limited indeed.
The change that I have outlined in respect of the presidency illustrates a third point: this is a treaty for an effective European Union of freely co-operating nations, with national Governments firmly in control. We have heard all sorts of rants from Conservative Members, including those who have been accepted again on to the Front Bench, not only about the consequences of the treaty that we are considering but about those of previous treaties.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), for whom I have great personal affection, but who is slightly off the wall even by Conservative party standards on EU matters, has been taken back into the shadow Cabinet. I therefore presume that the leader of the Conservative party and the deputy leader, who speaks on foreign policy, find the right hon. Gentleman's views on all subjects comfortable. Seven years ago, in May 1997, he said in The Times:If we sign the Amsterdam treaty, we will abolish our country.We signed the Amsterdam treaty, which has been implemented, yet there has been no sign of the nation of the United Kingdom being abolished. The right hon. Gentleman said in April 2000: 881The proposed Nice treaty would do what Guy Fawkes failed to do—blow up parliamentary government in Britain.We signed the Nice treaty, which was ratified, and it has done nothing of the kind.
The new constitution clarifies the nature of the EU and states explicitly that it is an organisation that exercises only those powers that its member states have chosen to confer on it. It is an end to the nonsense about drifting towards a federal superstate. For the first time, it states in terms that the basis of the EU's powers is conferral by member states on the EU. The EU can act only on those matters for which powers are conferred. In addition, there are arrangements for shared powers to be transferred back.
§ Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con)
The Foreign Secretary spoke about our views on the presidency. He knows that we were against having a president for five years because we believed that that was a centralising feature of the constitution at a time when we should be trying to restore confidence to the citizens of Europe in their institutions by moving power in the other direction. We proposed team presidencies, which the Foreign Secretary mocked and described as unworkable. He said that they could not answer the needs of Europe. Why, then, does the White Paper highlight with great praise, and the constitution provide for, team presidencies of three nations, just as we suggested, in all the Councils other than the Foreign Council? We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for taking up at least that suggestion.
§ Mr. Straw
Although it would be wholly inaccurate to do so, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is welcome, if he wishes, to claim authorship of the idea of team presidencies. We have proposed it on many occasions. However, he fails to grasp that, although there is a need for team presidencies because of the difficulty of running the existing sixth-monthly presidencies—in a sense, he accepts our point on that—in addition, there is a profound need for the appointment by the European Council of a single individual to represent nation states in Europe for five years, to ensure that they, rather than the permanent Administration in Brussels or the Commission, direct the EU's agenda. I remain astonished that Conservative Members resist that idea, because it ensures not centralisation, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggests, but that the 25 nation states exercise power, as is proper.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab)
Years ago, when I was a member of the indirectly elected European Parliament, a talented Frenchman called Emile Noel was its secretary. He said that it was crucial to overcome the problem of having to balance out nationalities rather than select talent. If the President's office is set up, will he be able to choose on the basis of talent rather than nationality the key people serving the presidency?
§ Mr. Straw
Yes, I believe so. I am pleased to report to my hon. Friend that one of the other changes that the constitution, once approved, would effect is that each individual state will no longer have its national representative in the Commission. The Commission will 882 be two thirds the size of the total number of states. That means that any member state will have two out of three college periods of five years with a Commissioner. As my hon. Friend says, it is important to get away from having people there simply because they represent some sort of national quota.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab)
Will the Home Secretary—sorry, Foreign Secretary—give way?
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
I beg his pardon. Are we to assume that the rule will apply throughout the Commission and that the existing practice of not only appointing people on a national basis but parcelling out the jobs in suitable levels of seniority will not continue?
§ Mr. Straw
It will take time before such reforms to existing arrangements are effected. If my hon. Friend wants the winds of reform to blow through Brussels, we are more likely to achieve that through the constitution than the alternative. If we do not get the constitution through, the only alternative for this country is the existing ramshackle arrangement under the current treaties, which overlay treaties of the EU and those of the European Community in a less than satisfactory manner.
The treaty also makes the EU more accountable. It establishes, for the first time, a practical mechanism for involving national Parliaments in EU decision making. To ensure that the EU respects the principle of subsidiarity in practice—in other words, that it acts only where it can add value to national or regional action—national Parliaments will gain the power to send legislative proposals back for review, if one third of them object. It is, of course, for Parliament, not the Government, to decide how it will make use of the new power and I greatly welcome the Modernisation Committee's review of the scrutiny of EU business and the discussion in the scrutiny Committees on how the new provisions can be made to work effectively, in consultation with the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies.
Last night, sadly with little notice, the Conservative party published an alternative to our White Paper. It is entitled "The Truth about the European Constitution". We shall consider some aspects of the truth as Conservative Members perceive it later, but the document includes some proposals under which a future Conservative Government would try to change the EU's constitution. One proposal is not to tie in the yellow card procedure for national Parliaments to a change in voting systems, as we proposed: 55 per cent. of member states and 65 per cent. by population before new regulations or laws can be agreed. Conservatives propose that if only five national Parliaments object to any new or existing European legislation on the grounds of subsidiarity or proportionality, it should be withdrawn or repealed immediately. That is a good example of the Conservative party's incoherence.
Currently, one third of member states—nine—can exercise the yellow card. The Conservatives propose almost to halve that to five. They then decide that, 883 instead of providing national Parliaments with a yellow card, thereby forcing the Commission and the Council to think again, they will give five member states, with no population quota, a total veto not only over proposed but over existing legislation.
The Conservative party claims to be in favour of the single market and reform of the common agricultural policy. Yet such an approach, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has set out and approved, would prevent any further move towards opening up the single market and any further attempts, which we are leading, to implement the Lisbon agenda. He prattles on about the need for reform of the CAP, but his proposal would prevent any possibility of that. The Conservative party proposes that only five member states—Poland, France and two or three other small member states—could block any change. I see that the right hon. Gentleman is now trying to get hold of the document—he is reading it for the first time. I look forward to taking the debate to the country.
At least I have read the document properly—all of it—which is more than can be said of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
The new treaty will make the European Union more flexible. In some areas, such as the single market, we obviously need common rules applying to all; but in others, such as the euro or the development of a European crisis management capacity, it makes sense to allow member states that want to co-operate more closely to do so. However—and here is the difference between what we want and the free-for-all Europe advocated by Conservative Members—we must also ensure that such co-operation works fairly, under agreed rules that protect every member's interests. The new treaty will give us that.
The enhanced co-operation will require the participation of at least a third of member states, which will need to work towards the EU's objectives in a way that does not undermine the single market. That, too, would be impossible to achieve if the right hon. and learned Gentleman's proposals for a veto to be given to any five member states, regardless of size, were implemented. It will be open to others wishing to join, but in foreign policy and defence such co-operation can begin only if all member states agree. That is one of the many beneficial changes that we have made to the draft constitution.
§ Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con)
The Foreign Secretary mentioned flexibility. One of the "red lines" of which the Government made so much in last year's White Paper was exclusion of the compulsory co-ordination of employment policy. In evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee, the Foreign Secretary described that article as "unacceptable". Why, then, is it unaltered in the final draft, and why does the White Paper that the Foreign Secretary published today make no reference to the red lines? Is it because it is an unfair and incomplete record of what actually happened in the final negotiations?
§ Mr. Straw
It is an entirely fair record of what happened. What we were able to achieve, which is spelled out in annexe 2 of the White Paper, is a fundamental change in the structure of what was—I 884 speak from recollection—article I-11, which originally stated that it was for the Union to co-ordinate economic and employment policies. The new treaty says that it is for member states to do so. If the right hon. Gentleman feels quizzical about this, let me say that the Government as a whole were entirely satisfied with the result as a whole.
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely it is against the rules of debate to claim the direct contrary to what is in black and white. Article I-14.2 of the constitution clearly states that employment policies shall be co-ordinated by the Union, not by member states. Does it not breach every rule of this place to mislead the House in such a way?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)
Order. I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but I think that such matters are more for debate than for the Chair.
§ Mr. Straw
I know what the article says. That part of it must be seen in the context of the rest, which says that member states have the power to co-ordinate. As the right hon. Gentleman is so worried, let me promise him that this will not affect the competences of the European Union, or the balance of powers between it and member states.
The new text delivers on the commitments that we set out in last September's White Paper in respect of certain specific policy areas. We have fulfilled our commitment to maintaining the veto for treaty change, for the system of own resources including the United Kingdom's rebate, and for the areas of vital national interest that we identified in paragraph 66 of that White Paper: tax, social security, defence, and key areas of criminal procedural law.
This time last year the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes was worried about that. He said that it would constitute a key test, deciding whether or not the Conservatives would approve the proposed treaty. The so-called Passerelle clause—I think it was I-24—was completely unacceptable to us. It would have allowed elements of treaty change in part 3, the detailed part, to proceed without the approval of national Parliaments. That has been changed altogether. The treaty also carries over provisions on immigration, asylum and civil justice issues which allow the UK to decide, case by case, whether to opt into individual measures.
§ Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab)
The Foreign Secretary mentioned what used to be clause 24–4 and is now contained in article IV-7(a). It refers to what happens if a national Parliament objects. What if, 885 in a bicameral Parliament like this, the two Chambers do not agree? There is no mechanism for defining what "Parliament" means in that context.
§ Mr. Straw
In this case the House of Commons would decide, but I take my hon. Friend's point, which may need to be sorted out. That could be done by means of a detailed declaration by the Council, or EU legislation. I do not foresee any difficulty; all national Parliaments have arrangements for dealing with differences between their two Chambers. Every Parliament has two Chambers. I suspect that there will be no such difficulty as my hon. Friend anticipates, but I shall certainly come back to it if there is.
§ Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD)
It would be a simple matter, would it not, to provide in the legislation which is generally expected that in the circumstances referred to by the hon. Lady, the House of Commons should be the determining Parliament.
§ Mr. Straw
We intend to make such provision. I thought that my hon. Friend was referring to the position across the EU, but if draft legislation applying to this Parliament and this country is unsatisfactory, she and every other Member will have plenty of opportunities to change it.
On common security and defence policy, the constitution fulfils our objectives by ensuring that co-operation is flexible, inclusive and complementary to NATO, and is focused on the development of military capabilities. It keeps unanimity as the rule for launching operations and determining policy, and—again, as a direct result of changes led by us—states that NATO isthe foundation for collective defenceof its members.
The treaty includes safeguards to ensure that the charter of fundamental rights creates no new EU powers, alters no existing powers, and applies to member states only when they are implementing EU law. Given that change, we were content to see the charter incorporated in the treaty text. At the back of Cmnd. 6289, Members can find explanations of the full background of the charter provisions. The changes must now be taken into account by the European Court of Justice, as is set out in full.
§ Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con)
If, as the Foreign Secretary says, the charter applies only to the relationship between the EU and its member states, and if, as the treaty states, the EU will accede to the convention on human rights—and all the member states are party to the convention—why do we need a separate charter of fundamental rights?
§ Mr. Straw
That was a matter for debate when it was first proposed, five or six years ago, that a charter of rights should be part of the EU constitution. We accepted the principle in the end, although we had reservations at the beginning, because we thought it sensible to set down in black and white a statement about the rights that anyone in Europe should be entitled to enjoy. I have no difficulty with that, especially 886 given that most of the statements involved are the most obvious of all. In all cases, if there is a clash between the interpretation of the rather bald statements of rights in the EU charter and the convention on human rights, and the Council of Europe and its jurisprudence, the jurisprudence of the convention will apply.
The hon. Gentleman's question gives me an opportunity to ask a question of the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes. I read "The Truth about the European Constitution" with exceptional care. On page 16, the authors express concern about the new European charter of fundamental rights, saying that some of the key articles have ramifications for business, as shown in the table that follows. The first is equality. Article 23 states—I ask my hon. Friends to listen carefully to these shocking words—Equality between men and women must be ensured in all areas, including employment, work and pay.I read that with incredulity. What is the point that the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes is trying to make? Are the Conservatives in favour of this part of the charter or not?
At the bottom of the Conservative pamphlet, it says that, of course, some of the articles are fine, but we know what the Conservatives are up to: they are trying to raise the concern that the charter will somehow undermine Britain as a nation state. If certain elements of it are acceptable, why does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not say, "We believe in the equality of men and women in terms of employment, work and pay. We think that an exceptionally good idea, and it should be proclaimed across Europe, rather than shrunk away from." Why the devil did he not say that? Indeed, there are many other such elements, including health care, and dignity and the right to life.
§ Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary. Is there not also the most extraordinary objection on the part of the Conservatives to the prohibition of child labour and the protection of young people at work?
§ Mr. Straw
This is another example of the Conservatives adopting a position without reading the text. They claim that the charter will somehow undermine the right to strike, but that is complete and utter nonsense. They should know that the right to strike has long been a matter for national Governments under existing European Union acquis, and it is unaffected by the charter of fundamental rights.
§ Mr. Ancram
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should return to wearing spectacles, because he is obviously not reading our pamphlet very carefully. If he does, he will see that we are talking about the way in which this charter, under the constitution, will inevitably influence the European Court of Justice's adjudications on employment law. It will mark a significant transfer of power from elected national politicians to unelected judges, who will sit in the ECJ in 887 Luxembourg. We also give examples of the powers that will be subject to that jurisdiction. The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is so, but he is trying to distort matters in order to avoid the fact that the Government have broken their word that this provision would not be legally enforceable.
§ Mr. Straw
To the extent that the ECJ does take into account the principle of equality between men and women in all areas—including employment, work and pay—I say, "Hurrah!" That seems to me like a very good idea. What is wrong with it? The right hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely wrong, however, to pretend that the charter will extend the European Union's and the ECJ's existing jurisdiction. Article II-52 makes it absolutely clear that the provisions apply only in respect of European Union laws. It states:The provisions of this Charter which contain principles may be implemented by legislative and executive acts taken by Institutions and bodies of the Union, and by acts of Member States when they are implementing Union law, in the exercise of their respective powers. They shall be judicially cognisable only in the interpretation of such acts and in ruling on their legality… Full account shall be taken of national laws and practices as specified in this Charter.
§ Mr. Straw
No, I want to make some progress.
In the new treaty, we have agreed the framework for a reformed, more effective European Union of freely co-operating nations, in which Britain can prosper and increase our influence in the world. The Government have been more open than in any previous treaty negotiation about our objectives and what we cannot accept. By engaging with our partners and shaping the debate in our interests, we have delivered on those commitments.
But there is another important achievement of this treaty: the demolition of the myths put about by the Conservative party. Few issues over recent years have produced so much deliberate misinformation as the EU constitution. We have heard that it would mean giving up control of our armed forces; that border controls would be dismantled; that we would lose our rebate; that fundamental aspects of our criminal law, such as trial by jury and habeas corpus, would be surrendered; that the UK would lose its permanent seat on the UN Security Council; and that Brussels would be able to seize Britain's oil and gas supplies. All of that, as always, is complete and utter nonsense.
Indeed, when the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes responds, perhaps he can explain why, if the EU nations are about to lose their right to sit on the Security Council, Federal Germany is campaigning so hard for a permanent seat for itself. Perhaps he can also explain why the constitution, which he called "irreversible" during the equivalent debate on 16 September last year, is in fact the first EU treaty to include specific procedures for repatriating powers to the member states, or for withdrawal from the EU by any member state that wishes to leave. Even more bizarre is the fact that the Conservative party reserves its fiercest attacks for those aspects of the constitution that have been accepted elements of the way the EU operates for 888 decades. We in this House have been told time without number that the treaty is the end of civilisation as we know it, because it includes the notion that EU law has primacy over domestic law. Yet primacy has been an accepted principle of British membership of the EU and of British law since a Conservative Government took us into the Common Market in 1973.
§ Mr. Cash
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary. On primacy, he is of course referring to article I-5a. I note that the word "constitution" was eliminated from the previous text. The text now makes it clear thatthe Constitution and law adopted by the Union's institutions in exercising competencies conferred on it, shall have primacy over the law of the Member States".Does the Foreign Secretary deny that the expressionthe law of the Member Statesincludes the constitution of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Straw
Of course it does, in so far as laws of this Parliament lay down our constitution; but part of our constitution—like the primacy of Parliament itself—is not laid down by any law of the constitution. Because we are a sovereign nation, Parliament itself will have the final right to decide, at any stage, whether it wishes us to remain a member of this treaty-based organisation. If the hon. Gentleman wants to persuade his party to propose that we leave the European Union as a whole, he is entitled to do so; and under the new constitution, there is good provision through which countries will be able to leave the EU.
As part of the wittering nonsense of the "alternative White Paper" that was published yesterday, the hon. Gentleman is trying to argue that the new primacy arrangements can somehow change other countries' constitutions. In any event, we do not have a written constitution that is superior to our law passed in Parliament. I should point out that there has been a long argument in Germany—the "Kompetenz-Kompetenz" argument—about whether the supreme court of Germany, the constitutional court in Karlsruhe or the ECJ takes precedence. It is irresolvable at the moment, and I suspect that it will remain so. No one on either side of the argument in Germany has said that this change will affect that situation.
The House of Lords European Union Select Committee, which includes many Conservative members, observed:It is not surprising that … the Constitutional Treaty includes a statement of the primacy of Union law. The doctrine is a well established and key element of the Community's legal order".We are told that qualified majority voting is a fundamental dilution of our national sovereignty, yet it was a Conservative Government, under Margaret Thatcher, who provided for the first widespread use of QMV and extended it to major parts of national life that were previously the domain of member states alone. We are told that a statement of loyal co-operation with our European allies and the operation of a common foreign and security policy would prevent us from engaging in 889 military action without the agreement of Brussels; yet it was a Conservative Government who signed up to both of these provisions, at Maastricht. They are virtually unamended in those particulars, and we remain able to decide where and how to deploy our troops at any time. That situation will remain under the new treaty.
§ Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)
A cardinal principle of debate and of our constitution is, "That was then, this is now." [Interruption.] Well, it is the truth. For the Government to rest their case on past events—events that I fiercely opposed, as did Members of the current Government, in some instances—is an absurdity. We are considering the constitution before us, so we should not try to score silly points about the past. We are in the here and now, and this issue is of vital importance to most of us, and to the future of this country.
§ Mr. Straw
I am deeply grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who makes the point that I was about to make. Essentially, most of the arguments that the Conservatives are now seeking to fight concern not what is in the new treaty, which includes some sensible organisational changes to how the European Union operates, but Maastricht.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that he has been consistent in opposing Maastricht, as he was in opposing the Single European Act and our membership of the Common Market before it. However, he cannot say, "That was then; this is now" with any degree of seriousness.
What we are debating here is whether or not the new draft treaty is an improvement on the existing arrangements. In the real world inhabited by the rest of us, I predict that if the new draft constitution does not go through, there will be no appetite in the UK for leaving or withdrawing from the EU. Instead, we would have to fall back on the existing treaties, including those Maastricht provisions to which the hon. Gentleman takes such objection. They—the objectionable bits—would still be in place, and those parts of the new treaty that even the hon. Gentleman would probably support, including stronger powers for national parliaments and a more accountable presidency, would be lost. That would be a bad bargain for the British people and the House.
§ Mr. Straw
If my hon. Friend will excuse me, I am about to wind up.
Logically, the new constitutional treaty is one that the Conservatives should support. As the noble Lord Heseltine has said—[Interruption.] I note the mocking laughter with which the name of Lord Heseltine is now treated by Conservative Members in the House. I have my arguments with Lord Heseltine, but I would say on his behalf that he was a damned sight more successful at winning elections for the Conservative party than the current rabble have been, so it would be wise for the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) to bear his record in mind. Lord Heseltine rightly said that 890any Conservative Prime Minister since Harold Macmillan would have signedthis EU constitution.
The Conservatives say that they want a Europe of nations, not a superstate. So do we, and that is what the treaty sets out. They say that they want a more flexible Europe and again that is in the treaty, without being in the existing arrangements. They say that they want more efficient and effective European institutions. That is what the treaty will deliver. They are unhappy with having negotiated Maastricht a decade ago and now they are opposing a treaty that in many ways reforms the EU of Maastricht for the better. What the Conservatives cannot bring themselves to engage with are the issues or serious debate about Britain's future within the EU. The Conservative party is being forced ever further into more and more extreme positions that would marginalise and weaken this country's influence.
The European elections painted a dismal picture of a Leader of the Opposition desperate to pander to those who would betray our national interests by taking Britain out of the EU, but if that campaign teaches the Conservative party anything, it is that the hard-line rejectionists can never be appeased.
§ Mr. Ancram
Before the Foreign Secretary sits down, will he clarify what his Government's policy will be if the British people do, as we expect, vote no?
§ Mr. Straw
We are going into the referendum campaign in order to win, so our policy is to gain a yes vote, and I very strongly believe that we will gain it. If there is a no vote, it is perfectly obvious what the circumstances will be—and the existing treaties will apply. What the right hon. and learned Gentleman should apply himself to is why the existing ramshackle treaties, which give European nation states less power than the new treaty, will somehow be beneficial for Britain.
Now that the final text of the draft treaty is agreed, Parliament and the British people can debate it on the basis of facts, not the myths and scare stories of the party opposite. [Interruption.] In Parliament and to the British people, who will have the final say on its ratification in a referendum, the Government will make their case on the basis of the result that we have achieved—not by some stroke of chance, but because the Government have put Britain at the heart of European decision-making and shaped the debate in our favour.
Engagement in Europe pays. It was by engaging with our partners that the Government delivered what we set out to do with the new constitution. It was by building alliances and winning the arguments that we got the right choice for the new European Commission President—José Manuel Barroso, who has the stature, drive and global outlook to drive through reform in the EU—and with our former right hon. Friend Peter Mandelson, we have an outstanding British appointment who has now acquired the key trade portfolio. [Interruption.] That will benefit this country and the EU as a whole.
891 We will need the same engagement in the months ahead as we work to push through economic reform, to complete the single market in services and to build the EU's capacity to act globally against the threats from conflict, proliferation and terrorism. Britain cannot afford to retreat to the sidelines, as the Conservative party would have us do. The Government will continue to engage in Europe to shape the debate and get the right results for Britain, and we will continue to make the case for this new treaty on the basis of fact, not myth. It is a treaty that sets out our kind of Europe, an effective, flexible and reforming EU of nations in which Britain is more prosperous and more secure.
§ 2.5 pm
§ Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con)
I think that it was Sir Winston Churchill who once wrote a note alongside the text of his speech saying, "Argument weak; must shout." The last five minutes of the Foreign Secretary's speech fits very well into that category. I am delighted and relieved, however, to see him here today after the poisonous briefings against him that we have seen in the newspapers. We were all concerned that there might have been a career move on his part, so we are all pleased that he is in his place today.
I begin by associating myself with the remarks that the Foreign Secretary made about the terrorist incident in Jakarta. We join him in sending our condolences and sympathies to those who were injured.
I welcome this debate on the European constitution—
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
My right hon. and learned Friend is courteous, as always. I want to make a serious point. Is it not absolutely disgraceful that the Foreign Secretary gave a speech that was full of propaganda, but failed to make one reference to the appointment of a new European Foreign Minister as one of the fundamental parts of the new treaty? That will affect this and other countries. It is a matter of real significance and massive cost, yet he did not make a single reference to it in his speech. Would it not be better if we talked about the real issues instead of exchanging propaganda?
§ Mr. Ancram
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has taken the words out of my mouth. I was going to refer to the fact that the Foreign Secretary spends more time attacking what he thinks is our policy but is not, rather than explaining his own policy. I asked him what would happen if the people of this country voted no, and he said that we would simply go back to the existing treaties. If he had bothered to read his own White Paper, he would see that it states on page 11 that, in those circumstances,the Union would obviously be faced with a considerable political crisis. The member states have agreed that … there would need to be further European Council discussion.892 We want to know what that discussion will be about. Once again, the right hon. Gentleman, who always talks in terms of black and white—that we are either in or out of Europe—has to face up to his own words in his own White Paper. I hope that before the debate is over, the Minister for Europe will offer us some explanation.
§ Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollock) (Lab/Co-op)
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the statement in the White Paper means that if the constitution is rejected, as I hope it will be, there will be no question of losing British jobs associated with trade in the EU or the even greater number of EU jobs associated with trade with Britain, because there would be no adverse economic impact resulting from the rejection of the constitution?
§ Mr. Ancram
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and, funnily enough, that was the position adopted by his own Government when the constitution seemed to have run into the buffers last December. We were then suddenly told that it was not necessary and that we could manage without it. The hon. Gentleman therefore makes a valid and valuable point.
Unlike the Foreign Secretary, most hon. Members have not had much time to study the White Paper in detail. It was certainly not available in Portcullis House until 11.30 this morning. I will want to read it in greater detail before dealing analytically with all the points in it. At first glance, it carries assertions that are at best questionable and in some cases plain wrong. I will come on to those points in due course. Once again, it mixes fact with spin, though I suppose that that is not surprising from the present Government.
I shall give an example of how extraordinary this document is. On page 27, it describes the energy chapter as "a good outcome". The truth is that the Government tried at the Convention to delete the whole of that chapter, but failed. If this defeat is a good outcome, what on earth is a bad one?
To my surprise, the White Paper deals with the question of a European constitution. I welcome that, and am delighted that the Government are at last prepared to accept that that is what we are talking about. There have been months of studious attempts to avoid the C-word. The document has been called a constitutional treaty, a tidying-up exercise, and a consolidation of existing treaties. All along, we have said that we could not have a proper debate on the matter until it was accepted that this was a constitution for the EU. That is what this document is, what it now says that it is, and what the Government now admit that it is. We are talking about a constitution of primacy and integration, and of a political entity in its own right.
Article I-5a says, not that European law shall have primacy over the law of member states, but that the constitution—this document—shall have that primacy. What is remarkable about the Government's attitude is that nowhere else in Europe are people, let alone 893 politicians, in such denial about the fact that this constitution is a hugely important part of the European integration process.
§ Mr. Ancram
This is a treaty that sets up a constitution. We are debating the constitution that it seeks to set up, and the effect that it will have on this country's sovereignty. The Foreign Secretary is playing with words. We are talking about a constitution that will operate as such if it goes through. Unless he accepts that, we are in danger of misleading the people of this country.
§ Mr. Cash
My right hon. and learned Friend is making some sensible remarks but, in respect of primacy, will he accept that, if and when the UK Parliament implements this constitution, it will confer on the European Court of Justice powers to acquire jurisdiction over our constitution? In effect, through conferral, it will be asking Parliament to abdicate.
§ Mr. Ancram
Article I-5a states that the constitutionshall have primacy over the law of member states.I think that what my hon. Friend says must follow from that.
I was talking about the integrationist nature of the constitution. The Foreign Secretary recently has begun to try to argue the opposite: the other day, he talked about the constitution returning powers from the EU to nation states, and he repeated that assertion today. In fact, the constitution refers once, and obliquely, to the possibility that, in certain rare circumstances at the dispensation of the EU, shared powers might be transferred back to member states. That is all: no mechanism is provided to return powers to member states, and no powers are so returned.
If the Foreign Secretary wants a less integrationist Europe, the White Paper gives no idea of the powers that he would want to be returned. That would be the great test of his sincerity, but he is again merely playing with words because he knows that the British people are frightened of integration. He is trying to persuade them that this constitution is what it is not.
§ Mr. Ancram
In a moment.
This is not only an integrating constitution, it is an unnecessary one. We do not need or want it. Constitutions of this nature are not for partnerships or associations, but for countries. This document is the gateway to a country called Europe, as I have said before, and we do not want to be part of that.
That it creates such a country is not just my view. It is the considered view of many leading Europeans. Romano Prodi described the constitution as 894a big change from the basic concept of nation states. It is a change of centuries of history.The Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said:Those who are afraid do not appear to have grasped what is happening at the moment. We are creating a political union.In case there was any doubt, he later added:The European Union acquires all the instruments of a federal state. The capstone is the constitutional treaty.That is what the leaders of Europe believe. That is the truth, and the Foreign Secretary should have the courage to come forward and argue his case on that basis.
§ Keith Vaz
The original position of the Conservative party was to block enlargement. The Opposition wanted a referendum on the Nice treaty, but changed their position subsequently and supported the accession of the applicant countries. How does the right hon. and learned Gentleman expect a Europe of 25 nations to cope with an organisational structure created to deal with only six member states?
§ Mr. Ancram
First, I remind the hon. Gentleman that it was my party that first backed the idea of enlargement in 1991. We have always backed enlargement, and the countries that acceded to the EU this year recognised that. Secondly, he is using the normal argument and asking whether we need changes as a result of enlargement. The answer is yes, we need changes, as we have always accepted. Some of our proposals are contained in our pamphlet. However, the argument for change is not one for creating something totally different—an integrated constitution as described by Guy Verhofstadt.
This constitution creates a legal personality, a President, and a Foreign Secretary. It creates a European diplomatic service, fundamental rights that will be legally enforceable, and a more coercive foreign and security policy. It creates the more explicit primacy of European law, and gives it an increasing role in criminal law, including new powers in criminal investigation. It gives the EU powers in transport and energy. It is the constitution of the European superpower that the Prime Minister has declared twice—in Warsaw, and in Cardiff in November 2002—that it is his intention to create. We want to have no part of that type of Europe.
§ Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman claims that the constitution will turn the EU into a superstate. Why does he not consider that the UN constitution makes that organisation into a global superstate? If he was opposed to the ratification of the Nice treaty—as he was—why did he push for a referendum if he was in favour of enlargement? Enlargement would not have taken place without the Nice treaty.
§ Mr. Ancram
The hon. Gentleman is avoiding the issue. This is a constitution of a particular type. I have just set out what it includes. I repeat that it will deliver a European superpower. I did not use the phrase "European superstate". I used the word "superpower", as that is the word that the Prime Minister used deliberately on the two occasions to which I referred 895 earlier. Since then, the Government have tried to back away from that position because they know that it offends the British people.
As I said, I do not believe that the constitution was necessary to deal with enlargement. The Government now say that it is, but they have not always said that. In 1999, the then Foreign Secretary said:For the record, we are not proposing a constitution of Europe."—[Official Report, 25 May 1999; Vol. 332, c. 184.]The following year, the Prime Minister said that the EU did not need a constitution, so what has changed? We were told that Nice was needed to make enlargement work. After that, the Prime Minister suddenly told us that the constitution wasnecessary to make accession work."—[Official Report, 14 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 306.]However, when the constitution appeared to hit the buffers last December, it apparently was not necessary after all. Consistency has not been the Government's strongest weapon in their battle for the constitution.
Nor has consistency been the Government's strongest card in relation to a referendum on the constitution. Last year, the Leader of the House announced thatthose who are starting off on a campaign for a referendum might as well put their placards away and stop wasting their money—because we are not going to do it.In several debates in the House, the Foreign Secretary castigated me for supporting and promoting the concept of a referendum. In March, the Prime Minister flip-flopped and conceded one. That was not the Government's only flip-flop—nor even the greatest—on the way to this wretched constitution. Before it came to power, the Labour party said that it would keep home and foreign affairs intergovernmental and preserve the three-pillar structure on which the previous Conservative Government had insisted at Maastricht.
Today, we are told, almost with pride, that that three-pillar structure has been removed with the connivance of this Government; certainly, the constitution puts an end to it. The Prime Minister said that the charter of fundamental rights would be only a political declaration. A former Minister for Europe, sitting in his place as usual, said that it would have the legal weight of the Beano. I do not know whether he has consulted the lawyers of the Beano since then to find out how much legal weight it has in comparison to the charter of fundamental rights. Now the charter forms part II of the constitution and will be legally binding. It will have full legal status and will be enforced through the European Court of Justice.
EU lawyers have already made it clear that they intend to use the charter to change national laws. The Foreign Secretary tells us that we do not have to worry, and that the constitution covers all that. However, Vassilios Skourios, the president of the European Court of Justice, said that the constitutionwill bring new areas and new subjects under the court's jurisdiction.He refused to confirm that the charter would not change national laws. Despite the assertions in the White Paper, the Minister for Europe boasted in Le Monde recently—I think it was last week—that the charter would strengthen British trade union rights, which is a view that is, surprisingly, supported by Professor Brian 896 Burcusson of King's college. That is not so much trade union power by the back door, or even through Parliament, but through the pages of the European constitution. In 1997 the Prime Minister boasted that he had seen off a proposal to give the EU its own legal personality; he called it potentially damaging. Now, under the constitution, the EU has been given a legal personality.
Those are not the only flip-flops. During the constitution negotiations, the Leader of the House of Commons tabled 275 amendments and the Government succeeded in only 27. The Foreign Secretary laughs as usual at that, but those amendments were not trivial. The Government called for the deletion of the new EU power to ensure the co-ordination of member states' employment policies. The amendment was ignored, and the Government caved in, arguing that it was undemocratic for member states to keep power only in those areas where the EU did not want it. They called that the "worst of all worlds". They were ignored, and once again they caved in. The Government opposed making the charter of fundamental rights legally binding and, as we have seen, they caved in on that, too. That is not so much flip-flopping as straightforward surrender, which is why they are so keen to disguise the reality of this constitution in a thicket of weasel words and good, old-fashioned bluster.
§ Chris Bryant
I am deeply grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. On every occasion that there has been any discussion about the constitution, he has used the argument that the Government tabled lots of amendments and only some were successful. The truth is that his party tabled more than 400 amendments to the Communications Bill, but ended up voting for it—does that mean that the Conservatives flip-flopped, or is it true that amendments are sometimes also tabled by others, and theirs get through?
§ Mr. Ancram
I wish that the Prime Minister would give the hon. Gentleman a job and put him out of his misery, because he tries so hard on behalf of his party. Even he cannot believe that an amendment to an existing provision that the Government themselves call the worst of all worlds is trivial and, once you fail in that amendment, it suddenly does not matter any more. The Government were defeated on serious amendments and, having been defeated, they caved in. Now we have the constitution, which will do so much damage to this country.
We opposed the constitution in principle and in practice. Let us consider the constitution and what it will mean in terms of the economy and jobs, and the way that we have traditionally regulated ourselves. It has provision for more regulations. We have already talked about the meddlesome charter of fundamental rights, but there will be more EU powers over social security and co-ordination of employment policy. There will be more powers on competition policy, and to co-ordinate our economic policy. There will be more powers in trade policy, more powers over energy and greater EU control over asylum and immigration and criminal justice.
Under article I-15 the constitution seeks to enshrine the principle of a common foreign and security policy, including 897the progressive framing of a common defence policy, which might lead to a common defence.The breach of that policy will be justiciable, whatever the Foreign Secretary says. These are some of the practical reasons why we oppose the constitution. In doing so, we are looking for a better Europe—one that is more suited to the challenges of the 21st century.
§ Mr. Ancram
I will. I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the written evidence from Professor Arnull's submission to the Lords Constitution Committee in October 2003.
§ Mr. Ancram
This is the answer. The professor points out the differences between those two clauses and says:The power of the Court of Justice to review compliance by Member States with the second subparagraph of that provision is particularly significant. It may lead the Court to be called upon to consider whether action by a Member State complies with an act adopted by the Union in this area or is contrary to the Union's interests or likely to impair its effectiveness. The Court would be likely to regard at least some of these issues as justiciable.That is a significant point. It could allow the ECJ to impose penalties on a member state for its foreign policy actions. A similar passage in the Maastricht treaty was not under the ECJ's remit—the professor mentions it and shows why that is so. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to challenge that opinion, I would like him to do so on that basis.
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
Perhaps I can assist my right hon. and learned Friend. What he said was right. The Foreign Secretary is wrong, yet again, because article III-282, which purports to rule out the jurisdiction of the ECJ over foreign policy, does not cover article I-15, which says clearly:Member States shall actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity".Therefore, if we deviate from that part in any respect, that would be justiciable by the European Court of Justice under the final text.
§ Mr. Ancram
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who supports what Professor Arnull said. The Foreign 898 Secretary can continue to make claims from the Dispatch Box, but he really should check his facts before he makes that type of statement.
§ Mr. Straw
No. That is not just my opinion. It is also the opinion of the head of the Council legal secretariat, which whom we have discussed the matter on many occasions. Article III-282 spells out that the European Court of Justice shall not have jurisdiction with respect to articles I-39 and I-40 and the provisions of chapter 2 of title V concerning common foreign and security policy, and article III-194 in so far as it concerns common foreign and security policy.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am getting rather confused about who is addressing the House. I think that it is probably Michael Ancram.
§ Mr. Ancram
I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was wondering whether the Foreign Secretary was trying to make a second speech. This is an important point, and I hope that he will go back and check it, because although he has told us what articles are not justiciable, the one to which I referred was I-15. That is the one that Professor Arnull talks about, saying:It could allow"—although not in every case—the ECJ to impose penalties on a member state for its foreign policy actions.That is a very serious assertion that flies in the face of what we have been told again and again is one of the triumphs of this Government's negotiation—a claim that is, at best, highly questionable.
As I was saying, we are looking for a better Europe, one which is more suited to the challenges of the 21st century. It will not happen of its own accord. It will take a no vote in any of the forthcoming referendums to send the leaders of Europe back to the drawing board—what in the White Paper is described asa meeting of the Council of Ministers for further discussions.A no vote will allow them, I hope, to return to the sidelined principles of the Laeken declaration of 2001, which actually recognised some of the real problems that the EU faces and asked some of the right questions. That declaration recognised that the EU was too distant from its peoples. It rightly said that the EU should not intervene too much in the details of national lives. It said that the EU was too bureaucratic. It asked both whether 899 some powers currently held by the EU should be returned to the nation states and whether some powers still held by member states should be given to the EU. Sadly, the only suggestion that the constitution took up was that more power should be given to the EU.
This time, there will be a real chance—in many ways, the first chance for a generation—to move towards a healthier, more flexible, more decentralising Europe. The EU needs real reform. Europe's member states need to recognise that not all countries want the same things from the EU or want to go in the same direction. Some member states want deeper integration; some do not. Our view is that we should let those who want to pool ever more sovereignty do so. We should not stand in their way. But in return, they should not expect those who do not want to follow them to do so either. Schengen and the euro are good examples of how this can be achieved without breaking the European Union. Experience tells us that there are powers that are currently held by the European Union that would be better exercised by national Governments. We want to see the current ratchet reversed and powers returned from Brussels to Britain.
Of course there are some powers that all countries must sign up to—the single market being the most obvious. The single market was intended by Britain to be a vehicle for liberalisation that would benefit business. It has brought real benefits to countries across Europe, but it has also been used to justify unnecessary rules and regulations. This is partly what has caused the recent steep decline in support for the EU among British business.
So we need to look closely at how the single market is working in practice. We need a simple set of rules that will facilitate and stimulate trade within the European Union. A reformed single market must be the bedrock of a transformed EU. It would deliver the great gains in productivity and growth that Europe so desperately needs. It would end the steady creep of bureaucratic power. Perhaps most important, it would re-engage public support for the European Union.
§ Mrs. Browning
My right hon. and learned Friend is generous. Does he care to reflect on the fact that if we had gone down the route of mutual recognition of goods and services rather than harmonisation when we entered the single market we would not have the problems that we have today? It is of course on that basis that the EU trades in quite a harmonious way with many countries outside the EU.
§ Mr. Ancram
Obviously this is a matter of debate, but one of the main problems facing the single market has 900 been the failure to implement the Lisbon criteria, which largely related to deregulation. The French were less keen to deregulate some of their industries and businesses in a way that would have helped the single market. I hope that that is one of the things on which we can make progress.
§ Mr. Ancram
I have given way an awful lot; at least as many times as the Foreign Secretary. The last time that I gave way to him I was in a seated position for some time thereafter while he tried to make his second speech.
§ Mr. Ancram
As long as he is not going to make his third speech, I will give way to the Foreign Secretary once more.
§ Mr. Straw
The right hon. Gentleman speaks about the importance of pursuing the Lisbon reforms. How would the change in the constitution that he proposes, by which any five member states—however small—could veto existing reforms as well as block all changes, ensure progress towards a really well-functioning internal market?
§ Mr. Ancram
Again, if the right hon. Gentleman is going to use something, he must read it correctly. What we are talking about is legislation where subsidiarity is at stake. In our manifesto, on which we fought the European elections successfully, we made it clear that the single market would have to be treated in a different way due to the need for uniformity in that market.
Allied to the need to reform the single market, we also need to look frankly and sincerely at what is done well at the European level and what is done badly. The common fisheries policy has been a total failure. Jobs have been slashed, our fisheries have been plundered, and our fishermen find that there is little that national politicians can do about it. That is the European democratic deficit in action. That is why we intend to restore our fisheries to local and national control. It is also why we want to restore our opt-out from the social chapter, so that we here in this Parliament, not the European Council or Commission, can decide what is and is not right for our country and our employment laws.
I want Europe to succeed, but as a partnership of sovereign nations, not as an emerging superpower. I want Europe to be reformed so that it delivers better what the people of Europe want from it—peace and prosperity. That is another reason why we reject this constitution. Its provisions are rooted in an outdated concept of a social Europe that will damage Europe's prospects for prosperity. That is why the director of the Confederation of British Industry has said that:this constitution does nothing to make Europe more globally competitive.That is why the director of the Institute of Directors said of the charter that 901far from clarifying employment rights, this leaves business facing worrying uncertainty".That is why the Federation of Small Businesses has said:we are concerned that the constitution may lead to a surge in red tape.Now that we will have a referendum—I am grateful for that—the people of Britain will decide. I believe that the constitution speaks for itself. I therefore challenge the Government in the run-up to the referendum not to write propagandist White Papers but to send every household in Britain a full copy of the constitution so that people can read it for themselves. [Laughter.] Labour Members laugh, but that is what the French did when they held a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. They obviously take the view that French people are better able to comprehend constitutional treaties than the British. I do not take that view because I believe that if the British people read the constitution they would see clearly where the truth of this issue lies, which is why I suspect that the Government will duck my challenge.
Nor can I see any merit in delaying the promised referendum. The information is now all there. We will fight this constitution tooth and nail. The Conservatives are ready to accept the Prime Minister's challenge. Let us get on with it and let battle be joined now.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on all Back-Bench speeches, and that starts from now.
§ Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab)
We now for the first time have an actual text, so theoretically the debate that everyone has been calling for—one free of myth and distortions—can start to take place. From what we have heard so far, I do not think it has quite started yet. Both sides seem to be creating their own fantasy world, which they then defend. If our debates are to be enlightened, it is incumbent on us all to support any assertion as to what is in the treaty by making a reference to where it is in the text.
In that context, I hope that, in his winding-up speech, the Minister for Europe will point to two areas about which I have been puzzled in the last hour or so. One is where the treaty specifies that if there is a conflict between a European Court of Human Rights judgment and the charter, the ECHR will take precedent. It is my clear recollection that one of the arguments employed as to why it was not sufficient for the European Union once it had acquired single legal personality simply to sign up to that convention was that the charter of fundamental rights was creating a new kind of human rights which went beyond what we had before. I shall be happy and grateful to accept the argument that that has been settled, but I have not found it in the document.
The second matter, which again I hear repeated time and time again, was not in the White Paper, although the Foreign Secretary referred to it in his speech. He referred to a specific procedure for repatriation of competences. There is a chink that would allow for that 902 to happen, as I read it, but I have not yet found a specific procedure. I would have expected it to be at least a separate article. Because of the sequence in which we have been called, I shall also be interested at some stage to know the view of the Liberal Democrats, who as I understand it are now in favour of the possibility that competences might, if appropriate, be repatriated to member states. Are they happy with the provisions in the constitution?
Konrad Adenauer, a great European, was once challenged about something that he had said in the past. He told the journalist that he was not the slightest bit interested in what he had said last week. We could go on for weeks reminding each other about what we have said in the past, but that is not the point. We now have one document that brings together the past in a new form, and we need to look at the merits of what is in front of us. All sides have changed their mind at some time in the past 50 years, because the facts have changed, so we should focus on what is now before us.
I shall examine the specific issue of the role of national Parliaments. The language in the White Paper is modest and appropriate. It refers to involving national Parliaments much more in EU debate. That is a neutral statement, but I keep hearing that it has been strengthened. I wonder whether that has happened and, more to the point, whether we are capable of rising to the challenge as our institution stands. I chaired a working group on the role of national Parliaments and I gave evidence in France, Portugal and Scandinavia. I also attended the Western European Union. I have given considerable thought to the issue.
Let us consider what the constitution says. Article I-9 says that national Parliaments shall "ensure compliance" with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. Article I-17 is a flexibility clause that requires that the European Commissionshall draw Member States' national Parliaments' attention to proposals".Article I-57, on applications for membership by states, says that national Parliaments shall be "notified of this application". Article III-161 states that national Parliamentsshall be informed of the content and results of the evaluation".The language is important. However, information and notification do not amount to power or a strengthening of the position of national Parliaments unless we are capable of using that power. There is some very good news for national Parliaments. For example, article I-23 requires that theCouncil shall meet in public when it deliberates and votes on Union legislative and non-legislative activities.That is important because for the first time we will know what positions Ministers have taken.
Article IV-7 looks at simplified ratification procedures. That was the old 24(4) clause to which I violently objected. On its own, it would have been sufficient to cause me to reject the constitution. It has been strengthened, but it means that the move from unanimity to qualified majority voting can only happen provided that national Parliaments do not disagree. I tried to make the point when I intervened in the speech 903 by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that we must be much more precise about the mechanism that this House will use to form an opinion.
§ Ms Stuart
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. The heart of the decision that the House has to make is whether it seeks simply to receive more information so that it can then play a part in explaining to the public what other institutions in the European Union are doing on our behalf. That is an honourable way of proceeding, but we need to be clear about it if that is what we are doing. Or does the House seek to find a way of having a voice that may at times be independent of Government? That would be unusual, in terms of parliamentary procedure, but if that is what we wish to achieve we would have to be clear about what would be required in order to do so. We would be fooling ourselves if we claimed that our role had been strengthened by the requirement that we should receive more information and pass it on. We will open ourselves to accusations such as that made by Digby Jones recently, when he said that Parliament was asleep on the job because 40 per cent. of domestic legislation that emanates from the EU is not discussed or debated here. Depending on the choice that Parliament makes, we need to look at our procedures.
The constitution also contains a provision that will be bad for national Parliaments and will undermine them. Article 1–46, under the heading "Principles of participatory democracy", allows for a European law to be created that gives the right of petition. If more than 1 million citizens across a significant number of member states request the Commission to initiate legislation, it will do so. In itself, that provision is innocuous, but the principle means that we will concede a right of initiative that circumvents national Parliaments and Governments. We were not prepared to give that right to national Parliaments, and that troubles me. People need to know the totality of the provisions in relation to the role of national Parliaments.
§ Mr. Cash
I agree entirely with the hon. Lady's problem about this place merely being provided with information. However, the underlying question is not merely a procedural question. It is about the sovereignty of Parliament. Will we be able to do anything about the legislation presented to us if we do not like it?
§ Ms Stuart
Let us work on the assumption that Parliament wishes to form a view independent of the Government. What would we require, on top of what is in the constitution, to enable us to do that? My argument is that what is in the constitution would not be sufficient to enable us to exercise such a power. For a start, we would require a much clearer framework for passing legislation in the EU and Commission proposals that would allow the House to take part in those debates. A Commission proposal can go on for years, sometimes for 10 years, before becoming law. The House of Commons lacks what one might call a collective memory to enable it to key into the making of 904 such decisions. A fundamental change would be for a Commission proposal to have a delete button, as we have in the form of the end of a parliamentary Session or the calling of a general election.
We also need—and I know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will not like this proposal—much stronger co-ordination of domestic policy that is decided at a European level. I strongly advocate the introduction into the Cabinet of a Minister for Europe—of the status of a Deputy Prime Minister—who has that function.
§ Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con)
Does the hon. Lady agree that it has always been assumed at European level that Ministers at Council of Ministers meetings have the authority of their Parliaments and are accountable to them? In practice, it has always been open to us to exert more influence over the line taken by Ministers at Council of Ministers meetings. It has been a great failure on our parts that we have not done so. It has happened over many years and is nothing to do with the new constitution. There is no point in protesting about the new constitution if we are not prepared to exert effectively the authority that we already have. Other countries, such as Denmark, have succeeded in doing so and we should learn lessons from them, irrespective of our views on the constitution.
§ Ms Stuart
Within the constraints of the time available, I shall give one example of the problem. As a Health Minister I had to give evidence on new regulations for abattoirs at the time we wanted the beef ban to be lifted after BSE. Agriculture and Health Ministers had negotiated a whole package. By the time it came to the House and before the Special Committee, it could not be unravelled. The House was unaware of the package as it was being put together, and it came before the House as a fait accompli. That is why I argue that we need a Minister at Cabinet level to co-ordinate the process when various Departments are involved. I cannot give a single example of an occasion on which the current process of scrutiny has changed Government policy. When I challenged the Commission, I could not find one example of it changing a legislative proposal because it was a breach of the principle of subsidiarity.
Let us look at what is in the constitution on the basis of what powers we will have and what changes we would have to make here if we really wanted to exercise them. The fundamental mistake, which we must not make, is to mistake activity for achievement. Nor should we confuse having more information with having more power. There are choices to be made, and the House must decide which route it wishes to take.
§ Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD)
Both the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) began by making proper reference to the horrific events that have taken place in Jakarta. If those events represent some change of tactics on the part of terrorists, to seek to influence the domestic elections of Governments who have been prominent in the campaign against terrorism, it is a most sinister change of tactics and one that we must be concerned, anxious and indeed determined to resist. On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends I associate 905 myself with the expressions of sympathy given by both the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
The Foreign Secretary and I are now in substantial agreement on the topic of this debate. For a long time, we agreed about the substance but not about the process. We were at odds on the question of a referendum, but common sense has prevailed and I look forward—perhaps with the right hon. Lord Heseltine—to campaigning in the country on behalf of the constitutional treaty, as I believe that it is a campaign that can be won. In due course, I shall say a little more about how it should be conducted in order to be won.
Our debate today has contained more than a few echoes of the several debates that we have held on the topic in the course of this parliamentary Session. I have the feeling that we are to some extent engaged in the preliminary skirmishing that goes before the legislation that we anticipate in the Queen's Speech. I shall come back to the question of the constitution, but another White Paper was issued recently, Command 6310, on the prospects for the EU for 2004. I do not think that it has been referred to so far, so I should like to make some observations about it.
I note with some pleasure, as indeed must the whole House, that Commissioner Mandelson, as we must now learn to call him—it will not be difficult; the words have a certain ring to them—has been invested with responsibility for trade and the international dimension of competitiveness. In that role, I hope he will fulfil two important and pressing responsibilities. First, I hope that he will ensure that there is sufficient vigilance to prevent an enlarged European Union from being prejudiced by anti-competitive practices wherever and from whomever they may arise. Secondly, I hope that he will ensure that genuine progress is made on access to the EU for developing countries, particularly for agricultural products.
The White Paper refers to enlargement. I certainly share the Government's hopes that Bulgaria and Romania will continue to make progress towards accession in January 2007. I certainly support the contention that the closer integration of Turkey into Europe would enhance our security and prosperity. I hope, too—as the White Paper records—that negotiations for Croatia can open in early 2005. I want to enter a caveat, however: there must be no compromise either on economic standards or on standards of good governance, democracy, the rule of law and human rights—all as laid down by the Copenhagen criteria.
The United States in particular has pressed the case for Turkey. I assert as strongly as I can that accession must depend on the standards reached, not upon the calibre or vehemence of support. Many people will be dismayed by the proposal, apparently emanating from the Turkish Government, to criminalise adultery. It will serve only to encourage those in the European Union who are opposed to Turkish entry.
In relation to Romania, it is right to draw attention to the report released in January by the European Parliament, of which Baroness Nicholson was the author, which was critical of corruption, the violation of 906 human rights and the failure to observe the rule of law. To those who wish to accede to the European Union and who have a programme of reform to meet, we are entitled to say that cosmetic reform will not do; it must be reform in substance.
§ Chris Bryant
Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman moves on from the issue of Turkey joining the EU, will he also reject the opinion voiced in some European countries that there should be a principled objection to Turkey joining the EU because that would increase the Islamicisation of Europe?
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
I agree entirely. Some people—as the negotiations over the Convention gave some indication—wanted to assert that the European Union be based on Christian principles and, by inference, to exclude the possibility of Turkey's accession. I was certainly resistant to that and am glad that the issue was resolved so as to allow for the accession of Turkey.
§ Mr. Hendrick
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way, but I feel that he was rather harsh on the Romanian Government. Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to speak to the Romanian President, who told me a great deal about the work that is going on in that country to stamp out corruption. Indeed, the report written by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's colleague in the European Parliament—a former Member of the House, Miss Emma Nicholson—was quite a harsh one and was seen in the context of Romanian national elections this year, in which his sister party will be looking to do well.
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
The hon. Gentleman should pay some regard to the conduct of those elections and the extent to which opposition parties are being allowed the sort of opportunities that he and I would think a necessary part of a fully democratic system.
The White Paper also refers to external issues and I certainly welcome the fact that the European Union is to assume responsibility for the military mission in Bosnia. That is an opportunity for the EU but it is also a test, and the EU must neither squander the opportunity nor fail the test. If the treaty provisions on common foreign and security policy are to mean anything, there must be far greater acceptance than there has so far been of the need to provide capability in the EU.
Finally, the White Paper talks about future financial arrangements. Here, I believe that the Government are perfectly correct to take the view that 1 per cent. of EU gross national income is a suitable budget ceiling. What is notable is that support for that position comes from France and, more particularly, from Germany. German support is of considerable significance because of Germany's history as a substantial net contributor to the European Union.
Let me turn to the question of the constitution. I have followed the debate about the primacy of law, and thought that for my own better understanding I would try to set out some propositions. The first is that Parliament is sovereign. A sovereign Parliament passes legislation to give effect to the obligations that are imposed on us by entering into a treaty. A sovereign 907 Parliament can repeal that legislation and, as a consequence of doing so, can revoke the terms of the treaty, so arguments about where the constitution lies in relation to our domestic law seem capable of resolution on first principles. We enter into a treaty. We effect legislation, such as the legislation that followed the Maastricht treaty, but at any time this Parliament, which, by our constitutional doctrine, cannot bind its successors, can withdraw from those obligations and repeal the legislation.
Against that background, it seems that many of the anxieties and apprehensions are simply not justified in the way in which they are being expressed—as if they constituted some enormous break, hindrance or, indeed, derogation from the essential sovereignty of this place.
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is aware, however, that that is not the view of the European Court of Justice, which has stated explicitly that EU law has primacy over national constitutions and national laws.
In the document to which we are being invited to sign up, we are putting into a European constitution that case law of the European Court of Justice. If this Parliament voluntarily assents to a primacy clearly stated in a different document—a European constitution—does that not create a quite unnecessary conflict between our understanding of our constitution and what we shall be agreeing to?
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
If I may say so, I think the right hon. Gentleman, who I freely acknowledge has spent a lot of time on this subject and is very knowledgeable, is over-complicating the issue. That is why I tried to set it out in a series of simple propositions. We accepted, by the Act of 1972, that European law had primacy. This House, subject to its own procedures, could repeal that provision tomorrow and that would be the end of the matter.
There are arguments about this. The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes and I had an argument earlier in the process about whether sovereignty rested with the people or with Parliament, but we need not retrace our steps in that regard. There is, and need be, no confusion. A sovereign Parliament can repeal legislation, can act to withdraw from treaties, and—if I may be forgiven a colloquialism—the European Court of Justice can go hang. That is the position. We have agreed by virtue of the 1972 Act that for so long as that Act is in force, European law should have primacy, but that is something that we have within our power to withdraw, and nothing contained in this treaty detracts or departs from that fundamental principle.
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
I will make some progress, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me.
It is unfortunate that the White Paper was not published a couple of days earlier, to allow us the opportunity for a more detailed look. I hope to spend some time examining it in detail. I also want to get my 908 own personal copy—perhaps even autographed—of the Devizes document, which looks as though it will prove to have some political significance in the future.
My message to the Foreign Secretary is that documents will not win this referendum. What is necessary, if the referendum is to be won, is a campaign to inform and persuade the people of the United Kingdom. One thing is certain: the campaign against has begun. The campaign for has not, however, and those of us who think that an affirmative voice of the British people is essential must accept that we have given away rather a lot of ground so far, and that that ground will have to be made up.
I have what I suppose amounts to a compulsion to remind myself and the House on such occasions that the founding principles of the European Union, as set out in the preamble to this document, are a commitment to peace and prosperity, to building a common future and to burying the differences of the past, in particular the two world wars. We must never allow ourselves to forget that twice within 30 years, the continent of Europe was riven by wars, which caused enormous loss of life and enormous adverse economic effect, and part of the success of the European Union and of NATO has been the fact that is now inconceivable that the hostilities that characterised that period in the history of Europe would ever be reopened. That is of enormous value to us and we must not allow our natural anxiety about the common agricultural policy or things of that nature to deflect us from the understanding of the enormous importance that first the European Community and now the European Union have in preserving that peace, and also the extraordinary enthusiasm of those formerly part of the Warsaw pact for joining the European Union and for becoming part of all that it signifies.
§ Mrs. Browning
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way, and I know that many people share his view that the EU was somehow responsible for peace in mainland Europe in the last century. Does he not concede that it was not the EU that stopped France and Germany tearing themselves apart as they had done in previous wars and centuries; it was the new threat, the cold war, of Russia and the Warsaw pact, and the combination of the US, through NATO, with western Europe that kept the peace in the last century? It was nothing to do with the EU.
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
Well, it is a pretty strong proposition to say that it was nothing to do with the EU. I think that the ghosts of Monnet, Schuman, Spaak and many others will be circling a little if they hear the hon. Lady's confident assertion.
I mentioned NATO. I am in no doubt that the contributions to the peace I described came from more than one source, but I am firmly of the view that the fact that the French and the Germans managed, in the immediate aftermath of the second world war, to form the European Coal and Steel Community was at the time regarded as the most extraordinary political development of that century.
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
I shall move on, if I may.
909 On subsidiarity, I am one of those who is supportive of the so-called yellow card—the early warning mechanism. Here the Foreign Secretary and I may part company. I am not convinced that five countries is necessarily the basis upon which to have a red card, but I do think that that principle would have been worth exploring a little further. Indeed, on a previous occasion I may have put forward the suggestion that two thirds of the Parliaments, if they took the view that what was being proposed was unacceptable, ought to have the ability not just to hold up their hand and issue a warning but to say, "This is legislation emanating from the European Union, which should be stopped in its tracks".
§ Mr. Straw
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making an important point. I have thought long and hard about this. There is a point where the formula for the intervention of national Parliaments collides with the arrangements for qualified majority voting or indeed for the veto, and if there were a formula by which two thirds of national Parliaments could prevent a move, that would actually change the nature of majority voting.
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
There has been some emphasis on the role of Parliaments rather than the role of Governments, and I am one of those who in such matters rather believes that the more national Parliaments have responsibilities in this area, the better it will be. Here I to some extent agree with what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) said about the extent to which our enthusiasm for scrutiny, and our consciousness in this Parliament of what comes out of the European Union, falls a long way below the standard to which we should aspire. I do not for a moment excuse myself from that stricture. As a Parliament, we have certain mechanisms for scrutiny, but I doubt whether there is anyone in the House who imagines that they are as good as they might be, and I think the suggestions that the hon. Lady made for their enhancement are entirely sensible. Perhaps, as the Foreign Secretary has agreed, it will be possible to consider the matter when we come to the legislation that we are all anticipating with so much enthusiasm.
Certainly, as far as the proposals relate to the running of the European Union, fewer Commissioners, clearer legislation and freedom of information must all be regarded as positive measures.
On competences, the treaty contains a definition of the limits of competences, and the stipulation that competences not conferred remain with the member states is a necessary, helpful and welcome clarification. Previously there was a presumption in favour of member state competence, but now there is an express statement.
910 On a common asylum policy, we in the United Kingdom have opted out of the Schengen agreement, and therefore we maintain control of our own borders. However, it is in no way against our interests—indeed, one can argue that it is most certainly part of our interests—to seek common standards and rules for asylum seekers to achieve two things: first, to prevent asylum shopping and, secondly, to enable greater burden sharing between member states.
On the common foreign and security policy, the reform proposals in the constitution are entirely sensible and much needed—not all hon. Members would necessarily agree—in the wake of Iraq and the circumstances in which military action was taken, and as a recognition of the fact that the United States is increasingly willing to adopt independent action in foreign affairs. I do not think that anyone can challenge the proposition that the United Kingdom, acting with other nations, is likely to achieve more. I believe that a dedicated foreign representative, combining the roles of the external relations commissioner and foreign envoy, is needed. I always thought the distinction between Mr. Solana and Chris Patten was artificial. Indeed, that was demonstrated on many occasions because it seemed necessary for both of them to have some part in the activities carried on by the European Union.
Also on the common foreign and security policy, not only is the United States more anxious and more willing to take independent, even pre-emptive action, but as President Bush's announcement on the withdrawal of troops shows, perhaps the United States will not in future regard providing men, women and materiel on the European continent as an overwhelming obligation to deal with any security issue or action of that kind.
Of course, a number of myths are attached to all this. One of the most extraordinary myths is the idea that the United Kingdom seat on the Security Council is somehow at risk. The Foreign Secretary cited the example of Germany, which is running a most robust and vigorous campaign for its own seat, but of course, he might have cited the example of France. Can one envisage President Chirac voluntarily saying that, as part of the necessary reforms to the United Nations, France is willing to step aside to ensure that the EU has a permanent seat on the Security Council? There is not a hope in hell of that, frankly. Therefore, the notion that the United Kingdom's seat would be at risk is wholly unfounded, not least, of course, since we are talking about constitutions, because the UK's seat is a product of the constitution of the UN—a product of the charter. Whatever responsibilities the EU, or even the European Court of Justice, may be thought to have, modifying the charter of the UN, so far, is not one of them.
§ Ms Stuart
We must be really careful when we try to predict the future. An equally good argument can be made that serious reform of the UN is on the books and that America may decide on such a reform to give Europe a seat and India or China a seat. It is easy to dismiss such things as nonsense, but the world is changing and such changes are possible.
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
I guess that all hon. Members would subscribe to reform of the UN, but people will remember that, for a long time, discussions about reform were stalled on whether the Security Council 911 should have 23 or 24 members. The likelihood of early reform is pretty remote, even though Kofi Annan, as we all know, has established a high-level group of senior and experienced politicians and diplomats, all of whom are due to report by the end of the year. However, one thing is certain, and let me put it in the framework of this document: the idea that the constitutional document puts at risk Britain's permanent membership of the UN simply does not ring true; it holds no water whatsoever.
Let me deal quickly with defence. No European army will result from what is proposed. There is no suggestion that we cannot do other than deploy our own forces according to our own determination of what constitutes our own interests, but greater co-operation in defence matters is obviously of advantage for the countries of the EU. As I have said, the proposed operations that provide the EU with both an opportunity and a test are a clear illustration of what can be achieved.
As I have said, I find little with which to disagree with the Foreign Secretary on. I do not think it likely that we will have a referendum before the general election, which, although not fixed finally, may come in May or the spring of next year.
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
It need not come until 2006, but I doubt whether some of those who have found themselves called back to the colours have taken on their new responsibilities on the understanding that they will be co-ordinating a general election campaign between now and 2006. It would have been interesting for a whole variety of reasons—not least the date—to be party to those discussions.
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
That is a cri de coeur.
When the document is finally put before the people of the United Kingdom, I hope it will be done on a properly informed basis. I am not sure whether we can send everyone a copy of the constitution, but I recall the referendum of 1975 when proper arrangements were made for documents illustrating both sides of the argument, and it certainly would be incumbent on any Government who seek an affirmative vote in such a referendum, as we understand that this Government will, to ensure that the principles of fairness, proper understanding and information about what is proposed are applied during the referendum.
I suspect that the issue will be not about the detail of those matters that concern us, such as the terms of titles and the role the European Court of Justice. I suspect that the debate will be about whether people are for Europe or against Europe.
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is successful in achieving the degree of detail that he thinks he will impose on the debate, but I find it difficult to believe that the capacity of the British people in these matters is so unlimited that, for example, the kind of discussions that we have had today and on 912 previous occasions will be the sort of discussion that they have in their own minds before they come to cast their votes.
§ Sir Menzies Campbell
No. I am about to finish.
The choice will be pretty clear: to stay in the EU and be part of its modernisation, or alternatively, to take a step that would ultimately result in leaving it. My belief is that the people of the United Kingdom can be persuaded that the former course of action is in their interests, and it is that course that I will be happy to urge on them, particularly in the company of the Foreign Secretary.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab)
I will be succinct and address questions to the Minister for Europe, who will respond to the debate.
I am the last in the House of Commons of the so-called Jenkinsites, although that is not the term that we would have chosen for ourselves: the 69 Labour MPs who voted to go into the Common Market in October 1971. I am also, with my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, the last of the first Labour European delegation that went to Strasbourg and Luxembourg. I say that because I am very interested in a question that I raised with the Foreign Secretary, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe will address it. With the new set-up, will we really get away from the sort of nation-state Buggins's turn that so plagued the Community at various stages?
I shall never forget—this is partly why I set out the background—that when we arrived under the leadership of Michael Stewart, one of our Dutch colleagues, Schelto Patijn, later to become mayor of Amsterdam said, "Of course, things were so much easier before you British arrived." I do not think that the difficulty was caused wholly by the British, although we were difficult enough, but because of the increase in numbers.
I could not agree more strongly with the Foreign Secretary that the idea of having presidencies every 12.5 years is absolutely preposterous. That might be agreed, but we would like to know a little more about how the presidency will actually work, especially in terms of official back-up, the authority that it will have and the basis on which it will be chosen. Managing 25 is difficult enough, let alone when one considers the real problems of translation. I know that there is not a question of translating Latvian into Portuguese, but if people are going to get on pedestals and talk about the rights of their own languages, there will certainly be difficulties.
Is the White Paper right to emphasise, as it does on page 15, that there will be no powers over defence and the Army? I cannot resist saying that some of us would have liked far greater co-operation with our European colleagues in the lead-up to the Iraq war, so it might be better if there were closer relations, rather than putting an emphasis on keeping things separate.
There is a problem with having a truncated debate that ends at 6 o'clock because a lot of people want to speak, so I ask the Minister for Europe a final question 913 of which I have given him rather short notice about the specific matter of the Baltic states. Incidentally, the all-party group on arts and heritage is going to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia at the end of the month. I ask for guidance on what the Community's attitude should be—constitution or not—towards the real problem of those countries' relations with the Russians, given that there are serious problems involving Russian minorities in Latvia and Estonia. I leave it at that, and hope that I will receive some answers in the Minister's winding-up speech.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con)
Like the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), whom I greatly respect, I have been around for a long time and have heard all the debates on European affairs, including the treaty of Rome, the Single European Act and the others. I am worried that every single debate seems to have the same characteristics. In the case of every treaty, we are told that there is nothing much in it and nothing to worry about. If something is identified as a problem, we are always told that it is not new, but that it existed under previous legislation.
I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that there is an additional problem. This is the first time that I have criticised the Foreign Secretary, but it is terrible when significant and important issues are not mentioned at all, which happened today. The creation of a European Foreign Minister is important because it could be costly and would lead to some loss of sovereignty, but the right hon. Gentleman did not mention it at all—that happens a great deal.
There are a few things about which the least we should do is to try to tell people what is going on. Is the Minister for Europe aware that there has been a substantial change to sovereignty? I mention that only because we had a visit from pensioners yesterday, and several told me that it was appalling that we were spending £10 million this year because the European Union had instructed us to pay pensioners' winter fuel payments to British residents in the overseas territories of Europe, including Guadelupe, Martinique and the Azores. Although those places have sunshine all the time, we must pay people there the winter fuel allowance of £200, yet people living in Iceland or north Canada, where it is cold, do not get it. The pensioners said, "Isn't that shocking and terrible?" and I said, "Of course, it's nuts". They asked what I could do about it, and my answer was, "Nothing."
I was also visited by retailers from Southend who complained that they were worried about breaking the law. They had heard that a new European law said that if they sold carrots of less than 1.9 cm at the thick end, they could get a penalty. They asked me to find out whether that was true and what the penalty was, so I tabled a question, which was answered on 4 February. In fact that is the new law, and people can be sent to prison for three months or fined £5,000. If such a law is wrong and foolish, what can we parliamentarians do about it? The answer is of course nothing, which is a big worry.
914 What is the right of Britain to withdraw from the European Union now, and what will be its right after the new treaty comes into effect? I felt so strongly about the matter that I wrote to the Prime Minister, who sent me a lovely letter on 26 April. He said:if Parliament were to repeal that Act and withdraw from the EU, the UK would be in breach of its community Treaty obligations"—I hope that the Liberal party has noticed that—and the Government would therefore have to negotiate the terms of its departure. Nevertheless, withdrawal…always has been legally possible".The House of Commons Library is terribly good and by and large more reliable than some Departments, and it says:The Treaty of Rome … is concluded for 'an unlimited period' … and there is no provision for withdrawal.There is no apparent legal provision for Britain to withdraw at present, and the only test case that we have is Greenland, which withdrew only with the permission of all member states, which had to pass appropriate legislation. However, the new, exciting treaty sets out a new arrangement on page 25, which I hope that all hon. Members have read. [Interruption.] It is introduced on page 25 and goes on to page 26. The heading "Voluntary withdrawal from the Union" is at the foot of page 25, so whether the arrangement is on page 25 or 26 is a matter of judgment.
The provision seems to imply that if a member state wishes to withdraw, it may enter into negotiations on that. With the agreement of the European Parliament arid European Council, it may try to get agreement to withdraw. If there is no agreement at the end of two years, however, things come to an end. Is the way in which I have set out the arrangement the case? If a country wishes to withdraw, which is a matter for its domestic Parliament, does it simply enter into negotiations and then, if there is an agreement, withdraw? If there is no agreement of any sort and the bodies say that they do not want a country to withdraw, is it possible to withdraw after two years? I ask whether that is the truth because one problem with such treaties is that we can sometimes find that what we think is the law is not the law at all.
I should be grateful if the Minister could provide guidance on something terribly important on page 29—the way in which legally we deal with people who have got into trouble. At present, under the Convention, Britain has the power to decide not to implement certain proposals. On the problems in Northern Ireland, for example, we said that we did not like what was proposed and wanted to keep certain powers for ourselves. However, the inclusion of things in a treaty makes them sovereign law, which could affect alleged criminals, vagabonds, rogues, terrorists and murderers from abroad in this country. The American Government, for example, could phone the Foreign Secretary or the Minister to say that they believe that two people responsible for the appalling attack on the twin towers and the 9/11 massacre have been seen in Birmingham or Manchester. However, according to page 25, we cannot send them to America if the death penalty is in force there. Is that the truth or not? I have read the treaty several times, and my understanding is that we cannot extradite terrible terrorists convicted of mass murder or 915 murdering children if the country to which we have been asked to send them has the death penalty and there is a danger that they will be subjected to it. That is an appalling situation. If I am right—the Government may say I am wrong—what on earth do we do with those alleged terrorists? Do we simply allow them to stay here?
The Foreign Secretary said that there is nothing in the constitution that affects strike action. However, if the European Union believes that things in the United Kingdom are contrary to the statement on page 30 it could intervene and tell us to change our ways. In Britain, we have an arrangement whereby strikes usually take place after a vote. However, could a union go to the European Court under article II-28 and say that in its opinion British law contravenes its rights as a trade union, so the requirement to hold a ballot is unjust?
Page 32 outlines an unusual procedure on the severity of sentences and says:The severity of penalties must not be disproportionate to the criminal offence.If a criminal were given a two-year prison sentence in Britain, and if he thought that the sentence was too severe, could he go to the European Court and argue that the penalty should be overturned? If the Minister says that he cannot, why on earth is that astonishing statement included in the treaty?
Page 15 says that we have an obligation to co-ordinate economic, employment and social policies. How far does that extend, and will we be obliged to go in the same direction in those three policy areas? Finally, page 19 says thatthe Court of Auditors … shall ensure good financial managementof the European Union. Is it true that the Court of Auditors has refused to sign the European Union's accounts for eight years?
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
I apologise for my mistake.
What can be done? If the Court of Auditors is being asked to do something—
§ Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op)
The Irish presidency inaugurated on 1 January strove to complete negotiations on the treaty by June 2004. On 1 May, the EU expanded to 25 member states—another major EU milestone. After heated negotiations the draft constitutional treaty or constitution was finally agreed on 18 June.
The aim is to sign the constitution on 29 October, and it is to be ratified in due course by all 25 member states. It will result in the largest ever recourse to citizens' opinions in open referendums across the European Union. The Prime Minister's announcement of the decision to consult British citizens has created widespread concern about a possible rejection of the constitution in the UK. As I have said in the House 916 before, I do not believe that a referendum is necessary, but it is nevertheless important in the eyes of the public, particularly if the single currency is to be introduced here, that arguments about our role in Europe and the ratification of the constitution are settled, and a referendum is probably the best way of doing so.
Although, as I said, a referendum on the draft constitutional treaty may not be a necessity, we are where we are. The countries that have decided to hold a referendum are those like Belgium, France and the United Kingdom. Many more countries are undecided or have decided not to hold a referendum. In terms of UK traditions, many hon. Members—I am one of them—take the view that the general public elect politicians to make decisions on their behalf.
Much of the detail and the minutiae that are bread and butter to Members of the House are not of great interest to the general public. There has been a fall in turnout at successive elections and a general lack of interest in many of the issues that we discuss. Nevertheless, now that a referendum is to be called, we have a duty to try and reinvigorate debate and get the public interested in subjects that are very important to their future and which have had a huge impact on their lives over the past 50-odd years, although many of them may not have noticed it.
Belgium's referendum will be consultative, not binding. Perhaps we should introduce some sort of threshold for our referendum, so that if the turnout falls below a certain figure—for example, 50 or 51 per cent.—the outcome will not be seen to be binding. It is important that any serious changes that are made as a result of a referendum be carried out with the support of the majority of the British people.
On the need for a constitution, other speakers have alluded to the succession of treaties that we have seen. The draft constitution is a consolidation of existing treaties. Some have called it a rulebook. Colleagues have referred to it as a tidying-up exercise. It is indeed a very big tidying-up exercise. To consolidate all those treaties in a document of just over 100 pages is a huge achievement and a considerable simplification. For the life of me I cannot understand why the official Opposition should object to producing a document 100 pages long that will make the operation of a European Union of 25 member states far more efficient than do the existing rulebooks, which must constantly be cross-referenced.
§ Mr. Walter
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has a different copy of the treaty, but mine has 164 pages.
§ Mr. Hendrick
Including the protocols and so on would bring the number of pages to about 160, but as regards the substantive issues that will concern people in a referendum, we can safely say that not all 160-odd pages will be considered by the general public.
The simplification is extremely important. For an effective Union of 25 member states, it is essential that we get the treaty through. The campaign needs to reflect that. The constitution will make possible a far better division of Union and member state competences. We will see the attribution of a legal personality to the Union. The instruments of action will be greatly 917 simplified. There will be measures to increase EU democracy, transparency and efficiency. The contribution of national Parliaments will be extended, as those of us who were involved with the Scrutiny Committee appreciate. Opposition to the constitution seems strange, given that the constitution gives national Parliaments a greater role than ever before.
Improving the structure, enhancing the role of institutions and, in particular, taking into account the consequences of enlargement will be a huge boost to the EU's future operation.
Enlargement is important to the development of the EU, which is why the Nice treaty was negotiated. I shall reiterate the point that I made earlier to the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram): holding a referendum on the Nice treaty, which the Conservative party proposed, with a view to voting down that treaty would not have been conducive to EU enlargement to 25 member states.
The constitution will bring the EU closer to the citizens. By its very nature, the single document is more understandable for those who want to take the time to read it before casting their vote in the referendum. A recent Eurobarometer poll shows falling support for EU membership—nowadays, support for EU membership is below 50 per cent.—and we must make the case for Europe, which has not happened in this country for nearly 30 years.
A YouGov poll for The Sunday Times on 20 June shows the widespread misconceptions about the constitution's meaning. For example, 51 per cent. of respondents thought that the constitution would give the EU the power to control UK taxes, which is not the case, and 47 per cent. thought that we would be forced to join the euro, which is also not the case. Some 58 per cent. thought that Britain could no longer have its own independent policy on asylum seekers under the constitution, but the Conservative party has not mentioned that that matter would be subject to majority voting by which Britain could effectively opt out, and the press have not caught that point either. In that poll, 61 per cent. thought that the constitution means that the UK must change its laws on trade unions and strikes, and 46 per cent. thought that Britain would need EU approval before fighting a war. We know that all those points are false.
The poll also shows that although the public are against the constitution—asked how they would vote if the referendum were held now, 23 per cent. of respondents said that they would vote in favour and 49 per cent. said that they would vote against—that view is clearly based on misinformation. As elected politicians, we have a duty to challenge and dispel those myths. Certain newspapers do not want to let the facts get in the way of a good story and to make sure that the constitution is defeated.
§ Mr. Hopkins
Is my hon. Friend not making light of the public's opinion and common sense? I shall vote no 918 in the referendum, and I do not think that I am ill informed. Indeed, certain newspapers support my hon. Friend's view.
§ Mr. Hendrick
I am sure that my hon. Friend is well informed, and I hope that the public are well informed by the end of the campaign.
Returning to the YouGov poll, when the public were asked to identify the things that matter most about the constitution, 60 per cent. said deciding tax rates, 52 per cent. said not being forced to join the euro, 38 per cent. said deciding policy on asylum seekers, 33 per cent. said deciding on military action and 32 per cent. said the right to leave the EU. Although debating individual articles or clauses may be the bread and butter of our intercourse in this Chamber, what is said in the Dog and Duck is different from our discussion.
Once the debate begins among the general public, I want to see an informed discussion. One of my hon. Friends made the point that factual documents based on the arguments for and arguments against should be made available so that genuine criticism, rather than misinformation and myths, can be levelled against the constitution. The case against the constitution is weak and it should not win the argument, but it is our job to defeat it and not to let people peddle myths and lies.
§ Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con)
Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends may be a little surprised by what I say in the next 10 minutes. However, they will not be surprised by my reasons for saying it, because they are the same as those that I advanced in favour of a referendum on the constitution.
I have been a great supporter of our membership of the European Union ever since we joined, but I am seriously concerned that in those 30 years we have failed to take the people with us on the journey that we have made in its development and evolution. We have now reached a stage where the people as a whole have little understanding and little confidence in what is being done in their name. That Euroscepticism is not unique to Britain—it exists right across Europe. The democratic deficit seems worse in some other European states because people feel that it is inevitable and that they can do nothing about it. With the draft constitution, they will have the opportunity to send a message to the political elites of Europe that they would like somebody to stop and explain what is going on and what has been done in their name over the past 30 years, in our case—somewhat longer in the case of some other member states.
For all the spin that the Foreign Secretary put on the draft treaty, neither it nor the 50 pages of the White Paper provide the answer. When I read the Laeken declaration in 2001, I thought that we were beginning to go in the right direction and to pose some of the right questions. When I read the treaty—all 164 pages of it—I remembered that the one phrase in the Laeken declaration that stands out issimplification of the Union's instruments".There is no simplification in this document. It has so much detail that one could hardly describe it as a constitution—it is a management textbook. Section 2, on page 65, deals with policies on border checks, asylum 919 and immigration. It goes into great detail about "integrated management systems". I love this phrase about the European Parliament in article II-38:It shall meet, without requiring to be convened, on the second Tuesday in March.That is not what one would expect in a simplifying treaty—it is the sort of minutiae of management detail that one would expect those who are responsible for looking after our interests to be able to come up with as a modus operandi.
Much of what is in this document could soon be out of date and we will be back in another intergovernmental conference debating yet another constitutional treaty to bring all the verbiage up to date. What we need is what Laeken talked about—to be able to create European institutions thatmust be brought closer totheircitizens. Citizens undoubtedly support the Union's broad aims, but they do not always see a connection between those goals and the Union's everyday action.We all know that Europe has changed and is changing. It now has 25 member states, with the 10 new countries that joined this year.
We all face new challenges, not least securing Europe's borders against terrorism, illegal immigration and international crime. However, in the spirit of the Laeken declaration, we need a treaty that will make the enlarged European Union of 25 countries more effective, thereby allowing us to achieve more together than we can alone, without giving up our independence. It should make the EU more democratic, put national Governments firmly in the driving seat and give national Parliaments more say over European decisions.
The enlarged Europe needs to be more effective and democratic and we therefore need a simple and transparent constitutional treaty. The constitution was supposed to consolidate the existing treaties into a single document, with the aim of clarifying the EU's rules and making them more accessible to voters.
I believe that an effective EU is in Britain's interest and that it is also in our national interest to be a member of the EU. We have many aims in common and can achieve more together than alone, making us all richer, safer and more influential. However, even before the recent enlargement, we were struggling to cope with the rules and institutions because, as has been said, they were those of the six. The EU desperately needs modernising and we desperately need a new treaty that simplifies matters and makes the EU more effective, without the sacrifice of our national independence.
A new treaty should spell out in black and white the powers of the various parties. It should explicitly state that the EU has only the powers that member states choose to grant it. It should clarify what the EU can and cannot do.
§ Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
Has the hon. Gentleman read and noted article 9, which would do exactly what he seeks?
§ Mr. Walter
Of course I have read and noted article 9 as well as all the other articles in the treaty. The problem is that it contains so many articles that it provides no 920 clarification of what the EU can and cannot do. It complicates the decision-making processes between the institutions of the Union and the member states. The treaty should be crystal clear about countries' retention of the veto in key elements of national sovereignty such as tax, foreign policy and defence. That is not clear in the document. Although it goes some way towards removing the open-ended commitment to ever closer union, it does not make it absolutely clear.
I would support a treaty that made the EU more open and accountable. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) for their work on the Convention and their subsequent comments. However, despite their efforts, we have not got that sort of treaty. As we move towards a referendum on ratifying the treaty, we should be clear that conveying a message to the leaders of Europe that the document is unacceptable in no way means that we are anti-European or that we do not want the European Union to succeed. I stress that we want it to succeed.
There is a danger of overreacting to the undoubted success of the UK Independence party in our recent European elections. We must make it clear that withdrawal is not an option and that rejection of the treaty does not imply any such action. The anti-Europeans often tout the examples of Norway or Switzerland as attractive alternatives. We must make it absolutely clear in the debate on the constitution that those alternatives are not acceptable to the British people. We must reject such a fantasy. To gain full access to the single market, Norway has to implement all the EU regulations that we must with no say in the way in which they are set. Norwegians often refer to their country as a fax democracy because the laws by which they live arrive on a fax machine from Brussels.
Switzerland is bound by the same laws. Recent figures from the European Commission show that Norway has a better record of implementing EU regulations than the United Kingdom and—indeed, a better record than 14 member states. It has failed to implement only 0.7 per cent. of the regulations; the UK has failed to implement 1.5 per cent.
§ Mr. Hopkins
Is not the crucial point about Norway that it is free to choose its own economic and social policies, and need not abide by the rules of, for instance, economic and monetary union?
§ Mr. Walter
It need not abide by those rules, but when it comes to access to the single market—the most important aspect of the EU—it must comply with the rules and regulations laid down in Brussels. I consider one option suggested for the United Kingdom, whereby we would take a step back and adopt the same status as Norway or Switzerland, to be totally unacceptable.
Both Norway and Switzerland, moreover, must contribute to the EU budget. There is a myth about that as well. I think that the Norwegians are committed to 921 paying some €1.1 billion over the next five years, and in May the Swiss agreed to pay some €650 million over the same period. That too is not an option.
We need a tidying-up, simplifying treaty—a short document that merely lays down the competences and makes the institutions and processes of the EU both transparent and accountable. This constitution does not do that. I believe that it should be rejected by the people in a referendum, and that we should renegotiate to bring about something more in line with the Laeken declaration.
§ Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak, and grateful for the debate itself. It marks an important moment in the EU's transition from one phase of its life to another.
The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) referred to article 19 of the charter of fundamental rights. He asked for clarification of paragraph 1; as I am sure he will understand, it is self-evident. Paragraph 2 merely incorporates case law from the European Court of Human Rights dating from 1989 to 1996. I thought it obvious that for many years we in this country had pursued the policy of not extraditing people to countries in which they were likely to suffer the death penalty for crimes that they might or might not have committed.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
What does the hon. Gentleman think we should do with, for instance, terrorists who have done some jobs in America—blown up 3,000 people, perhaps?
§ Chris Bryant
The hon. Gentleman said earlier that the charter of fundamental rights was bringing about a significant change, which would affect the UK. There is no such change, however: the provisions are already established in European law and, indeed, in our own law. The hon. Gentleman's point was poorly made.
We have reached an important moment, not least because by virtue of the constitution we have changed an ambition that until now the European Community—the European Union—has always claimed to have. I refer to ever-closer union. Article 1 of the original treaty stated that that was its aspiration, but the new article I of the constitution contains no such phrase. Indeed, it explicitly states what has never been stated before: that member states confer competences on the European Union to attain objectives that they have in common. In other words, it is not the European Union of itself that determines what competences it has.
Opposition Members have tried to suggest that this is a federalist document. How, in that case, could one of the leading federalists of Europe, Giuliano Amato, say on reading the final draft "I want to die"?
It is clear that the proposition before us flies in the face of anyone who wants a federalist agenda for Europe, so there is a changed ambition for Europe.
Of course, there is also a changed Union. We know that, by virtue of this year's enlargement—10 new members have joined the European Union, which marks 922 a very significant change in the number of seats round the table, if not as significant a change to Europe's economic ability—we are no longer the gentlemen's club that we once were. When six members could all sit round a dining table and agree the future of Europe, the proposition was very different, and one needed a very different set of rules in order to make the Union operate effectively and efficiently.
It is not only the number of members that has changed; the international political environment has also changed radically in the years since the European Economic Community was founded. The collapse of communism has changed significantly the bipolar relationship into which Europe tried to fit itself; indeed, many of those who once fell under the shadow of communism have now entered the European Union. We must take seriously the rising tide of international terrorism, but we can do so only if we co-operate more fully. It is clear that countries that opposed the war in Iraq, such as France, and countries that supported it, such as Spain, are equally likely to face the wrath of international terrorism.
We also need to face down an argument advanced by many people since the constitution was published. Both Robert Kilroy-Silk and Tony Benn were arguing the other day that Britain has been lied to over the years. The argument is that when we originally joined the EEC we were told that it would be only a common market and an economic venture. But the truth is that, from the outset, the vision for the Common Market involved a political objective—not least, trying to ensure a peaceful continent for ever. I say to Conservative Members and others who argue that we should return to simply an economic union—a single market and nothing more—that the economy is never hermetically sealed. I do not believe in laissez-faire politics; I believe that the economic is political. One cannot split the two into a false dichotomy.
This is also an important moment because it marks a changed rulebook. The old amalgamation of treaties, which I knew to be an imponderable set of proposals when I worked for the BBC in Brussels—[Interruption.] That is all the bêtes noires of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) combined into one. When working for the BBC in Brussels and trying to make sure that Rupert Murdoch did not win his fight against BBC News 24, I knew that the old amalgamations of treaties—the "TEC" and the "TEU", as people used to call them—with their layer upon layer of different obligations on member states and the Commission, were simply unworkable. Because of the complex arrangement of "pillars", they made no sense to the ordinary citizen—or, for that matter, to the ordinary lawyer, many of whom were making a very good living out of trying to explain the treaties to the various officials.
The old system offers no clear delineation of the Commission's powers, which is a major reason why we have witnessed Commission creep over the years. At one point, the Commission was trying to tell Europe what public service broadcasting should be like in every country in Europe. That was possible because given the treaties' current form, it can be argued that the Commission has a competence in that area. The new delineation of competences makes it extremely clear that the Commission does not have that power. The new structure, involving five areas of exclusive competence, is much better and will put an end to Commission creep.
923 Contrary to what the shadow Foreign Secretary said earlier, a constitution is a good thing. A constitution provides what many Conservative Members have clamoured for for years: some clarity about what the Commission does, what the Council does, what member states do and what the European Parliament does.
None of those things have been clear in the past and it is precisely such vagueness that will be abolished by the constitution. That is why I do not reject the idea of a constitution per se, as the Conservative party seems to do: indeed, I welcome it.
I believe that the status quo—what one is effectively arguing for in voting against the constitutional treaty—will simply not hold and that a no in the referendum would effectively be a yes to the vagueness, complexity and bureaucracy of the present system. In short, it will be a yes to Maastricht.
We have heard a lot from the Opposition over the last few weeks about why this particular constitutional treaty is not right and about how they might be enticed into voting for a different constitutional treaty. One of their arguments is that the present treaty is simply not flexible enough and does not allow for a flexible Europe. I want a flexible Europe and I would like, in the words of the Conservative party, a live-and-let-live Europe. That is why article I-43 provides an admirable way of allowing for enhanced co-operation, but I also believe that we need provisions to ensure that, when other countries co-operate, it does not worst the other members who are not taking part. Otherwise, it would be failing to allow live-and-let-live and allowing only live-and-let-die.
Another argument sometimes advanced relates to the primacy of EU law, particularly as expressed in article I-5. Of course there should be primacy of European law in certain areas where it is right for Europe to have the competence. European Court of Justice case law has applied since 1964, and I have to say that it is in our best interests. If something has been agreed around the table and it is within the competence of the Union to decide something, it is in our interest that all the other countries in Europe are signed up to it. Otherwise we would be cutting off our economic and trade noses. Many of this country's businesses have desperately wanted internal market provisions, for example, to be enforced effectively across the other European countries so that British businesses can do better business in Europe.
The truth is that Conservative opposition in that respect is contrary to the best interests of British business. That is undoubtedly why the Lords European Union Committee said that that doctrine was a "well established" and "key element" of the Union's legal order. The Conservatives are working against the interests of business in this matter and in favour of legal disorder in Europe. This is not a "new legal order", as the Conservatives state in their document published yesterday, and I have to tell them that hyperbole may make good campaign slogans, but it makes for poor politics and, even worse, poor government.
Much has been said about the co-ordination of economic and employment policies, where articles I-14 and I-11(3) are particularly relevant. In actual fact, contrary to what the shadow Foreign Secretary said earlier, there has been a change from the original document, because it is now the member states that 924shall coordinate their economic policies within the Union".Paragraph 3 of article I-14 also states:The Union shall adopt measures to ensure coordination of the employment policiesof the member states.
I hope that the UK will vote yes. The status quo is unsustainable and the present treaties are too complex and labyrinthine. The present structures of the EU with its pillars and its rotating presidency may be a good fairground attraction, but its cumbersome bureaucracy is not fit for the purpose—
§ 4.8 pm
§ Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con)
I was intrigued to learn that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) used to work for the BBC in Brussels; I thought I had heard that speech before somewhere. His legacy lives on in some of our national broadcasting editorial departments. Unfortunately for them and for the hon. Gentleman, this matter is to be decided by the people, and I expect an entirely different outcome.
To start on a note of agreement, the coming of a written constitution is a big event for any country. We have not had a written constitution in this country since after the civil war, in 1653. It did not last for very long, but at least it was drawn up in this country, whereas the European constitution has been drawn up by others, in a contorted series of negotiations during which the Government conducted a long series of retreats.
The result is a document of truly fantastic complexity. Contrary to assertions made earlier, especially by the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick), the result is longer than the treaties that it replaces. There are more pages, articles and protocols than in the existing treaty. Quite simply, the simplification drive has failed.
§ Mr. Hendrick
Will the right hon. Gentleman remind the House that he was one of this Parliament's representatives at the Convention? The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) said that only 10 per cent. of our amendments to the Convention were accepted, but will the right hon. Gentleman say how many amendments he put forward, as it is obvious that this document bears no relation to anything that he would want?
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
I freely concede that the Convention failed utterly in its aims. It was told to create a simpler, more democratic Europe that was closer to its citizens, but it failed on each and every count. That is why I did not sign the final document. Instead, I submitted a four-page minority treaty, which was signed by a number of other conventioneers. I think the people of this country would far rather have that as their governing treaty in Europe.
The document's complexity does not disguise the awesome nature of the changes that it introduces. In this country, we are debating matters such as the future of the judiciary, the establishment of a supreme court and the future of the Lord Chancellor. However, the reality is that the supreme court in this country will be the 925 European Court of Justice, as is made practically explicit in the document. That court, to which this there is no appeal, will decide on the interpretation of the constitution.
I was interested to note that the House of Lords report on the ECJ—which was compiled by a Committee dominated by those in favour of more European integration—pointed out thatif the Court is the ultimate arbiter on the extent of the Union's competence, it follows that the Court also has the final say in defining the extent of Member States' powers.We are therefore handing over, explicitly and formally, the powers of this House to another jurisdiction. No other interpretation is possible.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) mentioned the complexity and confusion of the provisions governing the allocation of powers. He is absolutely right: the concept of shared powers does not advance the distinction at all, especially given that the definition of sharing means that, when the EU legislates, member states lose altogether the right to do so themselves. However, the additional point is that, in any difference of view about exactly who does what, this House and any court in this country will be literally powerless. Such matters will be decided by the ECJ.
When we hand over more powers whose definition and enforcement are in the hands of another court, what will be the point of holding elections in this country? That is where the democratic imperative comes in. There is already widespread disillusionment about politics in this country. Fewer and fewer people vote in elections, and the turnout across Europe in the recent European Parliament elections fell for the fifth time running, reaching an all-time low. People do not see that Parliaments have any relevance when it comes to the political choices facing them.
A crisis will arise if the matters that we put before the people in general elections—all those policy issues that we debate and divide on in this House—are no longer for this House to decide because the constitution has transferred them to the EU. In many cases, those matters will be decided, and initiated, by those who cannot be voted for by the people of this country, and who certainly cannot be removed by them.
The Government are now trying to sell this wretched document to the public at large. They have repeated the rather stale hope, as we heard the Foreign Secretary do, that the House—the national Parliament—gains some addition leverage on subsidiarity. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) said, that is not true. The Government tried to give additional powers, including a kind of veto power, to the national Parliament over measures that breach the subsidiarity principle, but they comprehensively failed in that, as they did in most of the rest of their amendments. We can do no more than raise the issue; the final decision will, as always, be with the European Commission and the European institutions.
I am afraid that the Government are resorting to cruder techniques with the public. I was disappointed to read during the recess that the Europe Minister, who is sitting on the Treasury Bench, was suggesting that those who criticised the constitution and the European Union 926 were motivated by xenophobia and even racism. This is the same Europe Minister who called the President of Venezuela, Senor Chavez, "a ranting populist demagogue". The President has been reconfirmed in his position in a recent referendum. The new Foreign Office doctrine seems to be that it can be personally abusive and rude about the elected leaders of non-European countries, while at the same time criticising Members of Parliament who criticise the European Union and its institutions. If this is how they are to conduct the debate about the constitution, we have been warned.
I was further disappointed on reading—at least in outline—the White Paper published this morning, to see that there was no mention of the red lines. We all remember the red lines in last year's White Paper—issues on which the Government were absolutely not going to give way under any circumstances. Those red lines have been completely forgotten in this White Paper. Why are they not mentioned? Because the Government gave way on them.
Criminal justice procedures, including sensitive issues governing the rights of the accused and rules of evidence that form the basis of many criminal justice Bills going through the House, are now to be decided by qualified majority voting. That is why elections will not make any difference. If a shadow Home Secretary proposes a change in the law on criminal justice procedures and wins an election, he will not be able to do anything: decisions will be made over his veto, by the European Union and qualified majority voting. That was a red-line issue to be reversed, and the Government failed.
All we have now is an emergency brake, whereby if some measure fundamentally alters the entire legal system of the country, we can insist on a veto. However, that is not how the European Union works. I am a member of the European Scrutiny Committee. We considered 1,000 measures last year. An emergency brake cannot be pulled on each one. It is the incremental build-up of laws and directives that constitute the acquis communantaire—all 97,000 pages of it. An emergency brake, which may be used in some supreme eventuality, is irrelevant.
The red line on criminal justice was overridden. The same is true of social security, on which there is some emergency brake. Meanwhile, social security payments for migrant workers and the self-employed and their families, are to be decided by majority voting, which is contrary to all the assurances given to the House in the run-up to the final negotiations. The same is also true of the European public prosecutor and the compulsory coordination of employment policies. All those were promises that were given to us solemnly—and given to my Committee—in the run-up to the negotiations, but they were simply ignored.
What we require from the Government, and what we have not had today, is an explanation of how that advances democracy. How can it be that transferring more powers away from this House, upwards to the most remote tier of Government of all, in any sense brings those European decisions closer to the people, as we were instructed it would?
This document is an outrage. The only redemption is that we are to have a referendum on it: that is to say, we will if the Government do not do the same as they did with the referendums on the regional assemblies; it 927 looked as though they were losing in the north, and so now they will not be held. I would like an explicit undertaking and assurance from the Minister replying to this debate that we will have a referendum, because if we do, people will vote for self-government, not this document.
§ Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
The constitution is undoubtedly seen by some of its opponents as part of a plot to create a European superstate or as part of some conspiracy. I know that not all of its opponents see it that way—there are some reasoned, perfectly respectable arguments to use against the constitution, or parts of it—but we have heard quite a bit this afternoon from the former category. I am surprised that the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) comes in that category. We certainly heard some more of the conspiracy arguments from the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who seemed to think that the constitution was something driven by a sinister force in Brussels seeking to foist something terrible on the unsuspecting people of Europe. One certainly gains that impression from certain sections of the British media, who seem unable to say anything objective or truthful about the draft constitution.
The truth of the matter is that there is no plot here. There is nothing sinister going on at all. There is no stealthy move to impose some European superstate. This is a process. It is a process that is being driven by a simple and clear logic. It is being driven by what is happening inside the European Union, which is undergoing enormous change, partly or largely as a result of the expansion that has just taken place and the further expansion to come. Expansion fundamentally changes the nature of the Union. The process is also being driven by what is happening in the rest of the world, with the acceleration of the move towards a global economy. In the most fundamental sense, Europe is simply responding to those pressures.
It is important before going into the detail of the constitution to step back for a moment and look at the context and the EU's fundamental achievements since it was created almost 50 years ago. It has brought about a powerful grouping of nations that constitutes the world's largest trading bloc. It has brought about political stability not previously seen in Europe. It is worth reminding ourselves that three of its established members are pretty new democracies and eight of the members that have just joined are extremely new. Some of the countries on the applicant list will also be very new democracies. We should not disregard the EU's contribution to spreading and reinforcing the democratic guarantee in Europe.
The EU has also brought about a structure that delivers co-operation and joint working on a range of transnational issues which now dominate our age. How do we sort out global communications? How do we tackle environmental protection? How do we deal with mass migration? How do we organise trade flows? How do we tackle cross-border crime? How do we reinforce human rights? We have to address those issues not as separate nation states that never co-operate with each other. They are forceful issues to which countries and Governments must respond.
928 The European Union has also brought about an unprecedented period of economic stability and steadily growing prosperity in Europe. Let us consider for a moment rolling back the whole enterprise. Imagine that it was not there. Go back to before the treaty of Rome; to a Europe of 25, 30 or 35 totally autonomous separate nation states. It is inconceivable that that arrangement would be able to endure into today's world. There would be no instrument of authority on the scale required to deal with many of today's economic and political issues. We would have Balkanisation right across Europe, with impoverishment as the only result. I do not accept for one minute that some sort of loose basic trade association could possibly be a viable alternative.
As I said, the process is driven by simple logic, the real nature of economic activity and the transnational nature of the dominant issues of our time. If that is the case, why is there so much Euroscepticism, which we have heard in the debate and which we hear in our media? There is a fairly simple answer to that. The more the European Union acquires powers and influence, and the more its competence expands, which it unquestionably has, the greater demands are placed on it in relation to accountability, and the more questions are asked about its structures. Who is in control? Who is setting the course? Who takes the blame when things go wrong?
When we ask those questions of the European Union, its present structure is found seriously wanting. The EU's house is not in order.
The dominant fear is of a steady, continuous, unstoppable process of integration, with no defined finishing point. Because there is no defined finishing point, critics conclude that the only conceivable finishing point is a big, federated political union—a European superstate. Indeed, the EU's structure provides some support for such fears. Its rulebook is a maze of four treaties with three pillars. It has a bizarre executive structure, which gives a considerable degree of permanence to the motor—the Commission—but ensures constantly changing occupants of the driver's seat. It also has a peripatetic Parliament. If someone were designing a grouping of nations from scratch, they would not come up with the present design.
The constitution is proposed as a means of addressing the weaknesses in the EU's structure. Other hon. Members have mentioned the Laeken declaration, and I shall quote a short section of it. It says that peoplewant the European institutions to be less unwieldy and rigid and, above all, more efficient and open. Many also feel that the Union should involve itself more with their particular concerns, instead of intervening, in every detail, in matters by their nature better left to member states' and regions' elected representatives. This is even perceived by some as a threat to their identity. More importantly, however, they feel that deals are all too often cut out of their sight and they want better democratic scrutiny.Those observations do not come from a Eurosceptic document from a political party: they were made by the elected Heads of Government of the EU in December 2001.
The constitution fulfils the aspirations set out in the Laeken declaration. It will do away with the encyclopaedia of treaties and their supporting pillars and replace them with one simple rulebook, 80 per cent. of which is distilled from the existing treaties. The 929 constitution also sets out clear rules about who does what, and puts a stop to the competence creep that has characterised recent EU history. It establishes for the first time in the EU's history who has which competence. Article 235 of the Rome treaty will be replaced by new article I-9, which inverts the assumption in the original treaty. New article I-9 states thatthe Union shall act within the limits of the competences conferred upon it by the Member States … Competences not conferred upon the Union … remain with the Member States.In other words, that is a complete reversal of the principle enshrined in the Rome treaty. But I have not seen a single Eurosceptic newspaper in the UK report that fact. The constitution also corrects the imbalance in the Executive by creating a comparable permanence between the Council and the Commission. It strengthens the role of the member state Parliaments and gives them for the first time the right to send back proposals for rewriting.
The constitution marks a profound rebalancing of forces and powers within the EU in favour of the citizen, and in favour of the member states, as requested in the Laeken declaration. It is the decisive rejection of the alternative vision—a Europe that is centralised, uniform, bureaucratic and destined to become a superstate. The fact is that a European superstate cannot be built on this constitution. In fact, we would be much more likely to get a superstate, by stealth, if we persevered with the current mishmash of treaties and the current imbalances of power. The constitution is a far better defence against a superstate than the current bundle of treaties.
The EU's processes have become opaque. It is not clear to most of the people of Europe where the Union is headed. It is not clear who does what. In that context, it is not surprising that public confidence is low. The EU urgently needs to put its house in order. That is what this constitution does and that is why it should be welcomed and supported.
§ Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC)
We know that the constitution is meant to roll into one the treaty of Rome, the Single European Act, the treaty of Maastricht and so on, and many people think that it is purely and simply a tidying-up exercise. However, it is probably more than that; it certainly contains some important new provisions. Common sense dictates that a European Union of 25 is quite different from one of 15 or of six.
It is obvious from reading the document that, where EU member states choose to co-operate, EU law takes precedence over national law. That is nothing new; it has been the case since 1973. The document reaffirms that the Union is meant to be a union of nation states and not a European superstate. According to a recent House of Lords report,there is considerable reassurance in the draft Treaty for those who fear that the EU is becoming too like a State.That is a clear statement; the document is not the precursor of a superstate. It clarifies—albeit not perfectly—what the EU can and cannot do, which is extremely important.
930 A cursory reading suggests that the constitution enhances the role of national Parliaments. Whether that will be true, I know not, but that is what the constitution is meant to do. It states that if a third of national Parliaments oppose an EU law they can insist that the Commission review it. However, I listened carefully to what was said earlier on: the scrutiny processes in this place are abysmal and they need to be addressed.
I do not see the presidency of the European Council as a true presidency, but it makes more sense for the person to hold office for two years rather than six months if there is to be the policy cohesion and continuity that there should be. Reference to a Foreign Minister is not a precursor of a superstate either. There is a genuine role for the EU on the world stage and such a position is one way of assuring that role.
There is to be a simpler, more efficient voting system. That is a good idea. A simpler system would make it easier for Governments to make decisions. One proposal is that decisions would require the approval of a majority of member states, representing at least 60 per cent. of the EU's population. Such a system could be more democratic because power would be better spread throughout the Union.
There are various responsibilities. The EU already has competence in competition policy, the single market, common trade policy, customs union and marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy. It has sole responsibility for monetary policy in countries that have adopted the euro. That is known and none of it is new; it has simply been restated.
On asylum and immigration policy, it seems that member states would keep the right to decide how many work visas to issue and of what type they should be. The treaty simplifies the legal basis of Europol, which is important, especially given what was said earlier about cross-border crime and the smuggling of drugs, guns and so on. Such a measure is not a bad thing; it is entirely reasonable and there is nothing drastically new about it. We discussed the issue in a separate debate last year.
It is welcome that member states will retain their national veto over foreign policy. That is perfectly acceptable and will not lead us into any kind of superstate.
I want to mention some of the things that concern Plaid Cymru. We were the first party in the UK to call for a written European constitution and a binding charter of fundamental rights, so in principle we welcome the current move.
The charter of fundamental rights had already been agreed by the European Union, but only as a voluntary measure. Now it will probably have legal force. It includes the right to join a union, the right to strike and more specific rights such as rights to information and consultation. However, it is unclear what actual legal status the charter will have. The British Government need to make that more explicit, because the Foreign Secretary did not answer that question when he opened the debate. I believe that legal opinion is that the European Court will be able to use the charter in all its decisions, and the European Court has often produced decisions that were deemed friendly to workers. However, we should like to know whether the charter will be binding as a legal document, and to what degree.
931 I would like to see the National Assembly for Wales being consulted at a better level and more often than it is at present. I understand that the state Parliaments will have rights of consultation and so on, but I would hope that the devolved assemblies and Parliaments also will have a real function in all of this. I say that because, if devolution is to work, the principle of subsidiarity must surely be embedded there as well, not only in European parlance.
I welcome article 1-3.3 on sustainable development, one of the EU's overriding objectives, with the environmental protection measures at its core.
I want to mention three or four points that are very important to us as a party. First, we believe that the National Assembly should be consulted by the UK Government before the Commission publishes proposals relevant to its powers, as will the national state Parliament of member states. Secondly, I ask that the devolved territories or Administrations have real representation on all relevant UK delegations in the Council of Ministers and in the preparatory meetings of COREPER. When deciding whether a proposal infringes the jurisdiction of a national or regional institution under the protocol on subsidiarity, we believe that the House of Commons should exercise one of the UK's votes and the other should be decided by the legislative assembly of the devolved territory affected, on a rotational basis if necessary.
Finally, we read this week that the Irish Government have said that they believe that the Irish language should become an official language of the EU. I heard the Father of the House say that if everybody is going to fight for their language—[Interruption.] Yes, the Minister knows what is coming next, but let me just say this. If we are to engage in a meaningful discussion on the constitution, at the very least the Welsh language should be in there. If we are to have a meaningful dialogue during the referendum campaign, which we all sincerely hope will happen, at the very least the constitution should be translated into Welsh. I would hope, and our party would hope, that in due course Welsh does become an official language of the EU. We have always been pro-integration and frankly, with great respect to our Irish colleagues, more than three times as many people speak Welsh as speak Irish. That is not meant to be one-upmanship, but clearly—
§ Mr. Dalyell
I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman how many Welsh people likely to take an interest in these documents cannot read English as well as he or I?
§ Mr. Llwyd
With great respect to the Father of the House, that is not the issue. I speak Welsh as my first language. I am a barrister by profession and I can do court cases in either language, but I would prefer to speak my first language when I am able and wish to do so. The House passed the Welsh Language Act 1993, and the spirit of that Act is that every person in Wales who has a public service delivered to him or her should, if he or she opts for it, have it delivered through the medium of the Welsh language. If I may say so to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a high regard, the Father of the House makes a rather empty point there.
At the end of the day, these points having been considered by Governments, it is likely that our position will be that we will support holding a referendum and 932 that we shall be positive and that we shall work hard in that campaign. It is likely to be a similar position to our 1997 devolution referendum position. The plan that is being put before us is not really a stark and awful Kafkaesque version of Europe. It does not, I believe, radically alter the face of the European Union beyond the principle of being a written constitution and it is not as radical as the Maastricht treaty or indeed the 1986 Single European Act.
However, the proposal leaves considerable power in the hands of member states. It is a tidying-up, but there are new provisions. I, for one, do not fear them. I will take part, I hope, in a rational, reasonable discussion during the referendum campaign. I believe that this is a step in the right direction. This is the first time that the Union's powers and structures will be set out in a single document, and I believe that the institutional reform is highly necessary for a growing Union.
§ Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab)
First, may I say how strongly I support the point made about the Welsh language by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), who speaks for Plaid Cymru? It is very important that minority languages are preserved as creations of humankind—but that is not the main point of my speech.
I congratulate the Government on deciding to hold a referendum. I understand that congratulations are due to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on persuading the Prime Minister about that sensible course of action, and I wish that he was here to hear my congratulations; perhaps another time.
It will be no surprise to some of my hon. Friends and, indeed, other hon. Members that I will not vote in favour of the treaty—I shall come to my reasons later—but the doubts about the treaty are widespread across Europe among those on the left. I say that because the issue is sometimes portrayed as a left-right argument, but I do not think that it is: the left in Europe is profoundly concerned about the treaty and what it entails.
Today, I understand that Laurent Fabius, the former French Prime Minister, is about to express his doubts about the treaty. I do not know whether he will vote for or against it, but his supporters are certainly saying that they should vote no, and others on the left in France feel equally strongly. The French have decided to go for a referendum. Indeed, it is possible that the French may have a close-run referendum, as they did over the Maastricht treaty.
Others have doubts. Doubts may be growing among those on the left in Germany because of high unemployment. There are serious disturbances, particularly in the east, where unemployment is high and there are threats to cut benefits. When German working people start to make the strong connection between the rules of the eurozone and, indeed, the rules imposed by the EU on their economy, they may have some serious doubts about pursuing the constitutional treaty. There is a direct connection.
The poor East Germans, in particular, have suffered a double whammy. First, the one Ostmark for one Deutschmark overvaluation of their currency led effectively to the closing down of all East German 933 industry. Fortunately, the recycling of billions of Deutschmarks helped them to survive that trauma. Secondly, the Deutschmark was overvalued when it entered the euro, causing the same deflationary problem that the East Germans faced. Although the problem is perhaps not so extreme, it has had a similar effect.
§ Mr. Hendrick
My hon. Friend refers to the French referendum and expresses views on whether the Germans should have one, but in an interview with the Financial Times, the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, said:The German constitution does not allow for a referendum. We will have a parliamentary process".I sometimes wish that that were the case here. What is my hon. Friend's view on that?
§ Mr. Hopkins
I understand that, only a week or two ago, the German Chancellor proposed changing the law in Germany to permit referendums, although not specifically in relation to the treaty. Of course, German Governments change. Sadly, there might be a reversion to the right, which I would very much regret, and a change in the German constitution and position.
§ Chris Bryant
In fact, the Christian Democrats in Germany are arguing very passionately against introducing a referendum provision. That almost certainly makes such a change in the German constitution impossible, because it would need a significant majority in both Houses. Of course, it is interesting to note that that is the sister party of the Conservatives in this country, with which they share operations in the European Parliament.
§ Mr. Hopkins
My hon. Friend makes the point that the politics of Europe are confused in every country. Indeed, there are divisions in almost every party, and I know that several Social Democrats in Germany have a profoundly anti-eurozone view.
Doubts have also been expressed by euro-enthusiasts. During the negotiations on the treaty, John Monks said that the support of the European Trade Union Confederation could not be guaranteed if Britain successfully reduced the effect of the Human Rights Act 1998 on employment legislation, although I think that that has probably now been overcome. That illustrates the struggle between social democracy and neo-liberalism, which is what underlies the European debate. I am a profound supporter of social democracy and think that post-war social democracy has led to the peace that we have enjoyed for the past 50 years—most of my lifetime. The full employment, the redistribution of income and wealth, the welfare state and the social justice embodied in post-war social democracy, together with Keynesian economics, have led to the peace that we have enjoyed in western Europe, not the European Union. Recently, a report by Ian Milne entitled "A Cost Too Far" suggested that growth in EU countries had been slower than that in comparable countries outside because of the deflationary impact of the eurozone especially and European economic policies in general. There are worries on the left as well as the right.
934 It was interesting that, when the combined opposition of Spain and Poland brought down the last proposal for a treaty, there was palpable relief in Whitehall because it meant that Britain would not have to face the agonising task of persuading its people to vote for it. Indeed, it was thought that the treaty would not be brought back for many years and that we could forget about it—thank goodness for that—and concentrate on joining the euro, which the Government were perhaps more interested in. The treaty has come back, but as has been reported widely in the newspapers, there is even now a sense that the Government would be grateful if another country voted no before our referendum so that we would not have one. Are Governments more concerned about losing face than the treaty itself?[Interruption.] Well, the Government are committed to holding a referendum, which I support strongly, and I have said before what my position will be. However, if another country votes no before then, I suspect that champagne corks will pop in certain Departments of State in Britain. I shall certainly pop my champagne cork on that day.
There is still a grave doubt surrounding precisely what Europe is about. We hear almost daily of debates about whether we will have a Christian commonwealth of some kind—Giscard d'Estaing's view is that it is really about Christianity. There are severe worries that that might exclude Turkey, but the Americans want Turkey to join because it would tie a Muslim country into the European Union. The membership of such a country, especially one that borders on the oil lands of Iraq and beyond, would be interesting for western strategic reasons.
The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) tried to assert that the Conservative party had always supported enlargement, but I heard Sir Edward Heath oppose it in one of his last speeches in the House. He believed in a tightly drawn group of heavily integrated western European nations and thought that enlargement would loosen that arrangement. The European Union was originally a bloc of western European nations of similar economic standing that could work well together. As soon as one goes for enlargement, the bonds start to loosen and the arrangement becomes more sensible, so I strongly support it on those grounds.
Retiring Commissioner Frits Bolkestein referred this week to the possibility that we will have an Islamic European Union. That is nonsense. However, we should not be a Christian European Union, but a Union that embraces all beliefs, whatever they are, with democracy at its core.
I return to my main point that the essence of a modern democracy is control over one's economy. If one does not have that control, one has democratic control of hardly anything. Economic power should therefore be retained by member states. We should co-operate voluntarily with other member states, but economic policy should not be decided at a level above the member states.
§ Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op)
What is my hon. Friend's assessment of 935 the extent of the control that Switzerland and Norway enjoy over their domestic economy compared with EU countries?
§ Mr. Hopkins
I am glad that, like us, Norway, is not a member of the eurozone. It has close relations with EU countries, adopts European rules and, like us, is closely involved in the European Union. It is not, however, a member of the eurozone—that is the core of the issue—and can choose its economic policy. We are all part of the world economy and are all buffeted by global economic forces, but we can at least choose our own interest rates, exchange rate and fiscal policy, and we can decide to reflate or deflate. That is not possible for members of a union in which policies are decided by unelected central banks. That is of fundamental significance. Norway, like us, is free of that control at the moment. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) asks about Britain, which has handed power over interest rates to our central bank to control inflation. However, if the Bank of England started to deflate heavily before an election the Chancellor would have a few words to say about that, and we can always take back that power if we choose. [Interruption.] I would be happy to do so, but I have no criticisms of the Bank of England at this stage, as it is doing an excellent job on interest rate policy. Indeed, I am pleased that its previous Governor has similar views to mine about the eurozone and our membership, or not, of it.
There are serious worries across the European Union, particularly in labour movements, about its direction and the way in which we govern our economies. The best example is the Swedish vote on the euro last year, when the left, including the trade unions and the social democrats, was worried about the threat to the welfare state and voted against membership of the eurozone. We, too, should continue to oppose membership.
Finally, the treaty makes inappropriate reference to the institutions of the eurozone, which is a major reason why I do not support it. There should be a separate document on the eurozone that has nothing to do with the treaty, if we vote in favour of the treaty at all. Only a minority of member states belong to the eurozone. We do not belong to it and neither do most other members, so why should we support a treaty that governs its essential components? That is wholly inappropriate, as the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) said. He was going to make a strong point about keeping the economic components of the treaty separate. As and when we vote on the treaty, we should vote on a document that does not cover the eurozone and does not deal with economic matters.
§ Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)
We often puzzle about constitutions and what they are. During our debate, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) said that if we vote down the proposed constitution that would be an affirmation by the people that they were satisfied with Maastricht, Nice and everything that preceded them. That spin is almost worthy of the new European Commissioner, as the hon. Gentlemen knows in his heart of hearts. Four months ago, he voted against the holding of a referendum, on the insistence of the Whips, in an Opposition debate on 936 the subject. Four weeks later, however, the Prime Minister decided on a lilo in Bermuda that the will of Parliament, as expressed by the Members of Parliament marching through the Lobby, was to hold one.
So when I listen to the attestations as to whom we represent and what we represent, I see a party turned on its head. The last vote by the party controlling the House of Commons was that there should be no referendum, but that changed, just like that.
I pose that point because at the heart of it lies the concept of representative government. It took us a long time to form a democratic institution. Is it not interesting that in the course of the Foreign Secretary's speech and in the speeches of all those who have spoken, with the exception of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), that dangerous word "democracy" did not creep in? Over the 25 years I have been a Member of the House I have come to understand that that is the essential trust that forms the basis of the questions that intelligent people ask about how they are governed.
The document is undoubtedly grandiloquent. In its preamble establishing a constitution for Europe, it quotes Thucydides, no less, in both Greek and English. It states:Our constitution…is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the greatest number.There is nothing in the document that evidences that—not a word. The institutional arrangements are devoted to ensuring that power is not in the hands of the greatest number. Of course, being a European document, or a Union document, what does it say—timbals, cymbals and bells—in part IV, "General and Final Provisions"? I know it is easy to mock such a construction. How could it be difficult, with 147 pages of management consultancy, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) called it? What are the important things that make the Union?The flag of the Union shall be a circle of twelve golden stars on a blue background.The anthem of the Union shall be based on the Ode to Joy from the Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven.The motto of the Union shall be: United in diversity.The currency of the Union shall be…and so on.
The substance of the constitution is what we are concerned about and that is why the document is not suitable for the British people. Britain has come to understand that. We will reject it. It was Mr. Giscard d'Estaing, the former and disgraced President of the Republic of France who, in another grandiloquent gesture, tried to compare himself to those in Philadelphia who began the process of forming the United States of America. What is the language? What is the length? Sixteen pages in its original form, as opposed to more than 100 pages of management consultancy in the European document.
What is the core message? "We the People"—Jefferson's words, reissued in the mid-19th century with the greatest statement, perhaps, of democratic government. We the people govern ourselves. The Government are formed from ourselves and held accountable by ourselves. That is the essence of it, and a constitution tries to settle the matter. Ours does. In our 937 own history in this long march to seize control over an Executive, it became evident, as Churchill himself said, that the people are sovereign. For 25 years a political class sees itself as an elite, but a Prime Minister can insist that the House votes one way one day and then, on a lilo in Bermuda, can change that.
We have brought it upon ourselves that we are so reduced. It is cheering, though, that Labour Members are beginning to understand that the purpose of Parliament is wider than the vanities of those who only temporarily govern us. As I have said before, we are here for only a brief season. Among the important elements of our own constitution, the one that I will not give up easily is the idea that we cannot bind our successors.
Again, Jefferson passionately believed that dead men should not rule for ever, yet how can one change a constitution of this nature?
Who can change such a constitution? Is it the British people? Is there a polity called Europe? No. To whom do I owe allegiance? Is it Europe or is it this House, this Chamber and this people, who sent me here and whom I represent. I am told, as if it were a banality, that there is nothing unreasonable about a foreign court, of which we know too little, having absolute control of our constitutional arrangements through this blue document, with its grandiloquence. This is what is so vital: the constitution is beyond the reach of the people, yet it is promoted as an ever-closer union of the people.
§ Mr. Shepherd
The hon. Gentleman says that, but the grandiloquent preamble refers to the consummation of closeness. The theme is ever-closer union, but a union of what and of whom? This nation believes in the comity of nations and openness. We have characterised those beliefs in the course of our history in an attempt to ensure that the people of this country determine the laws under which they shall live and know the people whom they shall remove if those laws are unsatisfactory.
These are the questions that I ask of the European constitution. Who governs us and makes the laws, and, importantly, how can we get rid of them? Where does this document state how I can get rid of them? How can I change them? Who appoints them and who chooses them? It is not the people who sent me here to represent them. This constitution could never have been brought forward by previous generations, who understood the sheer necessity and the difficulty of capturing power. Who is the sovereign? Let the document tell us, which it does—the answer is dire: it is not us. That is what the struggle and argument are about.
I am convinced that the British people will reject the constitution. The constitution is an accumulation of treaties on which the British people have never had an opportunity to express a view. This is the first time that the British people can say whether those arrangements for government are satisfactory, and I believe that they will say no. Central to the Conservative position is the declaration by the party leader, who acknowledged the sovereignty of Parliament in a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale): 938the British Parliament is supreme and we would introduce the necessary legislation to bring about full national and local control.That is central to what we are about.
The second section of the constitution should go. The European Court should not override anything that this House wants to do, because in the end we are responsible to the people, not to anyone beyond this polity. I shall argue and vote against this constitution.
§ Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op)
I disagree with everything that the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said, except for one point—his criticism of what he described as the grandiloquent nature of the constitution is fair. The complexity of the constitution, as drafted, does no service to those of us who want to see the type of relationship with our European friends and partners that the hon. Gentleman wants to avoid.
If the document were 16 pages long, like that produced by the founding fathers of the United States, the hon. Gentleman would be against it anyway. His opposition to the European Union is honest, but Conservative Front Benchers would also oppose anything that the Government brought back from negotiations in Brussels.
Even if my hon. Friend the Minister had come back and announced that the other European states had decided to give up the euro in favour of the pound and to appoint the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) as the European Foreign Minister, or even if they had agreed that President Chirac would do feudal homage to the Queen for the possession of Calais, the Conservatives would have been against it. They would not have agreed to anything that the Government came back with. That is because they have made an assessment that the right short-term political choice for them as a party is to go along the Eurosceptic road because there are votes in it. There may be some votes in it, although the experience of the European elections suggests that there are not as many as they might have thought.
In trying to concentrate on their Euroscepticism, the Conservatives no doubt hope that their own policies will not be scrutinised too closely. Although the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) quoted his party's document "The True Paper", he was not exactly forthcoming about his alternative. That is not surprising, because that document is full of internal contradictions that reflect the confusion in the Conservative party in trying to steer between outright Euroscepticism and recognition of the damage that would be done to our national interests if we drew further away from our membership of the European Union, as we inevitably would as a result of its policies.
I do not have time to go into a detailed textual analysis of the Conservative position. To give an example, mention has already been made of the proposal to allow any five national Parliaments to repeal not only new but existing European legislation. Conservative Front Benchers suggest that that is restricted to certain areas, but they well know that their proposals could apply very extensively. In practice, they would mean that the national Parliaments of Latvia, 939 Estonia and Lithuania, or Malta and Cyprus—which, although I have nothing against Balts, Maltese or Cypriots, represent about 1 per cent. of the population of the European Union—would be able not only to block new legislation, but to repeal, or at least to challenge, every piece of legislation that has been adopted over the past 47 years.
Similarly, the Conservatives suggest elsewhere in their document that it would be possible for the European Parliament to repeal any European legislation. Some of us might think that there is merit in giving greater powers to the European Parliament, but the Conservatives' suggestion is that MEPs from other countries in the European Parliament should be able to overrule decisions taken by member state Governments—our national representatives—in the European Council.
The Conservatives are torn between Euroscepticism and recognising that there are certain realities in the way in which Europe is run that even they cannot avoid. The fact is that nobody except those in the Conservative party and the more raving elements outside it in the Eurosceptic ranks believe that the draft constitution is the shortcut to a European superstate and the transfer of powers to Brussels.
§ Mr. Davidson
As someone who is neither a Conservative nor a member of the UK Independence party, I assure my hon. Friend that I and many people in the Labour party and the trade union movement do believe that this document is a substantial step towards a European superstate, as it gives a substantial number of additional powers to the European Union. Furthermore, is he not embarrassed to support a constitution that makes a virtue of denying workers and trade unions in Britain the sort of rights that our colleagues in European countries have?
§ Mr. Lazarowicz
I assure my hon. Friend that I do not suggest that raving Eurosceptics are confined to the UK Independence party although, of course, I do not include him in that category. However, surely the logical position is not to oppose a European constitution but to argue for even more powers to be transferred to the EU.
As was discussed earlier, one of the strengths of the document is that it gives added rights to member state Parliaments. The power that it will grant member state Parliaments, if we choose to exercise it, could be significant in ensuring that the debate about European policy is brought home to the peoples of the various member states and that the benefits of EU membership are shown more clearly.
Another welcome innovation in the constitution is the right for the various devolved legislatures to be consulted on matters that relate to a devolved competence. I am surprised that no representatives from the Scottish National party are present to discuss an issue that is so important for Scotland. Doubtless the difficulties of leading a party 400 miles away sometimes affect that organisation.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
To avoid misunderstanding, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the constitution 940 contains no procedure to give the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly the power to stop anything? It grants the right to talk and consult but nothing else.
§ Mr. Lazarowicz
The hon. Gentleman is correct that there is no power to stop anything absolutely, but he well knows that there is a power to request review. He knows far better than me, because he has been in this place for so many years, that the power to delay and review can be effectively exercised by a second Chamber, as the House of Lords has shown frequently.
§ Chris Bryant
Is it not also the case that, since we are in a parliamentary democracy, the Government are formed only by virtue of their majority in the House and that, consequently, we have a direct ability to use our powers?
§ Mr. Lazarowicz
That is a good point.
It is time to get away from the debates about our negotiations in Europe that contend that we are successful only if we can show that we have managed to extract even more concessions out of those conniving, evil Europeans. I am not naive about negotiations and I accept that conniving takes place in international negotiations from time to time. However, I have no objection to the idea that to achieve better results for our people and to promote our national interest, we should be prepared to transfer more powers to the EU. I do not mean more powers than the constitution proposes, but I do not find the principle of working together at a European level difficult. I do not want to draw back from that.
I want a European Union and EU institutions that allow us to tackle effectively the problems of our time. I want Europe to work effectively to deal with the problems of international terrorism. I want a more effective European voice in world affairs, and that is why I support the proposal in the constitution for a European Foreign Minister. I want us to tackle the environmental problems more effectively. That is why I welcome the constitution and hope that the British people will accept it in a referendum. I accept that those of us who support it will have to fight the campaign strongly, but I believe that its merits and those of our active membership of the EU will come through.
Clearly, if the British people do not approve the constitution in a referendum, it will not mean the end of our EU membership. However, it will mean that the EU will be gradually less able to tackle its challenges effectively. It would thus become less effective and less efficient. That is probably why Opposition Members and a few Labour Members will campaign against our ratification of the constitution.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con)
For centuries, we have made and unmade treaties. I listened with interest to what my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said about Jefferson. I have just returned from Jefferson's home, Monticello in Virginia. He was the man who devised the declaration of independence. These people knew what they were talking about.
941 Over the past 300 years, we have made vast progress towards democracy and consent. This constitution will take that away. The reality is that we are now moving away from parliamentary government. We must bring back effective power to the voters of this country, as I said in a pamphlet that I wrote last year. I am glad to say that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) was on the platform with me this time last year when we issued that pamphlet at the party conference
The issue of primacy, which I have already dealt with today, is the issue of sovereignty, which in turn is the issue of democracy and consent. That is why I insist that my Sovereignty of Parliament (European Communities) Bill, which is still listed on the Order Paper, is needed. Through it, we would be able to reassert our power to repeal or amend any legislation, including the European constitution and, if necessary, the existing treaties. As the Foreign Secretary himself conceded after six months of torrid discussion with me across the Floor of the House last year, that would include the European constitution, though the European Communities Act 1972.
We will only resolve this question, however, if we have the political will to do so. There has been a huge accumulation of treaties for decades. As I said to the Prime Minister some time ago, this constitution makes specific provision for the revocation of those treaties. There is a new clause IV. It is in this constitution, and it refers to the fact that the treaties will be consolidated, but all the existing treaties will also be repealed. The primacy of this constitution over our constitution and our laws will be introduced, and the whole ball game will change.
There has been much talk of conferral. As I said earlier in an intervention, conferral equals an abdication of sovereignty, and handing over to the European Court of Justice what truly belongs to this House of Parliament—and not just this House of Parliament, for we are but players in the matter. The real power belongs to the people: the real power belongs to the voters in our constituencies. That is what we have been betraying over the last few decades, in terms of what has now accumulated into a European constitution.
The greatly expanded functions belie the Foreign Secretary's argument about the question of primacy. Yes, in 1972 there was a principle of primacy that was conceded, but with respect to extremely confined functions. Now we are moving into completely different territory, which is why I forced the rebellion on the Maastricht treaty. That treaty was the genesis of this. I make no apology for having entered into the rebellion on that occasion—or for what I have done in regard to the Amsterdam and Nice treaties, and will do again in regard to the European constitution.
Yes, I support our party 100 per cent. on the question of rejecting this constitution and fighting for a no vote in the referendum, but I am bound to say that a number of matters will not be resolved simply by words. There is deregulation, for instance. It is impossible to deal with deregulation without dealing with the central question of the sovereignty of Parliament. People may or may not know of my altercations with Digby Jones of the CBI, but so many of the laws are based on adversely affecting 942 British business. Then there is the question of fraud, the failure of the common agricultural policy, and low growth and high unemployment in Europe. Do we want to emulate that? Europe is not working.
Furthermore, the relative success of the British economy recently has only taken place because we have been outside monetary union and the exchange rate mechanism.
As I said to the Chancellor the other day, it is despite, and not because of, the Government's policies that we have a relatively stable economy compared with, say, Germany or France.
As we in the European Scrutiny Committee know, behind-the-scenes deals are going on between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. We will be following that issue up. Their objective is to bypass national Parliaments, but we shall get to the bottom of those behind-the-scenes deals. We must also consider the issues of the arrest warrant, the evidence warrant, and defence and the common foreign and security policy.
So when my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary says that we want real reforms, let us spell out what they will be. There are dangers in letting other countries go ahead with this variable geometry. It will create a hard core in Europe, which could prove very counter-productive. Nor would I want our radical reforms to be confined just to fisheries and aid; we have to examine the existing treaties.
The perception is that our own policies are not clear enough, so we must make them clearer and base them on the principle of democratic consent. We should also accompany our policies with a real threat of withdrawal. The fact is that without such a threat, other member states will not know that we seriously intend to deliver on our policies. We need to restore parliamentary sovereignty, but we cannot do so without showing that we mean business.
It is also necessary to adopt a policy of associated status, which would be popular with most people in this country. We need not a total rejection of the European idea or of the European Community, but a serious and radical reform, combined with the threat of withdrawal if they will not listen. We gave them the opportunity to impose their ideas on us, and they have done so. We in this House have the right to make up our minds about how we are going to respond, and we will respond effectively only if we are seen to be determined, clear and strong. That is my message.
§ Mrs. Browning
I know—the Minister will not be disappointed. As he will recall, I spoke in the House on 16 June; indeed, he was very kind about my comments on that occasion. I will not reiterate what I said then, but I should like to pick up on one of my central themes. This constitution is the last piece in the jigsaw in creating what is not necessarily a superstate. Indeed, as a trading bloc the EU is certainly not superstate in nature. As we 943 have heard, it has high unemployment, and declining trade and gross domestic product are forecast. In fact, if we were starting from this point the EU would be an economic bloc that we would not want to join.
However, we have to be realistic about what the agenda of other countries has always been. The direction in which they are now going is not in the British interest, which is why I oppose the constitution in principle and in detail. Indeed, I hope to spread the word and to persuade people to look at this issue much more seriously, and then to vote no in a referendum.
§ Mrs. Browning
No. Whatever people's views—whether they share mine or they share in the European dream—let us have some honesty in this debate. Those who make the case for that dream should be prepared to stand their corner and be totally honest about what is involved.
When the Prime Minister returned from the intergovernmental conference on 21 June, he told us what he had signed up to and I asked him an oral question. I asked whether he had changed the way in which voting takes place, and about our use of the veto in co-ordinating economic policy across the EU. He did not answer my question. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) repeated the question about 10 minutes later.
He did not answer her question either, so I tabled a written question to the Prime Minister asking him whether that policy would be determined in future by qualified majority voting.
I received a reply from No. 10 Downing street on 23 June saying that the Prime Minister had passed my question to the Minister for Europe, who is now in his place on the Treasury Bench. The Minister then replied by referring me to part 3 of the treaty. When I read it, I discovered that change in the voting mechanism on economic policy was not stipulated, that the default applied and that it therefore became subject to qualified majority voting. In other words, we have given up the veto. I then tabled a supplementary question to the Minister asking whether that was right. I received a reply saying that he believed that I had already received a substantial reply—end of story.
I repeat to the Minister today what I said to him then. If the Government believe that this is in the British interest, let us have some honest and straight answers to some straight questions about important issues. Have we given up the right of exercising a veto in respect of our economic policy—yes or no? I asked the Foreign Secretary earlier in the debate whether the charter of fundamental rights was legally binding. In similar fashion, he referred me to a part of the treaty. I want some straight answers from the Minister about whether the Government have made any concessions. We know from the debate that they certainly have: they have given up on many red lines, forfeiting our case on a range of important issues. We have seen EU institutions expand their power in key areas—not just over the economy, but over criminal justice and other matters—and we have seen legal personality given to the constitution itself.
I must tell the Minister that the debate is going nowhere, especially when we have the sort of patsy-like material that I see in the White Paper placed in the Vote 944 Office. It beggars belief that we are talking about a constitutional matter, but the Government devote the opening part of the document to telling people what a better deal they get on holiday by being part of the EU and its constitution. [Interruption.] I hear a sedentary comment saying that it is true, but let us be quite clear about this. We are talking about the constitution of this country and about democracy. We are not talking about a few people who think that they get a good deal changing pounds into pesetas when they go into Europe. That sort of trivialisation—
§ Mrs. Browning
I am certainly not giving way to the hon. Gentleman. Someone should put him back in the teapot over there; he has had more than enough to say today.
I really believe that if we are to have a sincere debate for the British people, it must deal with the core elements of what the constitution is about. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) so clearly explained, it is all about democracy, the representation of the people and their ability to call to account those whom they vote for every four or five years. That is why this is the last piece in the jigsaw and the watershed in our relationship with the EU.
If we as a country are not going to be part of this constitution, we have to look for an alternative constructive relationship with the EU. I believe that it should be quite different from the one that has obtained before. It has to be that way, because this constitution rolls up previous treaties. As a customs union, we have to look outwards as a global trading nation, so we need agreements with the EU and with others. That is what the EU itself has been trying to do. It has a trading relationship with Mexico, for example, so there should be no sense of shock horror about my suggestion to take advantage of the changes.
We are shackled by the EU in respect of economic performance and we are shackled by its democratic deficit. We are also shackled by an EU that is rife with fraud and unable to audit its accounts, yet we are asked to have still more of the same and to concede more of our powers. I say no. Vote no in the referendum.
§ Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con)
As usual when we debate Europe in this Chamber, we hear a rich variety of views. This has been an important debate, with many fine contributions from all sides. It has been a pleasure to take part in it, and to listen to what has been said.
I shall deal with some of those contributions, but I shall begin by referring briefly to the White Paper that we received this morning. I congratulate the Minister for Europe on producing it, although at first glance it seems to lack balance, as we expected. It is silent about the murky genesis of the constitution and the many governmental negotiating failures, but we look forward to examining it in detail and making our response in due course.
945 In debates on Europe, it is important to recognise that the Conservative party speaks for the mainstream and the majority in this country. We are against the single currency, as are most British voters. For a long time, we have been in favour of a referendum on the constitution, as have a majority of the British people. We are against the constitution, and so are the vast majority of the British people.
However, if he runs true to form, the Minister for Europe will stand at the Dispatch Box and accuse anyone who opposes the constitution of being anti-European, xenophobic and in favour of withdrawal. I do not need to be clairvoyant to predict that, as I have heard him speak on this subject on a number of occasions, and that is what he does every time.
The Minister's approach conveniently ignores the fact that several of his colleagues are against the constitution, as we have heard today. It also ignores the fact that his Government originally opposed the constitution, and it takes no account of the powerful arguments presented in the debate. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) described himself as a passionate pro-European, but he also opposes the constitution. Moreover, the Minister's approach ignores the fact that the majority of the British people are against it too.
If the constitution is so good for our country, and if those who oppose it are so misguided, will the Minister explain what the Prime Minister said only five years ago—namely,for the record, we are not proposing a constitution of Europe."?Will he also explain why, just four years ago, the Prime Minister said that we did not need an EU constitution? I hope that the Minister will explain when the Government changed their mind about that, and why.
In the end, whether we sign up to the constitution is a decision of the utmost significance. It must depend on a dispassionate assessment by each and every one of us of the impact of this document on our laws, sovereignty and way of life.
In the debate, many assessments and arguments were presented, both for and against the constitution. Early on, we were treated to a speech from the Back Benches by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who made her usual measured contribution and asked some important and specific questions about whether the role of the national Parliaments would really be strengthened by the constitution. She also sought clarity about how that would happen, and called for an informed debate in the run-up to the referendum, and that is surely a crucial matter. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer some of those very important points.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) set out his party's position in his usual measured. Rolls-Royce tones. I do not believe that he is sufficiently mindful of the risks and dangers inherent in the constitution, but I respect his conviction and consistency.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asked some important questions, and I hope that the Minister will answer them.
946 My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) pressed the Government about exactly how the provisions for withdrawal would operate. He asked some very legitimate questions that require answers, and I hope that the Minister will respond to some of them tonight.
The hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) spoke about the need to reinvigorate public interest in this issue. We have noticed that eyelids droop whenever Europe is mentioned, and that will not do in the run-up to a referendum, but the hon. Gentleman made the mistake of describing the process as a big tidying-up exercise. Of course, some tidying up is involved, but the constitution is much more than that, as it contains many new provisions.
I have already referred to my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset, who presented a passionate explanation of why, as a pro-European, he does not agree with the constitution. He said that the treaty does not simplify matters or make the EU more democratic and effective.
The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) treated us to his usual display of passionate support of, and loyalty to, his Government. We applaud him for that, and hope that it bears reward in the near future—although I am sure that it is reward enough for him still to be here with the Foreign Secretary.
The hon. Gentleman spoke vigorously in favour of the constitution. We have heard him do that before, and I am sure that we will in future.
We were treated to a masterful presentation from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who said that Laeken failed to deliver on its stated aims. He referred particularly to the fact that the European Court of Justice will become the supreme court of this nation and will be the final arbiter of interpretation of the constitution.
The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Plaskitt) recognised the need for reform of EU institutions, but concluded that the constitution is the right solution. That is misguided.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) called for the Welsh language to be remembered in the constitution and made a passionate case for that for Plaid Cymru—[Interruption.] It was better pronounced by him. I apologise to him, as I have in the past; he always forgives me. He asked about the legal status of the charter of fundamental rights. We need to hear a clear answer on that from the Foreign Secretary and the Minister. We want it put on the record, boiler-plated and made clear.
The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) made the point that widespread concerns about the constitution are not just confined to the right of politics in Europe, but are legion throughout the left of political opinion, too. He spelled out some of his concerns about the constitution. It is important that those on the Government Front Bench recognise that many Labour Members have profound concerns.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) spoke with his usual passion and conviction about the undermining of democracy that has already happened and the further undermining of real democracy that would take place if the constitution were agreed.
947 The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) rather wasted most of his 10 minutes attacking our party and policies, but he just managed to let slip that he wanted to transfer even more powers to Brussels: at least we know where he is coming from.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) hammered home the point that we need to claw back and protect national sovereignty and indicated, in his usual, powerful way, the many dangers of the constitution.
Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) called for honest, straight answers to some of the most important questions. In the run-up to a referendum, it will not do for the Government to hide behind confusion, obfuscation, long words and legal phrases. We must have clear, simple answers to these important questions.
It has been a good debate. In the few moments that remain to me, I should like to summarise why we Conservatives believe that the constitution is wrong for Britain and the EU.
I should like to make three crucial points. First, the Laeken mandate for the Convention in 2001 was to design a blueprint for the EU that would bring the institutions of Europe closer to the people. Many contributors made that point, and we have seen the importance of that in the dismal turnouts across the continent in the European elections earlier this year. Sadly, however, this document does nothing of the kind. In fact, the proposals to give more power to institutions with which people feel no connection whatsoever is taking matters in the opposite direction.
The growing gap between the governed and Governments, whether within nations or transnationally, is one of the most serious issues facing us, and threatens our democracy as we look forward and could have dire, long-term consequences. We have to deal with people's sense of disconnection with European institutions. The constitution—clumsy and misguided as it is—will only make matters worse.
Secondly, the charter of fundamental rights, contrary to everything that the Government have said about it—and they have twisted, spun and turned on this in the past few years—will have full legal status, and the European Court of Justice will sit in judgment on it. More and more experts and commentators agree on that point and recognise that it could have a profound impact on our laws. Most recently, Professor Brian Bercusson of King's College London, to whom my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes referred, said that the constitution could boost employment rights in this country. I have no problem with that. If the Government believe that employees in this country require better protection, with all the impact that that would have on productivity and business, let them bring forward their own domestic legislation through the front door. It is not acceptable to sign up to a document that will bring these measures in through the back door.
Most people in this country—and most of those I speak to in my constituency—believe that there is already too much interference from Brussels. This charter would be a gateway to yet more centralisation and interference from Brussels.
948 It is almost certain, given its track record, that the European Court of Justice would push its nose into domestic nooks and crannies where it simply will not be welcome.
The third reason why we oppose the constitution is that we believe, from a close analysis of its contents, that it will transfer more powers away from national Parliaments and hand them to EU institutions. That case is utterly made by a close and careful reading of the document. It would give more power to Brussels over social security; more power to co-ordinate employment policies; more power on competition policy; more power to co-ordinate our economic policy; more power on trade policy; more power over energy policy; more power over immigration and asylum; more power over domestic criminal law. That is what the constitution says and that is what would happen. So rather than reconnecting with the peoples of Europe by bringing home powers to their national institutions with which they feel more in tune and in which they have confidence, the new constitution will take powers from the nation states and hand them to Brussels. It will set in place a new framework for more unwanted and unwarranted interference from the centre. That is bad news.
Our critics are entitled to ask what we as Her Majesty's loyal Opposition would do instead. We certainly would not have agreed to this constitution. We will continue to call for a Europe that better reflects 21st century realities; a Europe based on co-operation, not coercion; a competitive, free-market and flexible Europe that will give individual member states the space to be different and room to breathe; a Europe in which powers are genuinely returned wherever possible to member states; a Europe that is flexible; a live-and-let-live Europe in which those who wish to forge ever closer union can do so and those who do not can remain more independent. That is the kind of Europe that the vast majority of citizens want, and the constitution is a quantum leap in the wrong direction and must be opposed.
After months of denial and insisting that there would be no referendum on the constitution, after months of intense pressure from the Opposition and from the court of public opinion, the Prime Minister finally caved in and agreed that there would be a referendum. Sometimes the Foreign Secretary is credited with putting on that pressure and bringing about that decision. If that is true, we congratulate him. This is an important U-turn and a decision that is fundamentally important to the future of Britain. Giving the people of Britain the final say is something that we welcome.
As several right hon. and hon. Members have said, it is important that an informed and measured debate now takes place not only in the media but in Parliament to enable people to vote in the referendum, whenever it comes, on an informed basis. But why the delay? Having made the decision to have a referendum, let us get on with it. If the people of this country vote no, there will be no crisis. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes said, the answer is contained in page 11 of the White Paper. The heads of state of Europe will have to think again, go back to Laeken and come up with a different way forward that is more acceptable to the peoples of Europe.
949 Next time, the policy makers will have no choice but to listen to the voice of the people. The country that votes down this misguided constitution will do the whole EU a long-term favour. So let the Prime Minister bring on the referendum without delay; let the people of Britain have their say; and let the honour of creating a more attractive European Union fall to us.
§ The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane)
I congratulate the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) on his speech and the moderate terms in which he presented his case. I will try to emulate him. Will he pass my thanks to the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), who has moved on to higher things on the Opposition Front Bench. We had a good relationship when he was shadow Minister for Europe and I wish him all the best.
§ Mr. MacShane
My right hon. Friend says that there is nothing higher than the Foreign Office. No doubt other of his right hon. Friends will be interested to hear that statement.
I welcome the suggestion made by the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the shadow Foreign Secretary, that a copy of the constitution be sent to every household.
There are some 30 million households in the UK, so that would be an expensive project. However, I can now tell the Prime Minister and the relevant authorities that it is an all-party proposition and that the Conservatives will not object. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) shakes his head. It is an important point because so often in the past when it has been a case of putting the facts and the documents about the EU in front of the people, the cry has gone up that we are indulging in propaganda and spending taxpayers' money on advancing the European cause. I am grateful for the reassurances from the Opposition in this instance.
§ Mr. MacShane
No, I wish to start my speech, at least. I commend to the House the new initiative launched by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on providing an update on the advance programme of the EU, which has now been reported to the House in the form of a Command Paper. It is important that we use accurate terms of reference. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills was right to draw attention to the extraordinary events in Philadelphia some 230 years ago. However, the document before us does not start "We, the people". It starts:
"HIS MAJESTY THE KING OF THE BELGIANS, THE PRESIDENT OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC, HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN OF DENMARK".
The last name on the list is
"HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN OF THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND".
950 It continues:Who having exchanged their full powers, found in good and due form, have agreed as follows".What follows, as has rightly been pointed out, runs to many pages. It is a solemn international treaty—nothing more and nothing less. Yes, it has been given the noble term of constitution. Indeed, in the Spanish press it has been called the Magna Carta. Goodness only knows why a constitutional treaty becomes the Magna Carta in Spanish, although I do not know whether that is an argument for or against it. It is a bit worrying.
We must explain to people the fundamental fact that the constitution is an international treaty. We can withdraw from international treaties. We can withdraw from the NATO treaty, from the World Trade Organisation treaty and from the laws of the sea treaty. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills referred to the now famous letter to the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) from the Leader of the Opposition, in which he confirmed that it would be the policy of a Conservative Government to pass national law in this House to take back control of the common fisheries policy. The consequence would either be accepting huge fines for breaching the treaty or leaving the EU. Let it be said, clearly and openly, that that is the official policy of the Opposition.
There was a difference in this debate. On this side of the House, we heard discordant voices, including my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins), who spoke, and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson), who intervened in the debate. However, on the other side of the House, there was complete and utter unity—[Interruption.] I meant the contributions from the main Opposition party—I did not mean to discredit the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). That unity was expressed in favour of the existing constitutional treaties of Europe, such as Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice, Rome and the Single European Act. They will remain in place if this constitutional treaty is defeated. We will have to live with the existing constitutional treaties, unless the UK chooses to withdraw. That would send an enormous signal around the world that Britain has, as it did in the 1930s, chosen the isolationist path. It would send a message to every business in Britain that we had decided that we did not want to support this reforming constitutional treaty.
It will send a message to every parliamentarian that for the first time—
§ Mr. MacShane
Have I read it? Oh, I have read it.
We will be sending a message that, for the first time, we have a European treaty that writes in specific powers for our Parliament.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) for sloughing her way through the provisions and finding the various references to Parliament in the new treaty. She was right to say that it will be up to us to make of it what we will. That is the very point for which the House exists. We are sent here to represent our people and collectively to decide what we want to do with the powers conferred on 951 us. If we choose to take seriously the idea of national parliamentary accountability under the treaty, we can make something of it.
For the first time in British history, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary set up a Standing Committee on an international treaty to have Ministers and the Executive report to sovereign parliamentarians on the passage of the treaty and on the negotiations as they took place. Never before in our history has that happened. Did even one Conservative Front-Bench Member turn up to take part? Of course not.
§ Mr. MacShane
I shall pass on if I may.
Several Members referred to economic competences—an important point. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Plaskitt) so well pointed out, the original treaty—the treaty of Rome—hands the European Community the responsibility of undertaking such co-ordination, whereas under this treaty the member states co-ordinate their economic and employment policies. My hon. Friend made a moderate and calm speech—he did not rant and shout—and he made a very, very important point: in a sense, we have turned the rules around, returning more authority to member states.
The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) referred to the pamphlet that he wrote last year and which was launched by the shadow Foreign Secretary. It has now almost become official Conservative policy. I think I quote the hon. Gentleman rightly—if not, I shall certainly take a correction intervention from him. He said clearly that the only way we would be able to make our point in Europe was by threatening to withdraw. Threatening to withdraw—that is the language of today's Conservative party. It will not be long before the hon. Gentleman is back in the shadow Cabinet. I will not repeat the wonderful remarks of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) who said that to sign the treaty of Amsterdam would be to finish Britain as a sovereign country and that to sign the treaty of Nice would be to blow up Parliament. He has been brought right back to the heart of the governing council of the Conservative party.
The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who called for the EU to intervene in Sudan, was dismissed. I thought that he was going too far, but any Member on the Conservative Front Bench who has anything good to say about the EU goes straight to the Back Benches.
I want to turn to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston on the European convention on human rights and the question of what will have supremacy. I refer her to article II-53, which deals with that, but I will write to her in more depth because her point is important.
Let us put ourselves for a second in the position of other Parliaments and Governments. All Governments are as sensitive to their definition of their national law and to their version of human rights as we are. For 952 example, Germany, in the past, was very unhelpful on parents' access to their children in divorces of German nationals and nationals of another country, although things may now be further forward. I believe that the Germans are wrong, but they will not be told by any supranational body what their national policy is to be. Similarly, Germany denies the right to strike to millions of public sector workers—[Interruption.] The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes asks what that has to do with it. I was asked about the ECHR and I am making the point that other Governments will not accept being told what to do by Brussels.
I am making the point that the charter of fundamental rights indeed has a reference to the right to strike in it—
§ Mr. MacShane
Let me finish this point; then I will give way.
The charter has a reference to the right to strike in it, but it is limited by national laws and traditions, and that was not put in—this is the point that I have had to make again and again to friends in the TUC, and I wish that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North, with his trade union connections, would make it as well. It was Germany that insisted on that because the German constitution bans the right to strike for 2 million or 3 million public sector workers. We are not proposing that, I think, in our country, but it is the same reasoning about the single seat, on which—
§ Mr. Cash
I am most grateful.
The Minister, in an intervention, made a reference to something called Kompetens-Kompetens, which I have pursued for a couple of years now. Does he agree that in fact in Germany, the issue of Kompetens-Kompetens is an extremely important matter, and furthermore, that the adoption of the principles that he has put forward would suggest that the German people would not accept the rulings of the European Court of Justice if they interfered with the German constitution?
§ Mr. MacShane
Yes, but the German Government and the main German parties are supporting this constitutional treaty, although of course there are debates. The primacy of the ECJ was established in British law in 1972; it is there in the original treaties. If we want a single market and a common rule book, we need an arbitrator, and that is a good argument for lawyers. I have dozens of quotes here; I can quote them if hon. Members like. The chief judge of the European Court of Justice, Mr. Skouris, said:
I do not believe that the integration of the Charter into the Treaty will alter the allocation of powers between the EU and the Member States".The Opposition Front-Bench team can produce their own lawyers who say something different. 953 [Interruption.] No, the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes quoted Mr. Skouris once, in an intervention that he made before all the explanations were written into the treaty, before it got quite technical. This is one of the difficulties—the moment we get technical, the Tory party tends to go away because it has very few arguments.
May I reply to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)? The Baltic states are now a very important part of the network of 25 states, with special insights on Russia. As he rightly said, there are problems in at least two of them about Russian minorities, but equally they have to respect the collective views of existing EU member states prior to enlargement about tolerance and about treating Russia as a serious partner, with very serious internal problems. That is a completely different issue, but I welcomed their input and, equally, I welcomed the fact that they have to listen to the perspectives of other countries that have a long relationship with Russia as well.
§ Mr. MacShane
I completely agree with the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) that we have failed to take the people with us, but may I gently say to him that it does not help for the leader of his party to tell the "Today" programme on 9 June that, under the proposed treaty, Tony Blair would not be at the G8 meeting as Prime Minister because we would have given up our seats on the G8 and the Security Council of the United Nations? That is completely untrue. Only the most profound Eurosceptic in France or anywhere else talks such complete and utter gibberish.
§ Mr. MacShane
Last year, the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes told us that the new treatyfor the first time explicitly enshrines the primacy of EU law."—[Official Report, 16 September 2003: Vol. 410, c. 779.]That is not true. Will he tell that to his constituents? [Interruption.] The quote is from Hansard.
Finally we come to this point. We shall have votes before this referendum. We shall have votes in Parliament on the treaty as we debate it in a Bill to be put before the House later this year. We shall have a vote next year in a general election. Those of us who oppose isolationism will win. Those of us who want us to be in a Britain leading a reform process will win. Those of us who believe that the old treaties and the old constitution are deeply flawed and this new constitution helps Britain and helps Europe will win. I invite all hon. Members, when those votes come, to support those who support Britain, defeat isolationism and speak up for Britain in Europe.
§ It being Six o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.