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Eu Constitution

Volume 406: debated on Tuesday 10 June 2003

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7.

If he will visit Nottingham, North to discuss the EU constitution; and if he will make a statement. [117944]

9.

If he will make a statement on the latest draft of the constitutional treaty from the Convention on the Future of Europe. [117946]

At the Thessaloniki European Council next week Valéry Giscard d'Estaing will present his final report on the Convention on the Future of Europe. The convention will be followed by an intergovernmental conference, where decisions will be taken by unanimity.

I can inform my hon. Friend that I visited Nottingham on 27 February to discuss Europe. I plan to do so again as part of a series of visits to 100 UK cities and towns to get over the truth about Europe and dispel the propaganda myth.

That greatest of Britons, Tom Paine, once said:

"A constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government: and government without a constitution is power without a right."
Does my hon. Friend accept that there can be no short cuts to winning people's consent, either to the euro or to a new constitution that will influence this country? While he is about it, will my hon. Friend tell the House how successful he has been in his pan-European search for a poet who can rewrite some of the Euro-babble that Giscard uses in his first draft into an inspirational text—something a little more inspiring than a sheepmeat directive?

We should render unto poets that which poets can do and render unto the responsibility of good government that which we have to do.

My hon. Friend is both right and wrong. He is right to quote Tom Paine, but he may recall that a number of countries have managed quite well without the need for a written constitution. At the end of a conference of 25 sovereign and independent nation states, we shall have a constitutional treaty that we shall bring back to the House of Commons to debate line by line. Thereafter, I know that my hon. Friend and I will continue to argue the case for being in Europe and helping to run Europe—unlike the Opposition, who want to isolate us from Europe and many of whom want us to withdraw altogether.

The hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) just referred to Valéry Giscard d'Estaing as a Euro-imperialist, but is not the truth that, despite being French, the president of the Convention has actually produced a remarkably un-French document? Bearing in mind the Chancellor's announcement yesterday that he hopes to take Britain into the euro—eventually—is it not all the more important that we ensure that future amendments to the constitutional treaty do not include proposals for tax harmonisation?

On the latter point, my hon. Friend is right. He is right, too, to note that Valéry Giscard d'Estaing has been widely criticised by Euro-federalists, by a number of small countries which think that he has given far too much power to the role of the nation state. The president of the Convention has also been criticised by the Opposition—so between the Euro-federalists who think he is doing a bad job and the fanatical anti-Europeans in the Conservative party who think he is doing a bad job, perhaps he is getting something right.

As we have no written constitution in this country, is there not an unanswerable case for putting a written constitution to the people of this country?

We are already fully signed up to the constitutional treaties that make the rules that allow us to make the European Union work. That is what will be brought back to the House. Yesterday, I heard the hon. Gentleman constantly make the point that it is this Parliament that should decide the affairs of our British people, not the Daily Mail with its populist plebiscites. That is why I look forward to bringing back the constitutional treaty for the House to debate and examine line by line.

The Prime Minister has said that there will be no referendum on the EU constitution because it is not constitutionally significant. Can the Minister explain how on earth the introduction of a constitution in a constitutional treaty is not constitutionally significant? Why do not the Government have the courage of their convictions and promise a referendum so that people can actually decide—or are they scared that "rogue elements" in the electorate might seek to undermine them?

The people actually have decided, consecutively, on Europe—whether in 1975 or thereafter, when generally one party has put forward a position in a general election of isolation or withdrawal from Europe and one party has said, "Let us go more strongly into Europe." In the 1980s, the former was the Labour party and we lost again and again. Today, it is the Conservative party—the Opposition—and if they maintain their hostility to Europe and their calls for isolation from Europe and insist that the Daily Mail decide the future of our European policy, they will remain on the Opposition Benches for years, if not decades, to come.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that there was a wonderful result in Poland at the weekend. Does he agree that the likely enlargement of the EU to 25 member states next year makes it essential that we have a streamlined constitution to meet the needs not only of the present but of the future?

I am glad to welcome from the Government Benches the remarkable yes vote delivered by the Polish people on Sunday and I am sorry that we have heard no expression of support from the Opposition for that yes to Europe. To quote the Polish ambassador in today's edition of The Daily Telegraph:

"As a member of the EU, Poland will strengthen, not lose, her sovereignty."
He went on to say that
"the authorities of my country have not planned for a referendum on the EU constitution and it is not required by our law".
For once, we might follow the example of Poland and say yes to Europe and drop this populist plebiscite nonsense that is shaped only by those who want a no vote to Europe and to isolate Britain still further from Europe.