HC Deb 02 July 2003 vol 408 cc366-7
2. Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)

What recent assessment he has made of the impact of the proposed new European constitution on the National Assembly for Wales. [122062]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Peter Hain)

In line with the United Kingdom proposals to the European Convention on the Future of Europe, the draft constitutional treaty will, for the first time, formally recognise the involvement of the regions of member states such as Wales in European Union business.

Mr. Luff

The part-time Secretary of State is an honest man—the Government's licensed conscience, one might almost say. He knows that the Convention is much more than just a tidying up. Do not the people of Wales deserve a referendum on the constitution, just as they did on the National Assembly?

Peter Hain

No—just as the Conservatives never gave the people of Wales a referendum on the Single European Act in 1986, whereby far more British vetoes were surrendered by Mrs. Thatcher than in the entire 30 years of British membership of the European Union, and just as they were not given a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. Indeed, as I remember, the hon. Gentleman voted against a referendum on the Maastricht treaty.

Mr. Luff

indicated assent.

Peter Hain

Well, there you are. The fact is that the new constitutional treaty, when it is finally negotiated, will be a good deal for Britain, advancing our democratic rights and for the first time giving our national Parliaments—and, indeed, the National Assembly for Wales—consultative rights in vetting any new legislative proposal from Brussels. The hon. Gentleman should welcome that.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster)

Is the Secretary of State telling my hon. Friend that because he is worried about losing the new constitution, or because he is worried about a pathetic turnout like the 38 per cent. that we saw for the Welsh Assembly elections?

Peter Hain

I think we should start looking at the turnouts in all elections over recent years—including, probably, the turnout in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. Turnouts have fallen during that time, which is or should be of concern to us all.

As for the issue of whether there should or should not be a referendum, the Conservatives have sought to frighten people into believing that this means the end of English and British civilisation. The truth is that the new constitutional treaty will mean more democratic rights for British citizens and, for the first time, more rights for the House of Commons: for the first time, the House will be able to vet any new Brussels proposals. That is a democratic advance. Instead of spreading fear and dishonestly peddling all sorts of misapprehensions about the treaty, its critics should look at the facts.

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