To the Editor

Dear Sir,

The Liberal Democrats on Surrey County Council were surprised that a motion was put on the agenda this week calling for a referendum on the proposed European Constitution. We were surprised firstly by what appears to be a major U-turn in conservative policy regarding Europe. Conservatives opposed referendums to allow the British people to express their views not only over the European Single Act when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, but also over the Treaty of Maastricht during John Major's time in office.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we were surprised by the timing of this motion. This is the time of year when Councils start their work on preparing their budgets for the following year. There are very important financial decisions to be taken, including the level of Council Tax. It is not fair to Council taxpayers to waste time debating issues over which the Council has no influence and it is absolutely unacceptable to use the Council Chamber for Conservative political propaganda. Not to mention the lack of respect this shows to the people they represent.

This is also a very cynical attitude, bearing in mind that only a few months ago, the same Conservative administration refused to debate a Liberal Democrat motion regarding the situation of bus services in the County and their decision to cut most of the evening and Sunday services.

As well as being a waste of the Council's time debating a motion over which the Council has no influence and whose contents are not yet known, the motion is inaccurate. It lists a series of policy areas that it claims the Constitution will give the EU "shared competence" over, when, in fact the European Union already has shared competence over those areas listed. Whether the Constitution is approved or not, the European Union will still have "shared competence" over those areas. (The term shared competence means that the EU and the Member States work together to pursue legislation and policy in agreed areas).

At this point in time the government is in major discussions on what will be acceptable to this country. If it is shown that the final constitution proposes significant changes to the current Treaty, the Liberal Democrats will demand a referendum to consult the British people. In the meantime, Liberal Democrat Councillors on Surrey County Council, unlike the Conservatives, will continue to work for our constituents on matters over which we can make a difference.

Yours faithfully

Cllr Janet Maines

Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Surrey County Council

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