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House of Commons

Friday 21 February 1992

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Skye (Toll Bridge)

9.34 am

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye) : I beg leave to present a petition signed by more than 3,000 of my constituents of Skye and Lochalsh district expressing their opposition to the proposed private toll- funded bridge to Skye by means of high private tolls.

To the honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.

Wherefore your petitioners pray that your honourable House will recognise that the imposition of high tolls would be a discriminatory act against an already disadvantaged community, leaving no practical alternative means of crossing available, as is the case with users of toll-road bridges elsewhere in Scotland.

And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

To lie upon the Table.

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Balligan House, Bangor

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down) : I beg leave to present a petition signed by more than 2,000 of my constituents who strenuously oppose, as I do, the closure of Balligan house for the mentally handicapped, situated in Bangor in my constituency.

The Eastern health board intends to eject the mentally handicapped residents who have come to look on Balligan house as their home and have formed an attachment to an extremely dedicated staff. The board will disperse them in all directions, regardless of their wishes and needs.

The petitioners pray

That your honourable House will appeal to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to intervene to stop the threatened closure. Balligan house for the mentally handicapped accommodates 14 residents in a happy, stable and homely atmosphere. The closure of Balligan house for the mentally handicapped would be an extreme act of callousness and unfair to the mentally handicapped residents and staff, who together form a big happy family.

And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

To lie upon the Table.


Friendly Societies

Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by Mr. Secretary Baker, Mr. Secretary Brooke, Mr. Secretary Hunt, Mr. Secretary Lilley, Mr. Secretary Lang and Mr. John Maples, presented a Bill to make further provision for friendly societies ; to provide for the cessation of registration under the Friendly Societies Act 1974 ; to make provision about disputes involving friendly societies or other bodies registered under the Friendly Societies Act 1974 and about the functions of the Chief Registrar of friendly societies ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 24 February and to be printed. [Bill 86.]

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Orders of the Day

Referendum Bill

Order for Second Reading read.--[Queen's Consent signified.] 9.37 am

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill requires a national referendum as a pre-condition of the ratification of certain treaties. The essential thrust of the Bill is contained in the 65 words of the first clause, which provides that a referendum should be called in the event that the powers of this House to regulate the affairs of this country are diminished. To calm the disquiet of some, may I make an observation about what the referendum does not do. It does not call into question legislation that has already passed the House. Therefore, the original Communities legislation is not at risk, nor is the amendment to that original legislation which we commonly know as the Single European Act. The referendum would refer and relate specifically and only to those events that take place after the passing of this Bill. The Maastricht treaties, which are central to the concentration of our ideas on what we are discussing, signify a further significant transfer of powers from this country and the ability of Members of this House to regulate the affairs of our people. It is an extraordinary treaty in as much as it contends for a new political organisation--the union of Europe--in which, on1 January 1993, we become citizens of a new political organisation. That also applies to Her Majesty the Queen. It would effect that which the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), in his Bill, and the Levellers themselves no less have not succeeded in effecting--it would reduce the Queen to a citizen. That is contrary to our constitutional traditions. I cite that not because of its great importance, but because it shows the extent to which the treaty is a new political organisation. My contention is that no such profound constitutional change should take place without reference to the people. Involved in that concept is the idea of where sovereignty in this country lies. I have always maintained, as do many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, that sovereignty resides with the people ; we are the expression of that sovereignty. When we rise and defend the House of Commons, we defend not ourselves, our privileges or our prides, but the pride, individuality and privileges of our fellow citizens. Each one of us here assembled is here only because we have been sent forth to represent our fellow electors. We are no different from them, other than that they have reposed in us confidence that we will address ourselves to the political business of our nation. I belong to a union--the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is a political allegiance which I gladly give. It is one of sentiment, one of passion, one which has been fashioned over the course of centuries. That is to be set aside because the Treaty of Union seeks to make me a citizen of elsewhere. I would be a citizen with a profound and essential difference : I could not control the laws, in whole areas, by which I would be governed.

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I make that point because it is essential to our nation's understanding of what our rule of law is. We maintain that every citizen of this Union should obey the law--a law that, in the end, we have formed, fashioned, made and defended. If we wish to change it, we know the processes by which to do so, and we hold Governments accountable to that effect. When we repose confidence in members of the Government Front Bench, the laws that they suggest we make are within our call. If they get it wrong, we may change them. Where in that Treaty of Union is the mechanism by which we may change the law? If we cannot change the law, how do we expect to insist on obedience from all of us? As I have said, we are no different from anyone else ; the law applies to us just as it does to our fellow electors. When each one of us was elected in 1987, we were given the trust to maintain, control, alter and fashion law. Under the Treaty of Union, we have no such powers.

Of course, it will be argued from the Front Benches that the process has been a while in the making and that it has been sanctioned by the Single European Act--which is true. I am sure that in a more scrupulous age we would have argued that, on such a profound constitutional change, the electorate should be consulted. I shall cite two instances of that, because we used to believe in this House in what was called the specific mandate. I refer to the specific mandate because it was the reason why we did not need to resort to a referendum.

One of the two great constitutional fights of the past century was the great Reform Bill of 1832. There was no doubt in the mind of the Parliament that voted for that that the matter would be resolved at an election. There was a clear distinction between the views of Mr. Peel and those who promoted the Bill. The electorate was able to choose. Similarly, in 1910, although the argument for a referendum was mooted, there was no doubt that the divide between the parties was sufficient to give the electorate an opportunity to judge those issues that were most in their interest.

Those are clear and important examples of what I call the specific mandate. Indeed, the argument for a specific mandate echoes through the history of the 20th century. Mr. Baldwin, elected in 1931 with a confident and strong majority, said that his Government had to go to the country in 1932 on the question whether there should be tariffs--an incidence that he shared with Balfour 20 years before. He lost that election and, in the way of such matters, the exercise has never been repeated. We now reside in this House on the concept of more general than specific mandates.

The question would not go away, because in the ultimate sanction of entry into the Community, as it was originally proposed, many in the House recognised that it was so fundamental to the way in which we had historically done our business that we would be taking away the power by which we regulated some of our decisions if we accepted the body of law already established by the Community.

Let us put aside that consideration and think about some of the essential claims made at that time. Harold Wilson, in his White Paper, was at pains to emphasise that, ultimately, there could be no change within the laws of the Community except with the sanction of a British Minister responsible to his House and thus accountable to every one of our electors. That was an essential selling point of the new relationship with the European Community.

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Notwithstanding that, for the internal reasons that the Labour party thought necessary, but with the support of a great many others, a referendum was held. It actually settled the issue for almost 10 years, until the Single European Act. That was one of the great benefits. Some in my party object to referendums. They say that they are an affront to parliamentary sovereignty. I tried to deal with that question by showing that, in fact, parliamentary sovereignty is the concentrated expression of the sovereignty of the electorate. Therefore, how can it be an affront to the sovereignty of the electorate if it is asked specifically to judge an issue of great constitutional importance?

The other point often made is that it would be intolerable for a Ministry to have a referendum in which the electorate flew against the Ministry's advice. Would not the Ministry be forced to introduce policies with which it did not agree? Is not that an intolerable burden to place upon Government? Much has been made of that argument. Mr. Churchill threw it across the Floor at Mr. Balfour ; and Mr. Powell enunciated it in early 1969, although he later changed his mind.

The answer to that argument is that we have all been in this House when Governments have been forced to change their mind, even on a principal policy on which they were elected--or claimed to be. I need only cite the embarrassment of myself and others on the question of the poll tax. The Ministers who said that the poll tax was absolutely essential and that it was the flagship are still in their Ministries. It is tolerable to continue in government only if Ministers recognise the virtues and the duties imposed upon them as Ministers of the Crown. It is not an answer to say that it is an intolerable burden ; the proof of our history has demonstrated just how tolerable it has been to sufficient numbers of Members of Parliament.

A leading article in The Independent today suggested that a referendum might be appropriate on a single currency. We can pursue that debate, and I do not doubt that hon. Members will do so today. I want to make it clear that my simple objection is to the political union. I have tried to sketch out the way in which the people of this country will be bound by laws and rules that are made elsewhere by unelected officials and a Council of Ministers that is accountable to no one--no Europewide electorate, and not even us ultimately. Even if our Minister today went to argue his corner within that unelected, undemocratic forum, and even though he may say that 100 per cent. of the citizens of the United Kingdom are opposed to whatever it is, if it is the view of others by qualified majority vote--on a whole range of issues set out in the Treaty of Union--it will become the law of this country. What can we do about it? That is the great break with our tradition that requires that Maastricht should be scrutinised.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Is there not something even more sinister in people talking in abstract terms about Britain becoming part of this political union? People may have the impression that we, the 12 countries and perhaps more, are all pals together. The truth is that the real powerhouse of the Common Market lies in Germany. It has just annexed East Germany. It is central to the activities of all the nation states that are falling apart in eastern Europe. Political union spells something much more sinister, and that is German domination. We fought

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for six years against it in the second world war. If hon. Members allow this political union, they will allow the Germans to win now when they lost in 1945.

Mr. Shepherd : It is true that the dominant economic power in Europe is Germany. With the advent of the Community and the unity and greater cohesion of Germany, Germany seems to be the dominant central European power. My fear and an argument made over the years is that the periphery will gravitate towards the centre. Therefore, Britain, as a peripheral part of the Community, will be marginal within the great tides of central European perceptions.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport) : It is always pleasing to me to take up an intervention by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). He will recall that in 1979 I almost beat him in the election.

Mr. Skinner : He did not.

Mr. Favell : I was about 20,000 short, Madam Deputy Speaker. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said. Whether or not Germany seeks to dominate Europe, it will, like it or not. Geographically it is at the centre and economically it is the most powerful. The German character is such--I happen to be half German, so I can speak from experience--

Mr. James Cran (Beverley) : Oh dear.

Mr. Favell : The truth will out--they cannot go on a picnic without running it. That is within the German character. One must prepare oneself for it. If we do not say no now, Germany will inevitably dominate a political union. Nineteen ninety-six is too late. We are locked into the exchange rate mechanism and all that goes with it to ensure that we have a fixed exchange rate. That will inevitably lead to a single currency, whether we like it or not. By then a referendum will be far too late.

Mr. Shepherd : I am glad of my hon. Friend's intervention. The purpose of the debate is not to identify Germany or any other country as a threat ; it is to concentrate our minds on what is right for us as a people in terms of our Government and institutions.

Most hon. Members agree that we want the closest possible harmony, friendship and co-operation with those countries to which we are adjacent. There can be no doubt about that. The process by which we have conducted our foreign affairs during the past 20 years or so shows a great will to work in harmony to lay to rest the fears of 40 or 50 years ago when we had to mobilise the nation to fight a war for national survival. We could mobilise our people and win that war. It was a people's war because the House of Commons had no doubt that we had to defend our liberties. At the end of the day, our freedoms and liberties are secure so long as we, the people, secure them through our institutions.

I want to give an instance of what happens when we opt for qualified majority voting and what it does to our institutions. We all know that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has effectively become a branch office of Brussels. When the Minister stands before us and claims some sort of casual relationship, and therefore parliamentary responsibility for his deeds, we all know in our hearts and many of us in our voices that it is transparent. It is a charade.

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There is a consensus in this country that the common agricultural policy is wrong. It costs the consumer great sums. It does not satisfy the farmer. It causes problems for the general agreement on tariffs and trade. It interferes with our overseas foreign policy. We have many friends abroad who form part of our commonwealth of nations. What has happened to their agriculture? Is it aid to those less fortunate than ourselves that we will not buy their sugar because it is at a free price and on an open market? We do not hold it to be so. Yet the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, with a clear majority across the House, would tomorrow be forced to scrap that policy and introduce a policy that better meets the needs of our consumers, our farmers, our world trading position and our foreign policy. We cannot do that because we, the House of Commons and the people of England, are bound to accept the nostrums and perceptions of other people.

I have nothing to say against the nostrums and perceptions of other people, because what is appropriate to France and Italy is for the French and Italians to judge. They must defend their institutions or submerge them in what they want. I will not let go by the nonsense that the former Foreign Secretary paraded through the House to its shame and, I believe, to his-- the idea that sovereignty can be pooled. It has been observed that sovereignty means constitutional independence only and, like virginity, once lost it is gone. The former Foreign Secretary is of a belief that sovereignty can be pooled. If it is pooled, how do we control the laws under which we live? I asked him that, but I have had no answer to the question. I return to the debate that took place after the Maastricht conference. I want to make an observation about a major constitutional change, such as those that in the past have required Governments to go to the country on the specific instance. Was there a ministerial broadcast to tell us the nature of the changes? No, there was a party political broadcast that required no reply and that lasted for five or 10 minutes. Did the Labour party have an opportunity to give its clear adherence to all the contentions now contained in the document for political union? No, it did not. Was there an opportunity for the Liberal party to tell us its wilder dreams for submerging its own regard for British citizens? Was there any opportunity, therefore, to tell the people of the consequences, the meaning, how the power was transferred and where it was? Not one.

During the debate I listened extremely carefully to the Leader of the Opposition. Indeed, there were eight spokesmen on both Front Benches, but not one touched on the constitutional issue. Why? It is the very issue that brings us here, the very basis on which I am elected and the very equality of citizenship. Not one word. It was important to the history of us all.

I am a Conservative Member of Parliament because of the actions of many working-class people within the Labour movement who worked to extend the franchise. I am not even sure that my grandfather could vote in the 1910 election. We forget too easily that many of our people just did not have the vote. When Mr. Asquith grew worried about the idea of referendums, his argument was that if there was a referendum on the vote for women, it might lead to dreadful consequences ; a referendum might

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extend the vote to people like my grandfather. It was too awful to contemplate. That is the cosiness that has brought the House into some level of disrepute.

It is important that we march by what our people want. We determined the matter across the Benches of the House, as I heard from the Leader of the Opposition. He knows what the power of the vote is. Yet, despite the struggles of the early Labour movement that brought the vote to me and my family, what did he have to say about the power of the vote? Not one word. The Labour movement grew out of proselytising--telling people that by obtaining the vote they could change the politics of this nation, that they could exercise control over the institutions, that they could divert the resources of this country towards ameliorating the conditions of the people of this country. What is our answer to that question? Certainly there was none from the leader of the Labour party.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : The hon. Gentleman knows that I have the great privilege of representing the constituency of the first leader of the Labour party, James Keir Hardie, who came here to change the law in favour of ordinary people. Does he not agree, however, that there is now an obligation on Her Majesty's Government, who signed this bundle of documents that I hold in my hand, the plenipotentiary of the Foreign Secretary, to issue before the election a clear guide to the extraordinary combination of 350 new or rewritten articles and to tell us what it all means so that any party or any citizen can take a view, if that is necessary, before the new Parliament is elected?

Mr. Shepherd : It is a duty incumbent on any Government to set out clearly great changes as they affect an electorate. I agree that there should be a White Paper either before the election or after the election. It is clear from the statements by the Leader of the Opposition, with his disregard now for the vote and how he can change policies within this country, that there is to be no issue in the election about whether Maastricht was right or wrong. There is an essential argument for why a referendum should take place : that there should be a clear exposition that this, and this, and this will now be determined elsewhere, well beyond our call, and that notwithstanding this diminution of the power of the people and of this House, the Government and the Opposition of the day, if necessary, should recommend it to the people because there is a greater advantage, as yet unspecified, in losing self-government. Both Front Benches hold forth--what I am saying rises above all parties--that there is a great gain in continuing and extending a new constitution. That is most extraordinary. As I said about the Maastricht debate, of eight Front-Bench spokesmen not one mentioned our constitutional arrangements, yet we are here only because of our constitution. The Leader of the Opposition does not even deign to say a word about why it is necessary to reduce the power of our people to control their affairs and the laws under which they live. I believe most solemnly, and the House should, in my view, believe most solemnly, that there ought to be a direct exposition to the people of this country of what these changes amount to and why they are necessary. The people should be invited to give their advice upon it. That is the substance of the Bill. I have tried to be brief in outlining,

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perhaps with some passion, why I think that the Bill is important and why it should be passed. None of us had this treaty before us during the Maastricht debate. What we had was a variety of drafts. The Luxembourg drafts secretly flew in the window of the Library.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford) : At 1.30 on the day of the debate.

Mr. Shepherd : My hon. Friend says at 1.30 on the day of the debate. Those drafts were available to our national newspapers. I made a point of ensuring that both The Guardian and The Independent, because they declare that they do not have a party allegiance, whatever that means, should have copies of the original Luxembourg draft.

Months went by, but did I have any analysis of the basis of the treaty? If I did not have it, how can the electorate out there have it? That is the freedom of the press, the freedom of Mr. Andreas Whittam Smith to suppress information, the freedom of Mr. Preston to suppress information because they take a view of the world, since they know that the views of the public are not worth having. What they have decided is a greater vision--a vision that they do not wish to share with us--that should be promoted through the editorial columns of their newspapers and that they should exercise--

Mr. Skinner : The chattering classes.

Mr. Shepherd : No, I do not accept that it is just the chattering classes. I just say that the dominance of the press means that its editors try to drive public opinion towards conclusions that they take for granted. That is unsatisfactory.

Why is it that The Independent, in possession of the draft treaty, could not advise the electorate that great issues were at stake? No, the game was much better to say that the British Government objected to something. All that can be presented then is a series of clashes. That of itself is informative. When I consider their solemn pledges about the freedom of the press, which I wholeheatedly support and which I have tried to introduce legislation to support, I find that when it comes to identifying great issues it is not for the hoi-polloi of the House of Commons or the people of this country to be troubled with the great stirrings that underlie these constitutional changes. [Laughter.] It is extraordinary that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) should laugh as though there were something curious about what I say. If he could point out where an analysis of these drafts was published at any time until within a week before the treaty was signed, I should be grateful for his comfort and advice. Of course he cannot do so. The curious point about this is that they believe that they take a broader view of life and know better than those out there. That is fair and fine if one argues one's corner--but who argues the European corner? The Government no longer do so. They merely announce that they have had a triumph--game, set, match is the flavour of the month. But game, set, match about what? What did we win? How did we win? The forming of a constitution is not a question of winning or losing. It is a deliberate act, the careful weighing of the balances and the checks. There are people in this country who profoundly argue, through Charter 88, that our present checks and balances are inadequate. They argue for change. But do we argue for change? There is a constitution on the table. It is not the Charter 88's

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constitution. It is called the Treaty of Union. Every newspaper should ask what that means. It is a simple question. Can we change our laws under it? Again that is a simple question.

Neither The Independent nor The Guardian can address that issue ; nor do they wish to do so. I have singled out those two newspapers, but the same charge can be laid against others. I chose them because they maintain that theirs is a balanced and independent view and that they come to conclusions. Therefore, I believe that they have a greater duty to inform the public of the great issues of the day. Highlighting them would enable us to have a debate. Why, therefore, in this electoral process are we unable specifically to discuss or refer this issue to the electorate? We are unable to do so because of the binding down and the consensus of opinion between the leaderships of parties. There is therefore no opportunity for the ordinary citizen to make a judgment.

Mr. Cash : In the midst of one of the most superb speeches that I have heard on this matter for a very long time, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he agrees that the statement that was made at last year's party conference by the chairman of the Conservative party--that we, the Conservatives, trust the people--should be shown to be the reality not only in the context of a referendum but by a free vote in the House when the Bill comes before us? Does my hon. Friend agree with both those propositions?

Mr. Shepherd : On account of the most profound constitutional changes that have been mooted, I believe that there should be a free vote. It is very difficult within the terms of Burke. I hear many of my colleagues say, "But we were elected and all that we owe to our constituents is our judgment. We cannot be bought by our constituents because we stand aside and weigh the evidence." All that would be true but for the three-line Whip and the guillotine. We do not owe our duties and allegiances in too many instances to our electorate ; we owe them to the Whip. If we owe them to the Whip, how can we stand in front of the electorate and say, "But your views are honourably judged"?

I refer again to the Maastricht debate. There was a three-line Whip. I go back to the Single European Act. There was not only a three-line Whip but a guillotine. The House knows my views on the guillotine. I see that the Leader of the House is moving towards the view that guillotines are a natural, inevitable and desirable consequence of the way that we do our business. The letters that I have received shout with frustration about our political process and the fact that no longer do we seem to represent the people out there and properly express their views. How can we if we truncate great debates into three hours on a guillotine? How can we turn to our constituents and say, "I have looked at it and considered it. I have heard the arguments"? Not a bit. We have had the innovation of Baker Bills, with guillotines on all stages. It is a disgrace, and the public know that it is such.

However, passionate one may be about these matters, it is the duty of the House to be cautious of the consequences of legislation because it can send us to prison--the most solemn thing that it can do within our processes.

Legislation demands the old processes and procedures of the House : the First Reading to give notice, then a

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pause ; a Second Reading to consider the principle of the Bill, as we are doing today, and a further pause ; the Committee stage, where we consider the contentions and legal arrangements of the Bill ; and then it comes back to the House and is further considered. In those processes, the public may get in touch with us and argue their corner. That is terribly important for giving validity to the rule of law, because then no one can say that a Bill was smuggled through in an afternoon.

I am fortunate in having one of the great begetters of the guillotine movement in my party--my right hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones)--who required 65 guillotines during his tenure of office. I have always thought that misjudged, because in the doing of small things, as we think at the time, we corrupt the greater principle--attestation, as Burke would say, that our electorates give either consent or acquiescence. If we truncate our debates and do not weigh their views, we are contemptuous of our electorates and they, in turn, are contemptuous of us.

I have never known the standing of Members of Parliament to be so low. I see people shudder almost as we pass and say, "You are only in it for what you can get". [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) makes a shudder in other ways--with administration, trepidation and inspiration. Nevertheless, the point is that we have broken that trust, no one else.

The insistence of the business managers is that we must be able to legislate endlessly--no self-denying ordinance there. The Baker Bill is the final nail in the coffin of a series of tendentious and difficult Bills where great principles were rushed through in a day. We are elected every four or five years ; our authority is clearly fresh. People feel that they have an idea of where we stand. During the course of a Parliament, our connection and the issues change. What people thought that they may have been voting on in 1987 is not necessarily what they think they are voting on today. The coming general election will be about a variety of issues-- the economy, the national health service or whatever--but not about Europe. If Europe is mentioned in a party's programme, it will be as an aside--some general expression by which the public can diagnose no true intent. It is believed that, in that way, we can cover over the issue if there is an argument. That is why I make the point that there should be a specific reference to the electorate.

I say as a last note to the House that our people should "not go gentle into that good night" but should rather "rage, rage, against the dying of the light" that requires us to live under laws that we cannot change or control.

10.13 am

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney) : I think that the House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) for introducing the Bill and giving us an opportunity of addressing the most important issue that has come before us during the lifetime of this Parliament, which will shortly end.

The House will also be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the clarity and passion with which he argued his case. Of the many points that he made, with which I am substantially in agreement, one of the most telling was about obedience to the rule of law. We obey the laws of

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our country, even those with which we profoundly disagree, because we know that the representatives of the British people have made that law and that it is always open to them to change that law, and that behind the representatives of the British people stand the British people themselves.

One of the things that distinguish such a law from one made under European authority is that we cannot change European law or repeal it. Therefore, the link between Ministers, Members of Parliament and the electorate is broken. Laws are made in Europe by unaccountable, unelected officials and by a Council of Ministers making majority decisions. I would not be satisfied even if the European Community were to transform its institutions so that all its laws were made by an elected European Parliament. I would not accept it, because those Members of the European Parliament are not the representatives of the British people. We would be only a small minority in that Parliament. No one should have the right to pass laws that are binding on the British people unless they can be dismissed by the British people. That is a fundamental law and should be a fundamental principle of our constitution.

I thank the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills for the concise form and penetration of the Bill. He has managed, in a few words, to address two major points, the first of which is the role of the referendum, which offers one of the few possibilities to remedy a fundamental weakness in our constitution. We have no written constitution and no procedures to protect and entrench features of our national and constitutional life. Everything can be changed by a simple majority. Many other countries, as we know, have quite elaborate procedures requiring a majority of two thirds for changes in constitutional matters and arrangements, often backed up with public referendums.

We have no such defence. Indeed, previously we did not need them, because only this generation of British parliamentary representatives has contemplated handing to others the great prizes of national independence, self-government and the rule of law under our own elected representatives. It would not have occurred to a previous generation to hand to others that which we prize most greatly and have given to other countries throughout the world in the past 50 years. That is the novelty of the proposition, against which, because we did not think it conceivable, we have no defences. A referendum is a major constitutional device for defending the rights of the British people and our constitution.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that the referendum will not be a defence unless there are clear rules to prevent one side from pouring millions of pounds into its campaign, which in 1975 resulted in a prejudiced, biased, unfair provision of information for people to make a judgment? It is important to ensure that the referendum is genuinely a defence and not a device.

Mr. Shore : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Veterans of that great battle in 1975 will be well aware of the inadequacies of the arrangements that were made and the vast weight of money that helped enormously to distort the results of the vote. I am certain that we are now sufficiently experienced to devise new and more effective rules to ensure that if and when a referendum takes place it will be far fairer and will therefore give people a much better

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chance genuinely to express their views.The other point that I find so helpful and so pertinent is that the Bill addresses the most important issue of this Parliament--the Maastricht treaties. It does not deal with all treaties but with those of the European Community and those that might amend or extend them. In particular, it deals with those treaties that might

"further diminish the Authority of the Queen in Parliament to regulate the affairs of the United Kingdom."

That regulation of our affairs is, of course, an all-embracing term and includes the power to legislate, the right to raise taxes and authorise expenditure and the right to determine the internal and external policies of the United Kingdom.

I shall deal with just two major questions. The first that must be asked, because it brings out the relevance and importance of the Bill, is whether the Maastricht treaty diminishes the authority of the Queen in Parliament, of the House of Commons or of elected Members of this House. Does it or does it not?

I preface my remarks on this issue by saying that no one can read the Maastricht treaty without concluding that it is a major extension of the Community's authority over the United Kingdom. I shall not dwell for too long on why it has made a major shift from what was previously the dominant view that Europe should be a Europe de patrie to the new, clear, open, naked confession that it is to be a federal union or a union of Europe, but the shift has taken place. The historical factors that have most influenced the change are, in my view, the reunification of Germany, the fear of German leaders of their own power if it is not bridled by those of a European federal state and France's fear that unless Germany is so bridled, it could possibly again become a danger to France. That has produced the extraordinary historical change in the thrust of French foreign policy. That and the Germany thrust have given tremendous weight to the drive towards a federal union.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones) : Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with what seems tbe the most widely held opinion among federalists in Europe that perhaps the most significant thing about the Maastricht treaty is that it does the very opposite of that which the right hon. Gentleman is now describing, because it builds on European political co-operation which, as he knows, is intergovernmental? It seeks to entrench the common foreign security policy and interior justice matters as intergovernmental and therefore does precisely the opposite of what he says.

Mr. Shore : My best answer to the right hon. Gentleman is to remind him of some of what is in the treaty. I understand that it was the Government's aim as far as possible to make certain aspects of the Maastricht treaty reflect intergovernmental arrangements rather than those of the main treaty of Rome with all its supernational apparatus. I understand that that was the aim, but it has been only very partially accomplished.

Let us consider the question in which the right hon. Gentleman is perhaps most interested, that of foreign and defence policy. But first, what about the general thrust of the treaty itself? Article A states :

"This Treaty marks a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer Union among the peoples of Europe".

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Incidentally, it was only the British who knocked out the words "a federal vocation" and replaced them with "ever closer union". No other country fought for that, but that is a minor point. Secondly, article B states :

"The Union"--


"shall set itself the following objectives"

and it proceeds to list a number, including that of asserting "its identity on the international scene, in particular through the implementation of a common foreign and security policy including the eventual framing of a common defence policy".

The treaty goes on :

"The Union and its Member States shall define and implement a common foreign and security policy The Member States shall support the Union's external and security policy actively, unreservedly, in the spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity and shall refrain from any action which is contrary to the interests of the Union or likely to impair its effectiveness as a cohesive force in international relations."

It continues :

"In international organisations and at international conferences where not all the Member States participate, those which do take part shall uphold the common position."

As we know, the Council decides, especially on the subject of joint action. I understand that it is not entirely a matter of majority voting, but only where joint actions are agreed. Once joint actions are agreed, that is what happens. But let us read the treaty against the background of the general declaration of intent which is to establish a common foreign policy.

I agree that the issue of defence is still less developed than that of foreign policy, but the treaty states :

"The common foreign and security policy shall include all questions related to the security of the Union including the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which might in time lead to a common defence."

Mr. Favell : What the right hon. Gentleman is saying is very important. Does he recall that during Foreign Office questions replies almost invariably start with the words "Having consulted our European partners" or "After discussions with our European partners"?

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