Previous Section Home Page

Column 706

convergence covers. The bigger the area, the more difficult it is to achieve a single currency without the consequences and dangers which I have already outlined.

I suspect that a two-speed Europe is inevitable. We will not achieve a single currency that covers all the expanded area in the foreseeable future, even though it may be achieved among a hard core. In that case, a further difficulty arises of whether we are better off being in the hard core or outside it because countries outside it may find that their economic circumstances are significantly better without a social chapter, and so on. However, I am probably straying a little from the motion.

Some say that a referendum can unite political parties. I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) would agree that a referendum would be a terribly effective means of achieving that objective. I am not sure whether the previous referendum succeeded in immediately and totally uniting the Labour party.

These are difficult issues. I stress that there are timing problems in respect of a referendum. Would it be held before or after an election, or before or after the IGC? My deeply held conviction is that the idea of a referendum is wrong in principle. It is an alien notion, although some have queried whether it is. It is alien in the sense that although there are some precedents in this country, they are not a tradition here--and for a simple reason which my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) pointed out. Some countries use referendums as part of their constitutions; they have not been part of ours. I believe in our system of representative parliamentary democracy, with Members representing their constituents and taking into account their views. That system is vastly superior. One can understand why a number of countries favour referendums: some of their Members of Parliament do not even represent constituencies. Perhaps some countries in Europe feel that they are better governed from Brussels than from home. Not so with us.

I believe that we should defend our representative system of parliamentary democracy. The idea of a referendum is fundamentally inconsistent with it.

6 pm

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney): The last two speeches have done much to raise the tone of the debate, in their seriousness, passion and quality of argument. They have come none too soon, because until then the debate had been irrelevant, trivial and, from the point of view of the great majority of people in this country, sickening. Those people have seen the point scoring and the pretence of serious opposition as between the parties as they advance their views and justify their manoeuvrings on this European question. Today's is an important debate, on which I congratulate the Liberal Democrat party and the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). He has made it possible for us to debate whether the British people should be allowed a vote in a referendum before any further significant transfer of power from the British people, their Parliament and their Government to the European Union is allowed. My amendment, while endorsing the principle of a referendum, would go a step further by calling for a vote before any further transfer of constitutional power. We


Column 707

have done quite enough of transferring powers, and we should have had a referendum before we accepted the Maastricht treaty a year ago.

I shall have no hesitation about voting for the motion at 10 o'clock tonight. True, we do not yet have a totally clear picture of what constitutional changes await us. What horrors will emerge from the 1996 intergovernmental conference we can as yet only guess at, but one thing is already crystal clear, and it has been a major theme in this debate. The single European currency proposal is written into the Maastricht treaty, and although we have an opt-out, the decision to join or to stay out will be taken no later than 1999.

A single currency and economic and monetary union with Europe, as the right hon. Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) made clear, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) made even more clear, would mean surrendering the Government's and Parliament's powers to determine our interest rates, our exchange rates, our public expenditure and our public borrowing.

In particular, this surrender would mean--I ask my own party to listen carefully to this--the loss of precisely those macro-economic powers that are essential to reducing unemployment and to fostering economic growth, and which are the centrepiece of Labour's economic policy. I refer here to the recent constitutional resolution passed with a two thirds majority at our annual conference, and accepted by the leadership of the Labour party.

I simply do not understand why we do not have a three-line Whip tonight. First, this is an opportunity to force the Government to make a clear choice between the Euro-elitists who want a single currency and are not prepared to allow the electorate a voice or a vote, and--if I may use the term--the Euro-realists, including the Euro-sceptics, who understand that this is a great constitutional issue that cannot be resolved without popular consent. I have no doubt that we could have defeated the Government on this motion tonight.

My second reason for not understanding the position of my party is as follows. Agreement to this motion will ensure that the British people are granted what the vast majority of them want: the right to determine their own future. I have seen many polls--I expect that others have, too--but not long ago the Financial Times conducted the largest poll ever taken of British attitudes to a single currency. The questions were asked not just in Britain but in other European countries too.

People here were asked whether Britain should hold a referendum on whether the European Union should introduce a single currency; 64 per cent. supported the idea of a referendum, and 25 per cent. were against it. I could quote dozens of other opinion polls that make the same point.

The third reason why I cannot understand our position is that there is only a hair's-breadth difference between the meaning of today's motion and statements made repeatedly and recently by Labour party leaders. Speaking in Brussels on 10 January of this year, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said:

"The need to close the gap between governors and governed in Europe is now urgent, and we have made clear that where important constitutional arrangements are at stake the people must have their


Column 708

say. As we have said over and over again, if a referendum is necessary for that to happen we will consider it. We can only move forward if we carry the people with us."

The shadow Foreign Secretary has committed himself more recently still either to a general election or to a referendum before adopting a single currency--the same position taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin) earlier today. She will understand that the shadow Foreign Secretary is far too intelligent not to realise that it is impossible to hold a general election on this issue. There would have to be a referendum for many reasons, including those put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield. There is such unanimity between the leaderships of the parties that, in a general election, we could never achieve the expression of opposition necessary to satisfy the needs of our people and of their democracy.

Mr. Duncan Smith: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the problem with a referendum would not even arise if there were a clear distinction between the major parties in this House? The public remain confused because they are getting confused messages from the two sides of this House. If that confusion were cleared away, the purpose of this place would then become clear, and its sovereignty would become clear, too.

Mr. Shore: Perhaps, but that would involve our being given a free vote so as clearly to express whether we are in favour of or against the proposition.

Mr. Marlow: Even from my peripheral position, I can guarantee that the Conservative party will not go into the next election with a commitment to a single currency. We would dearly love it if the right hon. Gentleman's party went into the election with such a commitment--but it will not. Thus, as neither of the major parties will go into the next election committed to a single currency, is it not inevitable that, even if the Labour party won the election, it would hold a referendum on a single currency?

Mr. Shore: I wish I thought it was inevitable. I think that it has to be argued for and then accepted. Unfortunately, it has not been accepted by the House of Commons today.

I am glad to see the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) in his place. This morning he had this to say in The Daily Telegraph :

"I cannot be the only Tory MP who supports our continued membership of the EC but who also believes that there has now developed an overwhelming case for giving the British people the opportunity to vote."

I detect much more sense and wisdom in the right hon. Gentleman's remarks-- he has carried heavy responsibilities in the Conservative party--than in those of the Minister this afternoon.

I move on to the basic argument advanced by the right hon. Member for Worthing. There are two overwhelming reasons why a referendum should be granted, the first of which he did not mention. It is that we have an unwritten constitution. We have no special safeguards when constitutional changes, even of the greatest magnitude, are proposed. Countries with written constitutions have entrenched provisions that allow for specially large majorities when there is voting for constitutional change. We have none.

I know that there is a difficulty--we have all faced it before--in adequately defining what is a constitutional issue and what is not. I think we accept, however, that an


Column 709

issue that is not constitutional, in the sense in which I am using the word, is one that comes within our political process in the sense that the decision made upon it can be changed following a change of Government if that be the wish of the people.

A constitutional issue affects the framework of democracy, including the rights and powers of Parliament itself. I put it to the right hon. Member for Worthing that, when we developed our doctrines of an unwritten constitution and the acceptance of simple majority rule in the House, no one in Britain imagined that we would ever turn ourselves into a sort of province of a new state emerging in Europe. That would never have been allowed to happen without a massive entrenchment of the rights of the British people to preserve the British state, which is conterminous with democracy in Britain. I turn to my second reason for saying that a referendum is essential. There is vast and still growing cynicism among the British public in their attitude to politicians, and to Government and Parliament in their handling of European issues. There is a deep suspicion that there is a virtual conspiracy not to tell the British people the truth either about what has already been surrendered or about further demands that are known already to be in the pipeline. I shall not bore the House with the contradictory statements on the meaning and significance of a single currency that have been made by many members of the Government, who have followed one another in the bedlam that we have heard over the past week or so. I shall, however, seek to explain why the cynicism is serious, and why we must deal with it by referring to some recent and important matters that have affected the British people. They were touched on by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield, in his excellent speech. Did anyone in Britain imagine until the decision was made about the Irish box that there was no power left for the British Government to determine or maintain our right of access to the seas round our island? Did anyone know that we were simply, by a majority vote in the European Council, to have taken from us hundreds of square miles of fishing rights that we had previously enjoyed? Did the British people know that? Did British fishermen know that when the treaties were signed? The answer is no.

An appalling situation has developed over the export of calves for veal. There are many who find it obnoxious that calves should be exported to certain European countries, which treat them in a pretty dreadful way. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food shares that feeling. Instead of saying, "I propose to introduce a small piece of legislation under which we shall prohibit the export of British calves to those countries that do not give them humane and decent treatment", he says, "I cannot introduce legislation. I have no power to do so. Please"--

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute): The Minister does have the power.

Mr. Shore: That is arguable. He says that he does not, because the Europeans have legislated in that area and their directive has precedence over any power possessed by Parliament to put things right. As a Cabinet Minister, he urges the protesters to protest in Brussels, Rome and Paris-- everywhere except London. It is a disgrace.


Column 710

My third illustration is more complicated in some respects. The House will be aware that the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle), who resigned his position in government two days ago, raised the important issue of what is to be the future of control of immigration as it affects the United Kingdom. The people did not have the faintest idea that our immigration policy--or, much more important, access to the country through the free movement of labour--was as it is in the relevant treaty.

The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle was drawing attention to the muddle in which we find ourselves over immigration policy because we have abandoned the right to maintain our frontiers against about 300 million fellow Europeans. Under the Single European Act, which passed through the House so precipitately, there is article 8A. A famous sentence reads:

"The internal market shall comprise an area without internal frontiers in which the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital is ensured".

That is a Europe without frontiers.

Article 8a of the Maastricht treaty contains the following provision:

"Every citizen of the Union shall have the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States". If we open our gates and doors to 300 million fellow Europeans regardless of whether there is a job waiting for any of them at the other end, we cannot let them in and keep others out except on the crudest basis of the colour of their skin, which makes them look different from others who come across the channel by sea or to Heathrow by air.

The words that I have quoted from the treaties are unknown to the people. They are not in favour of a vast swilling of people across the continent of Europe in search of jobs. They rest on the belief that it is better to bring work to people than to cause people to leave their own countries to look for work wherever it may be. That is my third illustration. I could give many more, but I shall not do so.

Mr. Donald Anderson: The bogus nature of my right hon. Friend's third illustration is that citizens of the European Union can already cross frontiers. Indeed, they have been able to do so for some time. The fact that they do not come to the United Kingdom tells us something about our unemployment and the comparative social benefits that they enjoy on the continent.

Mr. Shore: My hon. Friend is mixing up two things. We have always been open to people coming to visit our country. Long may that continue. At the same time, we have clear principles about asylum and the uniting of split families, for example. We are absolutely clear about those issues.

I am talking about a treaty that gives every citizen of a member state the right to reside in another member state, regardless of whether a job is available. That will lead to a continuous search for the best forms of social benefit that are available for the unemployed peoples of Europe. It is the wrong approach. We should be trying to deal with unemployment by stimulating European economies so


Column 711

that jobless totals are reduced. We should be trying to bring work to the workers, not leaving workers to go in search of work.

Mr. Whitney: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Shore: No. I am coming to a conclusion.

I have mentioned only some elements of the treaties which we have signed which are now coming, as it were, before the British people. It is now inconceivable that we can sign another treaty that transfers any further powers from the House, from the Government and from our people to European institutions, without a clear and precise referendum that gives a chance for our people to say yea or nay. 6.19 pm

Mr. William Cash (Stafford): The amendment that I tabled today, in manuscript form, dealt with a referendum in the context of a single currency and a federal Europe. I did that quite deliberately, because I wanted it on the record that it is not just a question of what the Liberal Democrat and the Labour proposals amount to, but rather the sovereignty of this place, as addressed--if I may say so--rather inaccurately by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins).

The bottom line is whether we will be able to govern ourselves. That is the key question. When people come to read the speech of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) without prejudice, they will note that he made some significant points.

The difficulty with the argument made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing is that it begs the question about the continuing existence of our own Parliament. If driven by the Whip--as we were in the Maastricht debates--and if without a free vote we are to be told that we can no longer govern ourselves in principle because a single currency is on the agenda, and if we have not agreed in the protocol that deals with the third stage that we will never veto these matters as regards the rest of the European Community, the reality is that we are back to the question that I put to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister during the confidence motion, when he was good enough to attend for my speech.

I said to him, "What you have done through the Maastricht process is to present to the British people the unnecessary question of whether we must leave the European Community in 1996 or 1999." That is the key question. My right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing is simply repeating the old notion that those who call for a referendum would undermine the parliamentary sovereignty that they say they want to defend.

Exactly the opposite is our case. What we must consider is this. If we allow a single currency and a central bank, and all that goes with that, in principle within the European Community, and allowing for the assumption that we do not want to leave the European Community if it is possible to avoid doing so, we must not undermine the very basis on which we are here by handing over those powers to central, unelected, unaccountable bankers and bureaucrats in the Commission. We cannot possibly, in my judgment--when one considers the referendum in 1975 and looks at the young people today, who have not been given an opportunity to


Column 712

consider any aspects of these matters within the context of a referendum framework--avoid the fact that 37 per cent. of today's voters have not had an opportunity to express their view. The fact, therefore, is that we are undermining the very people by whom we were elected to this House.

Furthermore, people say that Members of Parliament--my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing also made the point--would effectively be abdicating their responsibilities. But the fact, as he knows, is that, in order to have a referendum, there must be an Act of Parliament. There is no question of a referendum being foisted on us. It is endorsed by the House beforehand. Hon. Members have the opportunity on 24 February--I hope that hon. Members will turn up to debate the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman)--to express their view on the principle whether the House will allow a referendum to go ahead.

Looking back over past decades, I find that Conservative Governments have been in favour of referendums. For example, Balfour, in 1911, proposed a new clause to the Liberal Government's Parliament Bill. On that occasion, he said:

"in the Referendum lies our one hope of getting the sort of constitutional security which every other country but our own enjoys".

He was relying on a referendum to support his argument with respect to that Bill.

Sir Terence Higgins: That Conservative amendment was defeated. Does my hon. Friend think that the consequences of that defeat were serious?

Mr. Cash: I do not think it matters. We are talking about the principle whether a Conservative Government--or Conservative Opposition-- have or have not from time to time considered the principle of a referendum on a major constitutional issue. In 1972, in Northern Ireland, there was the border poll. Then there was the Labour Government in respect to the European Economic Community. Ministers on both sides--Cabinet and shadow-- participated in those debates. They did not turn away and say, "We are not going to have anything to do with this." Then there was the question of the reform of the House of Lords. In 1978, there was the question of devolution in Scotland and Wales.

I do not believe that, in the past 25 years, there has been a single major constitutional issue facing our Parliament that has not been finally resolved by a free vote or a referendum. Not once have we had such a constitutional issue without there being either a free vote, a referendum or both. But, of course, not with Maastricht. As The Times said at the time of the Maastricht debates:

"Parliament can never be undermined by a referendum, since it is Parliament that decides to call one and Parliament that decides to be bound by the result."

That is conclusive.

A further point arises out of the Sheffield university survey, which is getting a good deal of currency at the moment. It was conducted on a private polling basis of Members of Parliament involved in the Maastricht debates. There were a number of questions--21 in all--that dealt with the central issues arising out of Maastricht.

On a national referendum, a question was put that whether there should be a national referendum before the United Kingdom enters a single currency. Some 55 per


Column 713

cent. stated that they strongly agreed, or agreed, with that proposition. On whether Britain should never permit its monetary policy to be determined by an independent European central bank, 61 per cent. of Conservative Back Benchers said that they strongly agreed, or agreed. On whether economic and monetary union was not desirable, the figure was 61 per cent.

That rather makes my point with respect to the argument made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, because if those are the opinions of our colleagues when they are whipped, what would their position have been had there been a free vote? If they were denied a free vote, one must question the manner in which the whole matter of the fundamental constitutional issue of Maastricht was handled. Was it not just simply, as I said the other day, based on the knowledge, "I know that I am right"?

Is not that now being discovered to be fundamentally flawed, as one decision after another flows in the wake of that treaty? The reality is that only by a referendum can we go back to the people as a matter of principle, whether or not one is in favour of the answers to the question that one will put, and discover what the people outside really think.

There is confusion in the Cabinet. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), today in The Daily Telegraph , advocated a referendum on a single currency. He and I have had many arguments about that question, but he is being driven to the inevitable conclusion that it is essential. My right hon. Friend--ex-party chairman that he is, having held all the important positions, as Secretary of State in God knows how many different Departments--has come to the conclusion that our Cabinet is so severely divided that we must go out and ask the people the answers to those questions.

That is not particularly exceptional. Indeed, I presented a petition during the Maastricht process, when I was joint chairman of the Maastricht Referendum Campaign. In those days, there was much vilification of our arguments. I do not mind that. Part of the process here is to be able to take a knock or two when they come along. But the reality is that I presented a petition to the House, with 250,000 names on it, which came from every quarter of the United Kingdom. People feel strongly about the matter; indeed, they feel much more strongly about it than they did then.

We can take a European view of the position. I remember the Maastricht referendum in France, when I helped Mr. Seguin and Mr. de Villiers. The vote in favour squeezed through by 1 per cent., but there is no chance that that would happen now: it would be at least 60 per cent., or even 65 per cent., against--which would have meant no Maastricht. Would that mean that the French would leave the European Community? These are seminal questions.

When I met Hans Tietmeyer recently, he told me that 60 per cent. of German business men opposed the idea of a single currency. We now learn from Der Spiegel that 64 per cent. of the German electorate are against it.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing and others have referred to the state of affairs in the City of London, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) constantly rabbits on about the attitudes of people there. He should consult the Harris survey published a few weeks ago, which showed that, of 250 City executives, 69 per cent.--I think that I


Column 714

am right; it may have been 66 per cent., but it was certainly well over 60 per cent.--said that they wanted a referendum on the single currency.

Those are the arguments on which we are relying. People want to be consulted--and I have considerable sympathy with people who find that they, their Government, their attitudes, their traditions, their businesses and their jobs are being put at risk by a massive experiment. For what purpose is all that taking place?

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington): I believe that, not only tonight but on other occasions, my hon. Friend has advocated a referendum on the principle of a single currency before the Government decide anything about British participation. That obviously deals with a hypothetical situation with important constitutional implications. Given that my hon. Friend is clearly as committed to the future of the House of Commons and our Parliament as I am, however, would it not be simpler to arrange a free vote in the House?

In circumstances that are not hypothetical--that is, when the Government have already adopted and negotiated a position--should there not be a whipped vote? The Government have a right to expect their supporters to support the actions that they have taken.

Mr. Cash: I have often advocated a free vote on these issues. I put the point to the present governor of Hong Kong. I said, "At the party conference, you keep saying, `Trust the people'; why do you not at least trust your Members of Parliament?" In fact, the Government had not the slightest intention of giving us a free vote, any more than they had the slightest intention of giving us a referendum on Maastricht. They were frightened silly that we might win. I do not believe that we might win; I am absolutely certain that we would. Yes, I believe that there ought to be a free vote. I have argued that any referendum should take place before the next

intergovernmental conference, however. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield has rightly made clear, the critical issue concerns the single currency: it is the fulcrum of so many arguments about stage 3, the central bank, unaccountability and the survival of our democracy--and thence, by inversion, the status of the House of Commons. That brings us back full circle.

As I said in an intervention on the Minister's speech, our fatal mistake was not vetoing economic and monetary union--which is the single currency in its fulness--when I suggested that we should. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman), who served with me on the manifesto committee, will recall my arguing that, if we did not veto EMU at that stage, we would be marginalised.

He may also remember that, at the end of the proceedings, a summary was produced, featuring the words "We are a European Community of independent sovereign states." Someone turned to me--it may have been my hon. Friend-- and asked, "Are you satisfied with those words?" I said, "Yes, I am." Then someone--it may have been my hon. Friend, but I would not wish to accuse him of it--said, "I think that we should take those words out."

I said, "You think what?" A Minister was present. I said, "You are going to take those words out of a summary of a draft Conservative party manifesto?" The


Column 715

answer came, "We are going to take them out." I said, "In that case, we shall have a vote." My recollection is that I was the only person who voted to keep those words in.

People may wonder why I am so keen to ensure that we do not lose our sovereignty, but that is what happened in the innermost precincts of the Foreign Office. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington has a nice smile on his face, but I must tell him that the smile is now on the face of the tiger. We are not going to give in, irrespective of the agenda that has been set by others.

It is continually put to us, and particularly to me, that it would be foolish now to say what we are going to do. Let us face it: in fact, we shall be spun along until the intergovernmental conference takes place, and then the moment will come. Everything will be wrapped up in the negotiations, and the fundamental argument about monetary union will be conceded. Why? We shall be told, "We made these decisions a long time ago. Now is not the time for us to make a further decision; the matter was decided at Maastricht." I can hear it now.

The real point is that we were deceived over the Maastricht treaty. It may not have been deliberate, but it may well have been fatal. The one thing that the treaty did not do was preserve our ability to remain in the United Kingdom while preserving the integrity and powers of the House of Commons.

I recently had the pleasure--I will describe it as that--of meeting five members of the Bundesbank. They came here at the behest of Chancellor Kohl; they were friends of Mr. Karl Lammers, who tells us repeatedly that sovereign states are no more than an empty shell. They told us that monetary union was at the top of their agenda for the intergovernmental conference. We are being told that it is not on the agenda. Why? Because the Maastricht treaty has already been passed. That is why I want a referendum on the single currency before the next intergovernmental conference.

What do those people propose to do? They propose, they say, not merely to consider the implications and the operational activities, but to build on economic and monetary union. They want a single state based on a single currency. That is the fundamental issue that was dodged at Maastricht, and the fundamental problem that we are dodging through the collusion of those on the two Front Benches. It causes me deep anxiety to find that the position is so fragile.

Then there is the question of the infighting in our own party. I believe that, if we had to make a clear decision--a leadership decision--on a question of this kind, we would resolve it. I dare say that some Conservative Members would be extremely upset if the Prime Minister said no to a single currency now, or said that a referendum would take place. It must be said, however, that, following our membership of the exchange rate mechanism and its debacle, the argument has moved so strongly in our favour that my hon. Friends might reasonably consider that it is time not to redouble their efforts at counter-attack but to subject the arguments to an objective analysis.

I hope and believe that, in my speech to the Young Conservatives on Sunday, I rebutted most of the arguments advanced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is mere camouflage to suggest that monetary union and political union are not effectively one and the same.


Column 716

When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister returned from the Maastricht negotiations, he made a statement in which he put a number of propositions to the House. I seem to remember that he said that it was game, set and match. He said:

"Let me set out the main provisions of the agreements we reached. The treaty covers economic and monetary union and political union. It follows the structure for which the United Kingdom has consistently argued."--[ Official Report , 11 December 1991; Vol.200, c.859.] In October 1990, when my right hon. Friend was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he said that we would not have a single currency imposed upon us, that we were opposed to that.

However, by February 1992 the then Minister of State at the Foreign Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), said that the Government did not reject a single currency or the institutions that go with it. Those changes of policy have caused the confusion and the uncertainty, and those problems could be resolved by a referendum.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham): Many of us who heard my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) did not find their statements incompatible. The Prime Minister said that we would not have it imposed upon us, and that Maastricht gave us an opt-out, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Watford said roughly the same thing. What they said was perfectly compatible and logical, and was in this country's interests.

Mr. Cash: I repeat for the benefit of my hon. Friend that, by not vetoing economic and monetary union at Maastricht, we put ourselves in a difficult and dangerous position. The momentum towards a single currency, the political union for which Karl Lammers and Chancellor Kohl repeatedly call, and the monetary union and single currency which Mr. Balladur says there will be by 1997, show precisely what is going on elsewhere in the European Community. The balance of the argument is substantially in my favour, as is the proof of my resistance and that of some of my hon. Friends to the exchange rate mechanism. Look what that did for us.

Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan): The difficulty for the House is that, although, as my hon. Friend says, the balance of the argument rests with the Euro-sceptics in all parts of the House, the views of the majority of those who participated in the debate on the Maastricht treaty were overruled by party diktat and the party Whip. How would a referendum reverse the ratchet effect of European integration?

Mr. Cash: If we are denied the opportunity to make up our own minds in line with the assumptions--the wrong assumptions, I am afraid--of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, there is no option. We have no right to hand over our Parliament, or rather their Parliament. That is the point, and we have no right to hand it over when that issue arises in principle, as it does on this question in the context of running the economy. Public expenditure on defence, hospitals and schools and


Column 717

other matters will be allocated according to priorities that will be laid down by unelected bankers who have no definition of price stability and cannot guarantee anything.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth): Which bankers are elected? I have not come across any recently.

Mr. Cash: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman should mention that. I do not say that elected or unelected bankers should run the system. The proper decisions on economic priorities should be taken democratically by those who live in a country such as ours. In one general election after another, the British people have shown their will by exercising their free choice. I am arguing not about whether there should be elected judges or bankers, but about the inherent rights of people in a democratic country.

Mr. Legg: Does my hon. Friend accept that the key point is that these bankers would be unaccountable?

Mr. Cash: That is absolutely right. They are unaccountable, and they may not deliver. All our reserves would be transferred to such people. That is unbelievable, and nobody would know that it was happening, were it not for the fact that it is set out in the Maastricht treaty.

I am concerned that a referendum would turn on a single currency, but after six weeks of debate, people would understand what it was all about. They understand it only too well as it is. Anyone who gets into a taxi or enters a pub will find that people know perfectly well what it is about. I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing that people do not like being told that they are too thick to be able to understand it. They are not.


Next Section

  Home Page