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House of Commons

Friday 24 February 1995

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


European Communities (Reaffirmation of Sovereignty of United Kingdom Parliament)

Mr. William Cash, supported by Mr. John Biffen, Sir George Gardiner, Sir Peter Tapsell, Mr. Iain Duncan Smith, Mr. Bernard Jenkin, Mr. Barry Legg, Mr. Roger Knapman, Mr. Neil Hamilton, Mr. Nicholas Winterton, Mrs. Ann Winterton and Mr. Bill Walker presented a Bill to preserve the right of the people of the United Kingdom to govern itself within the European Community: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 3 March, and to be printed. [Bill 55.]

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Referendum Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

9.34 am

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill provides for the holding of a referendum on the United Kingdom's membership of European Union. It proposes that a referendum be held before 31 December 1995, and that the questions be so framed as to invite opinion on whether the UK should continue along the path to a single European Government with a single currency and a single body of law, or whether we should remain in the Union only on the basis of free trade with a very substantial repatriation of our national sovereignty.

In 1996, the members of the European Union will hold an intergovernmental conference to review the terms of the European Union from the treaty of Rome through the Single European Act to the Maastricht treaty. The conference will provide an opportunity to reflect on where we go from here, and it will be a singularly opportune moment to find out what the British people think about what has happened in the 20 years since they affirmed their willingness to become part of what was then described as an economic union. In the past 20 years, people have been asked to accept substantial changes about which they were not fully warned and which have amounted to a constitutional revolution. So far, they have not been given an opportunity through referendums or elections to express their views because, by and large, most of the parties have gone to the country at election time with similar policies--although we know that the Labour party in its not too distant history has done a U-turn on the matter.

Several hon. Members rose --

Mrs. Gorman: I shall not give way for a little while; hon. Members must wait their turn.

My hunch is that the time is right to ask people what they think about the European Union. One of the blessings of having the Whip withdrawn is that one is no longer tied to this place morning, noon and night. As a result, my Whipless colleagues and I have had the opportunity of going around the country and talking to ordinary people who are dealing day by day with the problems presented to them by European regulations.

For example, the fishermen at Lowestoft and Brixham are fighting to save their livelihoods with the Save British Fish campaign. Under the regulations of the common fisheries policy, they face the possibility of Spanish vessels coming into the remaining protected British waters to scoop out the basis of their livelihoods. Other fishing ports around the country have been destroyed by the policy during the past 20 years. For example, the last fishing vessel in Hull was burned recently. Imagine that--the last vessel in one of the great centres of our fishing industry burned because of the common fisheries policy. There is no doubt in the minds of those fishermen that they want the repatriation of the fishing grounds of the British Isles, that they want the grounds back soon and that they will fight for them. It was a great pleasure and an honour for us to visit them and give them our magnificent support.

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The farmers in Britain have also been pleased to express to us their concerns about what is happening in agriculture. We are sometimes given to understand that, with all its faults, the common agricultural policy is delivering the goods to British farmers and that they are all prepared to put up with it. That is not the case at all.

They pointed out to us that, under the quota system for milk, farmers who had large herds of cows could live off their milk quotas. They did not need to keep a cow. They could lease the quota to poorer farmers who desperately needed it because otherwise they would be forced to spray milk on to their fields. The supermarkets are full of ersatz processed European packets of milk and yoghurt produced anywhere but in Britain. There is a shortage of milk in Britain, while we throw the stuff down the drain.

Such examples have brought home to us the urgent need to consult the people. I promise the House that any party which adopts the referendum as a firm commitment-- if not immediately, certainly in its election policy-- will have enormous support in the country. We know that because we have had it, so to speak, from the horse's mouth--the people of Britain.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West): Does my hon. Friend propose that the result of the referendum should be binding on most, if not all, politicians?

Mrs. Gorman: I most certainly agree with my hon. Friend. May I review what different people have to say about the European Community. We know that our European Commissioner, Sir Leon Brittan, says that he is sure that there is no desire on the continent to create, for example, a federal united states of Europe. Yet I detect a great deal of scepticism in Britain among the people he represents about whether that is true.

Mr. Santer tells us that he wants a fully federated Europe and that he wants to see the end of our British currency before 1999. We know what the Chancellor thinks. He is a Euro-fan. He does not deny it. The other day, he said that it would be a mistake to believe that monetary union needed to be a huge step on the path to a federal Europe. Do we believe that? I am not sure that we do. In any case, do the British public believe that?

We know what Lord Howe thinks. He is another dedicated pro-European. He says that only by acting more closely with our European partners can we control our destiny. We could put up a good argument that the opposite is the truth and that control of our destiny would require us to repatriate many of the powers that we have given away to the European Community.

We also know what the Prime Minister thinks. He says that he wants us to be at the heart of Europe, but he has not spelt out just what will happen if, for example, there was heart failure. With the corruption that we hear about in the heart of Europe, it is possible that we may be bogging ourselves down in an institution that could drag us all down. Is it really necessary for us to continue in an organisation which is so obviously flawed?

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): I want to put a point to the hon. Lady on the timing of her referendum,

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which I find a little curious. The first leg of her question is about pursuing full integration of the European Union and so on. Surely there are two other possibilities. One is that those issues will not feature on the agenda of the IGC in 1996. The other is that, if they do, they will be vetoed by the Prime Minister in his discussions with our European partners. In that case, that part of the question would be surplus to requirements. Will she comment on whether the referendum should perhaps come after the IGC?

Mrs. Gorman: I take my hon. Friend's point, but it is important that whoever negotiates at the IGC should have in their minds a clear view of how the British people feel about Europe now, 20 years after they originally voted to stay in it.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East): I hope that my hon. Friend will ignore that silly question. Does she appreciate that it would strengthen the authority of any British Prime Minister, whether Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat or anything else, if he could go to the IGC next year and say that he represented what the British people believed? That would be better than listening to some silly people who make stupid points to interrupt my hon. Friend. Does she agree that, instead of making his position more difficult, a referendum would strengthen the Prime Minister's hand enormously?

Mrs. Gorman: I agree with my hon. Friend, who has a noble tradition of fighting for the independence of the British nation.

Mr. Waterson: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) to cast aspersions on my reason for intervening? I asked a question about a factual matter and the hon. Lady was good enough to give way in her normal courteous fashion. It is not acceptable for the hon. Gentleman, who has been in this place long enough and should know better, to make such remarks.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse): That is not a point of order for the Chair. One hopes that at all times hon. Members will maintain common courtesy and not play the game of insulting one another. That game appears to be rapidly creeping into the debates in the House.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is a point of order for you. It is pretty clear at this early stage in the debate that the anti-marketeer and pro-marketeer Tory Members of Parliament are beginning to fight one another and call one another names. I am putting in a direct request to you to place a splash apron between us and the Conservative Benches to catch the blood.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: It is not for me to get involved in that matter.

Mrs. Gorman: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton): My hon. Friend seemed to say in response to her hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) that a referendum before the IGC would strengthen the Prime

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Minister's negotiating position at the IGC, but what if the people of Britain voted to stay in Europe? Or has my hon. Friend prejudged the outcome of such a referendum?

Mrs. Gorman: That was a rather silly intervention. It is perfectly obvious, as I am a democrat and we are all democrats, that if the British people voted strongly for a pro-European position, of course the Prime Minister would negotiate strongly and rightly from that perspective.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): My hon. Friend is putting an admirable case extremely cogently. Does she agree that it is paradoxical for Her Majesty's Government to propose a referendum to legitimise the framework for what they hope will be an ultimate constitutional settlement for Northern Ireland which will bring peace, while they deny the legitimisation of a process of integration within Europe which will eventually lead to such an erosion of our sovereignty that we will be no longer an independent nation?

Mrs. Gorman: Very well said, if I may say so.

Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mrs. Gorman: I will not give way for the moment, but I will a little later.

Recently, 107 of my colleagues signed early-day motion 581, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), in which he praised the firm line that the Prime Minister was beginning to take on a single currency. It is extremely important for the British people to understand the meaning of that. As we have gone around the country, we have found that, just as they were about Maastricht, people are confused. They do not understand the great significance.

We remind them what happened the last time we changed our currency. On decimalisation, the value of money halved and the price of everything doubled. People know what will happen to the pound in their pocket if and when we get a single currency. Before decimalisation, a doughnut cost a tanner. It does not quite cost a tenner now, but it costs 10 bob. When we put it in those terms, we see by how much our money was devalued by a change in the currency.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mrs. Gorman: I will not give way just now.

Those are the issues that concern the British people and which we hope we will be able clearly to bring to them. We are not alone in making these remarks. The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) made a marvellous speech on Friday, in which he spelled out from his great experience of negotiating in Europe for so many years that there is nothing in it for the British people any more, that it is a costly extravagance and that it costs us more than we get out of it. Furthermore, he could see no way in which that position would improve. I credit him with enormous honesty for making those remarks. It is almost a pity, however, that we have to wait for people to leave office before we get to know what is going on behind the scenes.

There have been other remarkable conversions. Do any hon. Members remember Lord Young? I am sure that many will. Not so many years ago, he cajoled and bullied

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us into the single market, telling us of our great future and saying that it would be wonderful. Now that he is in the City and faces the problems of dealing with Europe, he is a reformed, born- again Euro-sceptic. He has come to the conclusion that there is nothing in it for the British people, as did the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames.

All those issues should be made clear to the British people in the run-up to a referendum, when they would be able to make their choice and have their say, as would all my colleagues who passionately believe that our future lies in Europe, and almost only in Europe--as if we would be adrift, anchorless, aimless and directionless in a rough sea without it. Many of our colleagues literally and sincerely believe that, but I think that it is gobbledegook.

We have gone over the business of having a referendum many times in the House. I am not what I would call a parliamentary expert, but we have had four referendums in the recent past and it is an established tradition. It is an important way to tap the British people's feelings outside of an election based largely on the one issue, which the referendum would bring to the people. There is an excellent reason for having a referendum and having it soon.

I want to say more about my personal experience in Europe, because it was Europe that brought me into politics. Before we joined the European Community in 1972, I was a small business woman, minding my own business and not politically involved or interested. Then value added tax was introduced, with all the problems that it caused the small business community. That was the first of the European impositions of which I became aware. I witnessed what it did, as customs men went round with crowbars, bending open people's filing cabinets to try to trap them into some petty book-keeping mistake--such mistakes happen in any organisation, including the European Community--and terrifying the life out of them.

Many other regulations were introduced which affected my ability to import and export. There were demands for standards and types of equipment and raw materials which were not necessarily appropriate to the products that I was making, but which the European Community required. I began to feel as though Europe was taking over my business. That made me interested in politics for the first time and it got me interested in looking for a party that might give me some salvation from that impost, caused me to join the Conservative party and, ultimately, brought me to this position today.

It makes me smile when I listen to colleagues telling me that, without the European Community, our country and our economy will go down the pan, that we will be unable to survive and will lose thousands of jobs. I can only tell them that there are thousands of jobs to be gained by getting out of Europe, if it means that we can get rid of this incubus of regulation, which is a nightmare for our business community.

When I listen to those on the Front Benches dictating these apparently wonderful and utopian ideas to us, I ask myself what they know about running a business. With the greatest respect in the world, most of them have come to Parliament from the law, or directly from institutions and research departments. They have not had hands-on experience of running a business worldwide. Well, I have, and I can tell the House that it has always been ten times more difficult to get anything into the French or German

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markets than to get goods into the Pacific rim countries and to north and south America, which have strong traditional connections with Britain and still have an enormous respect for us.

To do business almost entirely into the European Community is to make life tougher than necessary for the business man. After all, Europe has only 10 per cent. of the world's population. The way we keep hearing about it, one would think that it was the whole world. It also has about 15 per cent. of the world's gross production. We have enormous opportunities elsewhere and there is no reason why we should not have both, but we also know that the European Community is a cartel and a customs union. From my practical experience, I know that if people cannot trade into our markets it is 10 times more difficult for us to trade into theirs. They have to earn our currency to buy goods back from us.

I hear people going on about the importance of the single currency, which will make it easier for the business community. I promise hon. Members that that is a joke. If one is in business and doing business abroad, one buys forward currency, often dollars, because that currency is universally respected. It is silly to think that a single currency imposed on us in Europe will make life easier for the business community.

It is equally silly to suggest that a small island such as Britain, with only 52 million people, could not survive and prosper economically. Look at the Japanese--they have two small islands and practically no resources, but they do remarkably well without being trapped into one of these customs unions with which we are involving ourselves so deeply.

The fear factor has been suggested--it has been raised even at the exalted heights of the President of the Board of Trade from time to time--as a reason why we have to cling on to this European raft, but it is simply not a true representation of the facts. The British nation has always had a different attitude to the rest of the continent of Europe. We have always looked outwards in all directions and not just across to the European continent. Our great success has been that when we have had the largest amount of free trade, as we did when we finally dumped many of the trade restrictions in the mid-1800s, with the ending of the corn laws and all the rest, we moved--

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): The 1900s.

Mrs. Gorman: We abandoned the corn laws in 1846. I thank the hon. Gentleman for intervening, but I wish that he would get his facts right. I am neither an economist nor a historian, but that I do know.

British markets prospered and flourished right up until the first world war, in a way that they have never done since. That showed up in the increasing health of the nation and in the growth and increasing longevity of the population, all of which were factors in the increasing wealth. People went from living in what were virtually soil-floored, straw-roofed mud huts to little houses with brick walls, proper loos and lino on the floor--buildings that were so precious to the nation that they eventually caught the eye of English Heritage and got one of those awful "Listed building, do not touch" labels hung on them. All the pointers in our history show that the British people, when encouraged to trade universally and not merely into Europe, do remarkably well.

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I sometimes think that we politicians are like bomber pilots. We drop our policies from a great height and are indifferent to their effect on people on the ground. I am telling the House what it is like for many people on the receiving end of Euro-regulations and trying to convince my colleagues who are fanatically pro-European and want all that harmonisation to think again about what it is doing to our country's prosperity. The idea of a level playing field, which is fundamental to the European mentality, is the antithesis of what free markets are about. They are about comparative advantage over one's potential rivals, and that is how one makes businesses and countries prosper.

Those are all the reasons why the British people should be given a chance to decide for themselves in a referendum. They may not agree with me and may decide to vote, as some of my colleagues hope, for the full European package--so be it. But attitudes have changed remarkably in the past few months. When people see European courts overruling British courts and ordering British taxpayers to compensate convicted drug smugglers for some technical reason, they are furious and want to know why British laws are no longer paramount.

When they see British Ministers trail out to Europe, shake hands with protesters against the veal trade and say, "I hope you can do something about it," what do they think of the power left to those Ministers? British Ministers are simply puppets who can no longer lay down what the British people want because, even if they put that view across, they can be overruled. If we continue in that way, they will be overruled on everything. To give more power to the elbow of our Ministers, it is paramount that we give the British people an opportunity to sanction their best interests.

My colleagues will make many points about the current position and deal with sovereignty and the details of a single currency, at which they are all much more competent than I. I am British--indeed, I am English--and I feel that that is my identity. People's identity and association with their country is paramount to that country's stability. When that is churned up and people are told that they must become something new--Europeans--they do not know what it means. They do not understand the qualities of that society; what its laws expect of them; what they can expect from politicians; what the value of their currency should mean to them; what they have a right to demand of their politicians; and what they must pay their state in terms of rights as well as taking opportunities. All that is tied up in our national identity, and we disturb it at our peril, especially if we do so without first giving people a say.

Mr. Skinner : The hon. Lady will be interested to know that I shall vote for her Referendum Bill, given a chance to do so, in line with the practice that I have adopted in the House since 28 October 1971 when a previous Tory Government took the disastrous decision to drag the British people into the common market. But I shall not do so for nationalistic or flag-waving reasons.

There are inherent contradictions within the common market, which is why I express such views. As I have declared that I will vote for the Referendum Bill today, will the hon. Lady guarantee that, in view of all her opinions on the common market and how the Government are carrying out their activities in Europe, she will join us

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in the Lobby next Wednesday on a vote that could change the nature of the common market and, possibly, the Government as well?

Mrs. Gorman: I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's consistency on Europe, but not to that of the Labour party, which is just as divided on the issue. For it to have the brass neck to table a motion criticising the Government's attitude to Europe is an awful cheek. The hon. Gentleman knows that, and he will not trap my colleagues and me into giving such a guarantee. However, we hope that the Prime Minister, who will address the House in that debate on Wednesday, will give a further commitment on a single currency.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North): The Prime Minister is obviously considering that matter carefully and it is now apparent to the whole country that a single currency is about not economic but political issues. It is about whether we want to be part of a single United States of Europe dominated by Brussels. If, on Wednesday, our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that no Government of which he is Prime Minister could conceivably enter a single currency, would my hon. Friend then support the Government and oppose the Opposition motion?

Mrs. Gorman: I would certainly do so. That would be an enormous relief not just for my colleagues and me but for many people in the country, who want to see clearly which way the Conservative party and the Prime Minister are moving.

Mr. Wilkinson: Does my hon. Friend also agree that it would greatly enhance the Government's authority in Wednesday's debate and the credibility of its European policies as a whole if the Government were to support the Bill and the concept of a referendum before we moved ahead to a single currency or proceeded further along the path of European integration?

Mrs. Gorman: I thank my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right. My Bill is an olive branch to the Prime Minister from those of us who, although we did so on a matter of principle, were unfortunately deprived of the Whip. That has turned out to be nothing like as awful as it was meant to be, as it has allowed us to express our views more forthrightly.

Mr. Heald: Does my hon. Friend also agree that, for the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) to tell his party at its conference that he would never be isolated in Europe is simply not good enough for the British people, who may need a Prime Minister who is prepared to be isolated in Europe on important issues?

Mrs. Gorman: We certainly do not argue about that. I have no time for the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), because he is hypocritical and wants to get into bed with the Europeans. He wants a marriage for life and wants to tie the British nation to a federal European Government with a single currency and the whole shebang. We should stop flirting with the British people. It is all very well for the British Prime Minister to give us winks and nods across the bar when we, the customers on the other side, are wondering whether we should buy our pints there or not. If he clearly does not believe that we should have a marriage with Europe, he should let the people

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have a say because this matter concerns our future. That is all that I am asking. We must have confidence in our people to decide on that, and any party that offers that proposition will gain the respect of the British people.

Ms Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East): Can the hon. Lady clear up a problem about which she was asked earlier but failed to answer? The referendum that she has proposed is described as a consultative one. Does she regard the result of it as binding?

Mrs. Gorman: When the hon. Lady reflects on that, she will understand that the result cannot be binding in law, nor would one expect that. It is the Prime Minister's right to negotiate, but I believe that he should do so having received more information from the people. A referendum result on the specific issue of Europe would tell the Prime Minister what the British people have in mind. Throughout history, great empires have come and gone. It always has been a utopian dream that, if we all got together in some union, whether through conquest or assent, the opportunities of the individual states within it would be enhanced. The last of those empires was the great communist dream, which has finally collapsed, causing great harm to the people locked into it.

Be it five, 10 or 20 years down the road, I do not want our nation to have a crumbling market and to have lost its connections with our natural marketing partners because they were unable to enter our markets. I do not want the standard of living of the British people to decline. I do not want their spirit to be suppressed, because they are getting awfully tired of being constantly cajoled and bullied into the idea that their future lies in Europe and nowhere else. The British people have always had a strong entrepreneurial, buccaneering tendency which has done this country proud. We need to liberate that spirit again, but we cannot do it if we are meshed into the regulatory system of Europe. That system is like an octopus, because, as fast as one cuts off one bit of its tentacles, it sprouts another.

I can promise colleagues that a business man working in such an atmosphere finds that his daily round becomes a daily grind as he is immersed in more and more paperwork and subject to decisions made for him by people whose main interest is the creation and perpetration of regulations and not getting that business up and going. We need that entrepreneurial spirit for people to succeed and to have better lives.

The decisions about Europe are not just for the House alone, but for the people to make. I am asking my colleagues on both sides of the House to let us adopt the Bill and give the British people what I believe that they would now welcome: the opportunity to tell us, for a change, what they want for the future of their country in Europe. 10.12 am

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): I have studied the Bill carefully, because I support the sovereignty of the people and their right to decide in a variety of ways what their governance should be. I have no objection in principle to a referendum, so I find myself in the Billericay-Bolsover camp and not in that of those who say that Parliament alone should decide such matters.

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During the summer, I was pleased when my right hon., then hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) made it clear in his leadership campaign for the Labour party that a referendum would be included in our party's agenda. That was a positive statement, and at the time I deeply regretted that the Prime Minister knocked that suggestion back, scorned it and said that it was not appropriate. He is a Prime Minister, however, who runs after events. On Wednesday, although I doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will give a pledge to rule out forever participation in a single currency, I am sure that he will make some general commitment to a referendum.

Mr. Heald: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he would rule it out in perpetuity?

Mr. MacShane: Does the hon. Gentleman mean a referendum or a single currency?

Mr. Heald: A single currency.

Mr. MacShane: Certainly not. We shall discuss the single currency issue later. This debate is about a referendum and is not a re-run of every aspect of the European question.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I agree that the hon. Gentleman should stick to debating the Referendum Bill rather than the Referendum (Single Currency) Bill, which is the next Bill down for consideration.

Mr. MacShane: I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that my notes contain a mere passing reference to currency.

It is most singularly hypocritical for the Conservative supporters of the Bill to claim that they alone are seeking to give the people of the country some say over their destiny when, for 15 long years--I do not know when each of them entered Parliament--the Conservative Government have whittled away at the sovereign rights of the British people. They have abolished people's power to control themselves through local government; they have abolished the local authority of London, so that Britain's capital is the only capital without a mayor and a single governing authority; they have also abolished any democratic accountability in quangoland.

Mr. Michael Carttiss (Great Yarmouth): Is restoring to school governors the ability to determine their own budgets and run their own schools without reference to local authorities an example of a return of democracy to the people, or its removal?

Mr. MacShane: The hon. Gentleman must address that question to school governors who are currently writing in their thousands to the Secretary of State for Education complaining that it is one thing to give a certain limited authority to them as governors, but another to cut their budgets so that they have no ability to use that authority. In general, the Conservative Government have shown a contempt for democratic rights that is without parallel in the 20th century. Now some members of the Conservative party are calling for a referendum. My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin) asked a pertinent question about the consultative

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nature of the referendum, but she got no answer. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr.Skinner) also asked a pertinent question about how the anti-Europeans on the Conservative Benches will vote on Wednesday--again, he got no answer.

Perhaps the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) can tell me what the question on the referendum paper will be, because one cannot hold a referendum without defining that question. The form of the question is vital. According to the Bill, two questions will be put--I have yet to hear of a referendum on more than one question. According to subsection (3), if those questions are unsatisfactory, they "need not be in the exact words of the preceding subsection, so long as Her Majesty is satisfied that their wording reflects the true intent and spirit of this Act".

So, my goodness, we are going to ask Her Majesty to decide what the question should be. That will be a referendum horribilis for those at Buckingham palace, as they have to chew over the intent of the hon. Member for Billericay when she seeks to ask the people, via Her Majesty, what their future in Europe should be.

Sir Teddy Taylor: The hon. Gentleman is being a little silly about the consultative nature of the referendum. Surely he must know that, if people voted for the option in clause 1(2)(b), there is no way in which Parliament could implement that result. All it would mean is that the Prime Minister would be given the authority to seek that option. In the same way, there is nothing that we can do about the export of live animals. If people voted for the option in subsection 2(b), all it means is that the Prime Minister and the Government would be given some suggestion as to what we want them to try to achieve in 1996 and thereafter. There is no way in which our Parliament could do anything else.

Mr. MacShane: But we are invited to treat the question of the referendum as a sublime and supreme consultation with the people about the future destiny and essence of the nation in which they live. The hon. Gentleman is referring to an early-day motion, which he can table tomorrow, to obtain as many signatures as he wants, which will give a fair idea, according to the number of Members of Parliament who sign it, what the people--or at least MPs--want the Prime Minister to take to the intergovernmental conference. If we must return to paragraph (2)(b), I shall read it:

"remain in the European Union, but only as a member of an association of states trading freely with one another, with substantial repatriation of sovereignty".

My learned friends the lawyers would have more than a field day discussing the meaning of that paragraph. It mentions

"an association of states trading freely with one another". That is not a referendum for England; that is a referendum for all 15 members of the European Union. They would need to agree to the arguments made in paragraph (2)(b) of the Bill.

That may be a good thing. It may be good to hold a Europewide referendum on one issue or another, but if the hon. Member for Billericay wants a Europewide referendum, I must tell her that the House has no power over the people of France, Germany, Sweden and so on.

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She should get herself elected to the European Parliament and continue her arguments there if she wants Europewide referendums.

Mr. Marlow: The hon. Gentleman is labouring on in a somewhat futile manner. He knows perfectly well the intent of the referendum. It is to ask the people whether they want a Heathite, Jenkinsite, Delorsite, Blairite European single state, or whether they want to be part of a single market, in which single market the rest of Europe can do precisely what it wants.

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