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Mr. MacShane: I am responding to questions. I was trying to make progress with my speech, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I realise now that we have a new paragraph (c), mentioning a Heathite, Blairite, Jenkinsite state. Perhaps we shall also have a new paragraph (d), mentioning a Marlowite, Taylorite, Gormanite, Skinnerite state.
When we consider Europe, whether as Members of Parliament or as citizens, we regard it as a mirror in which we see reflected many things that show a great uncertainty about the future of this country.
I pay tribute to the sincerity with which people hold their opinions. An unpleasant remark was attributed to the Prime Minister about men in white coats coming for an hon. Member who was anti-Europe, I think mainly on agricultural issues. I found that deeply unpleasant. Everyone elected to the House has an absolute right and duty to express their opinions, and their opinions should be taken with all seriousness.
Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham): Could the hon. Gentleman, and those who think like him, just try to make a small mental jump and to cease, once and for all, using the expression, "anti-Europe"? Those of us on both sides of the House who are sceptical about closer European union, in many cases have a great many friends on the continent, like the continent and have got nothing against the continent, but we quite simply cannot bear our country being told what to do. Will the hon. Gentleman stop saying "anti-Europe", because it is misleading and it is false?
Mr. MacShane: "Anti-Europe" conveys, more accurately than the rather silly word "sceptical", some--not all--of the passions that drive people in the debate. When I consider other European countries, and I consider the National Front in France and the Communist parties, who are so hostile to the European Union, I find there, I am afraid, a tinge of profound anti- Europeanism.
I have an affection for the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel). We share a great interest in allotments and gardening--
Mr. MacShane: --and, indeed, in healthy outdoor sports. Therefore, if he and his friends will stop using the term "federalist"; if they will stop using the phrase "selling out to Brussels" and all the other cliche s that they attach to the opinions of any of us who support the European Union; if the hon. Gentleman will sign a
Column 604Trappist oath not to use those words and pass it round all his colleagues, I promise him that I will stop using the word "anti-European".
As we look into Europe, we look into a mirror that reflects our uncertainties about the future of our country. We see the fault lines of Britain. I see a Britain centralised, unreformed, hierarchical, socially deferential. I speak very much as a republican, although I want to emphasise that I think that a modern republic can have a monarch as its head of state, just as, in France, what is in effect a monarchy can be in the formal constitution of a republic. I see the fault lines of a Britain that is unsure of its destination and destiny, and unsure of what the future organisation of governance of our state should be.
That lack of certainty is visible, above all, in the Conservative party. Perhaps I might try to unite the Members sitting there, so kindly listening to me, because it is obvious that the Tory party is tired of government. It yearns for opposition. The certainties of Thatcherism are replaced by the mediocrities of Majorism, yet the Conservative party has a majority. The Conservative party is condemned to administer a political economy the modernity and complexity of which it no longer comprehends, and to rule a people who actively detest the corruption and greed that pour through every pore of the Tory skin.
"Provide for the holding of a referendum on the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union."
Will the hon. Member address himself to the Bill?
Mr. Waterson rose --
Mr. Waterson: The hon. Gentleman is talking about divisions that are allegedly in the Conservative party, but I wonder where he is hiding the 59 of his colleagues who defied the party Whip and voted against the Second Reading of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill.
"The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."
On the issue of a referendum, we do have passionate intensity in hostility to Europe, which is manifested in the debate.
I want the best to discover some of their convictions. I want, perhaps next Wednesday, arguments to be advanced by more senior Members of Parliament that will put an end to the divisions on Europe, which manifest themselves in this morning's debate.
Column 605It is obvious to me--I return to the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Twickenham--that the challenge is not to force Britain or Europe into some Procrustean federal bed. The challenge is more exciting, and it is not met by the Referendum Bill. The challenge is to create a new relationship between nations, peoples and, above all, values. There will be more hope for our country in searching for the common values in Europe to take us forward. As Edmund Burke said: "All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter." Compromise with the other European nations is essential for the creation of a economic and social cohesion in our country.
Mr. Marlow: The British people are concerned about Europe, which is why they should have a referendum. One reason why they are concerned about Europe is barter, the principle on which Europe is governed. The French said that they would allow European elections to go ahead last year if they could be guaranteed that a third Parliament building costing £300 million would be built in Strasbourg--that is barter and corruption.
Mr. MacShane: The Prime Minister said that Europe could have a new president last summer provided it was not Mr. Dehaene. I do not know whether that was barter or corruption--he was simply exercising his veto, which every other European state accepted. The Prime Minister thought that Mr. Santer was the right man in the right place at the right time--he does not appear to be any longer.
As Edmund Burke said, the essence of all social cohesion is a form of compromise. In my sincere judgment, the Bill's promoter and supporters are not interested in compromise. They want Britain out of Europe, while the rest of the peoples of Europe and a majority of people in this country want Europe to develop.
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker have been fierce with me about straying from the Bill, but the hon. Member for Billericay spoke at length on the subject of a single currency. I wish to mention it briefly--I promise that I shall not take more than 30 seconds. I understand why some Conservative Members want to keep their hands on our currency. It is, and has been in recent years, the private plaything of speculators in the City--the surest way to quick money in a sick City of London.
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will remember that Harold Wilson blamed the decline of the pound on the unnamed gnomes of Zurich. Today we can name the gnome of Davos, the right hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo), whose remarks in Switzerland earlier this month about how the Government would veto developments in Europe, led to the crisis of confidence in the pound. We can name the gnome of Great George street, the right hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), the Chief Secretary of the Ritz, who single-handedly drove down the value of the pound with his remarks about a European currency and eternity.
Those Cabinet members are the toast of every German banker--between them, they speak not a word of German, yet they serve the deustchmark better than Herr Tittemeyer, the president of the Bundesbank, or
Column 606Chancellor Kohl. Truly, we can say with Schiller, "Mit solcher Dummheit Ka mpfen Go tter selbst vergebens"--against such stupidity, even the gods fight in vain.
The exercise that the right hon. Members for Enfield, Southgate and for Thanet, South engaged in was not just about Europe, just as today's referendum debate is not about Europe--it is about the war of succession inside the Conservative party. It is a war of position, a search for the right words for populism, a rehearsal for nationalist flag-waving, which will do our country great harm.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Tony Baldry): Does the hon. Gentleman think that, after his speech today, any self-respecting Conservative Member of Parliament could possibly go through the same Division Lobby as him next week?
Mr. MacShane: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was taught to be polite and have responded to interventions, not one of which was on the referendum. Therefore, I am stuck--I do not want to say that I will accept no more interventions--perhaps I should do that as it would solve the problem. I shall speak simply to the Bill.
Mr. MacShane: With respect to the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald), I should like to finish and let other hon. Members make their speeches. Not one of the interventions has been to the point and I have been justifiably rebuked from the Chair for my attempts to be polite and to accept those interventions.
We look to the Bill for some line on Europe that we can support. The Bill searches for some mechanism to bring a divided party out of its troubles and for a scapegoat to divert attention. What greater scapegoat is there than Europe? Cohesion, equilibrium and consensus are important to any development in the economic or social policies which are important to our country. They require consensus and compromise with all our partners, not just in Europe, but elsewhere. The right hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate, responding to an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms
Column 607Abbott), described himself, in an affectionate way during a friendly exchange, as an immigrant on the make. I am the son of immigrants--
I appeal to the right hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate not to wrap himself in the nationalist flag or betray the republican virtues of his lineage or his legitimate striving to realise his ambition to unleash the base passions that a nation which is more and more divided into two halves is likely to produce. I am profoundly proud to be British and proud to be European. I am proud that my wife is Asian and proud of my love for the United States and the many friends I have there.
If I thought that the Bill would in any way advance my Britishness and my pride--in where I come from, where my children come from and the hopes I have for the world in which they will live--I would back it. The Bill does not achieve those aims, and I hope that it will not advance further today.
Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East): I am grateful for being called, and I should like to be brief. I may therefore appear to be discourteous by not taking interventions--I shall rephrase that, as I was speaking in a maladroit manner. I do not mean that I shall take no interventions, but I might not take all or most.
The experience of the patient Deputy Speaker--indeed, the Chamber--is that, if one accepts all interventions, speeches become very long, which is unfair on other colleagues who are waiting to speak. When my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) is wearing his suede shoes, I know that there will be trouble. We shall see what happens if he is called to speak later.
I respect the sincerity of my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), who is the promoter of the Bill, and her passion and skill in making her arguments. However, her arguments are so eccentric and zany that I am sure that they will have a deeply disturbing effect on most sensible people in the community. The hon. Lady, who is an extremely successful modern entrepreneur, espouses bizarre arguments that are based on a mindset from the past. They do not apply to the modern European Union as it is now developing. I can understand the hon. Lady's anxieties and those of her sponsors--a very distinguished list of colleagues--some of whom may try to speak in the debate today if you call them, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I make no apology for my intention to use the phrase
"anti-European". I do not mean to be offensive, but I think that it is the appropriate phrase to use to describe the small minority of my colleagues who are causing a lot of trouble in the parliamentary party and elsewhere over the European issue.
Column 608In the past two years, the Government have made a terrible mistake in not explaining boldly and forthrightly their enthusiasm for and positive stance on European matters. If the most senior members of the Cabinet and other distinguished members of the Government-- such as my hon. Friend the Minister, who will give the official Government view later in the debate--create a vacuum of timidity, dithering and hesitation on the European issue, they will create a climate of hesitation, fear and anxiety among even the most educated members of society, let alone among those who have not had those educational advantages. I feel sorry for the vast majority of the public who have not been given the facts about the European question; they have merely received the poison propaganda.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) agrees with me from a different vantage point. That problem has occurred in other countries as well, and the Bill presents an opportunity to try to deal with it here. I understand that, but I do not think that it is the right way to go about it. Even with the recent Jopling reforms, I believe that there should be more private Members' time in this, the most ancient of European legislatures. If future Governments, of whatever colour, could be less obsessed with huge quantities of legislation which is poorly drafted, badly digested and, imperfectly passed and which must be redrafted a short time after its passage, we would have the opportunity to explore greater truths.
I respect the background to the Bill and, if it has a "populist" tag, I accept that as well. "Populist" has become a derogatory term. The former Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, who is now in the other place, explained the Single European Act in comprehensive detail. With the help of the necessary whipping--which we know from our both bitter and congenial experience is a necessary concomitant of the process--the legislation was passed and it led to the passage of the Maastricht treaty. Maastricht passed through the logical second stage of the legislative process, enjoying the growing enthusiasm of other member states. My anti-European colleagues must accept that reality. However, the Government explanations faded away and, for reasons that I cannot fathom, the weakness and dithering began. I cannot work out why the Government foolishly chose to follow that path and thought that it would prove successful. We all know from our own experience-- national, regional or local--that if we believe a cause is just, we put forward our arguments very powerfully. We must sell the case for Europe very powerfully in this instance. Perhaps a minority will disagree, but most people will be convinced by the passion of the argument.
Instead of that, the Government have dithered and we have reached a halfway house on the European issue. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister--I do not criticise him personally--will reply to today's debate by performing a wonderfully skilful tightrope act, which will impress us immensely, because that is the Government's brief. The debate on this excellent Bill will be inevitably overshadowed by next Wednesday's debate--because of what you said earlier, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall refer to it no further. Today we must deal only with the details of the Bill. I share the misgivings of those who claim that it is impossible to consider in advance the form and structure of the referendum question. I know that the
Column 609Public Bill Office probably helped my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay to draft the Bill, but the words in clause 1 are an absolute nonsense. It is not possible to treat the Bill seriously because of the way in which it is drafted.
Mr. Dykes: As my hon. Friend is the Bill's promoter, I know that I ought to give way to her. However, I will pursue my point a little further, and perhaps she will decide that she does not want to intervene.
That problem can be dealt with by sending the legislation to Committee, and I welcome that process as a genuine parliamentarian rather than a party politician. I hope that my hon. Friend will not suggest that we consider this constitutional measure in a Committee of the whole House.
Mr. Dykes: The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) is being mischievous; I did not mean that I would go that far. As we considered its details, we could have considerable constitutional fun in Committee with this badly drafted Bill.
It would be extremely difficult to frame a referendum question correctly. It is absurd to suggest that, for some reason, it could guide the Executive before the negotiations in 1996. If we accepted that argument, it would logically follow that we would have to hold another referendum after the event to see whether the Government's negotiations had produced the right result, and then we would have to hold referendums every six months, or perhaps yearly, just to keep up with future developments. It is utter rubbish in constitutional terms. It is a chimera that it allows the people of this country to have genuine democratic input into the decision-making process.
Mrs. Gorman: I would like to put on record the fact that the Bill was drafted for me, in co-operation with my views, by the distinguished parliamentary draftsman, Mr. Godfrey Carter. He has served the House for many years and he is a master of his craft. I think that it ill behoves the hon. Gentleman to pour scorn on the way in which the Bill is drafted.
Mr. Carttiss: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise for interrupting the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes). I have sought to obtain the details of next week's business from the Vote Office and I have been told that I must get them from the Whips Office. I believe that this is a matter for the Chair, but I raise it when the Leader of the House is in the Chamber. I know that that information is in Hansard --
Column 610Hansard . I repeat that we are not discussing Wednesday's debate this morning; we are discussing the Bill presented by the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman).
Mr. Carttiss: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not asking for a copy of Wednesday's business; I am saying that an independent Member of the House should not be told to obtain the paper which sets out the business of the whole week--which is available to all Members of Parliament on a single piece of paper--from the Whips Office. The Vote Office has a copy of that paper, but I have been denied access to it and have been told to get it from the Whips Office. I do not have the Whip, and as an independent Member of Parliament I should have the opportunity to receive the same papers, in addition to Hansard , as are available to other Members of Parliament.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Yes, I definitely agree with the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth. He must have the opportunity to receive such papers--by whatever avenue. I have no doubt that those on the Government Front Bench has taken note of what he has said, and I will make inquiries about the matter.
Mr. Dykes: I am glad that the my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House heard that point of order because it touches on the question of the rights on Fridays of hon. Members, irrespective of their adhesion to a particular party. I am not sure that my hon. Friend is correct, but it is possible for even a private Member's Bill to be concerned with high constitutional matters.
If the Bill received a Second Reading and went into Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay would find all the fault lines emerging. I am convinced that the Bill would be destroyed in Committee, so some hon. Members, in a Machiavellian way, might welcome it progressing to that stage.
The seemingly easy suggestion of a referendum and its particular timing is so problematical that my hon. Friend's sense of fairness will induce her to agree that that is where the major difficulties arise. That apart, the referendum's substance and the question that it would pose is so fraught that the whole thing just unravels, and one realises that one cannot proceed without doing the very thing that concerns some of my hon. Friends and certain Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who has left the Chamber--totally undermining and destroying the sacred sovereignty of the House and ourselves, who are charged by our electors to make decisions.
Although this has been said many times, it is worth reminding the House that the notion of a referendum on a particular policy or constitutional arrangement with which one personally disagrees is a convenient but dangerous path to constitutional and parliamentary ruin. This country does not, by and large, hold referendums except in special, unusual or esoteric circumstances such as those of Northern Ireland, and there have been one or two failed attempts in the past. The Labour Government's big mistake was to hold a referendum in 1975.
A referendum was not held to decide this country's participation in world war 2--the most fundamental, existential decision made on behalf of any nation by any Government. I concede that many people believed in appeasement in 1935, 1936 and 1937, and I am ashamed to say that some of them were Conservatives. Such people
Column 611might have decided that it would be a good thing to do a deal with the Nazi third Reich, keep out of the European cauldron, preserve our territory and other world interests, and be isolationist in that war--as some people suggested later.
That idea sounds phantasmagorical today, but one can see how changing circumstances distort the fundament of the original notion of a referendum. I believe that I am correct in thinking that we did not hold a referendum on joining NATO. I regard the defence of the realm as a much more existential matter even than being in the European Union.
Under NATO, we could have been sent to war by a foreign general, but he would have been American, so that was all right--just as long as he was not European. Conveniently, a foreign commander-in-chief who happened to be American could send us to war, with Parliament not even meeting to debate and discuss the matter. Apparently, that would not be considered a loss of sovereignty. The most existential matter--the survival of a nation under attack--is not considered an issue of sovereignty or reason for a referendum.
Column 612Harrow, East had no intention of misleading the House. I invite the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith) to withdraw his remark.