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Column 635Scotland? I think that the figure of 40 per cent. was put forward on that occasion. We must address that practical issue. I am trying to be helpful and to improve the Bill. It is an important issue, and the debate will not go away.
I share the dismay that has been expressed today about the limited way in which we can tackle the question of fisheries, live animal exports or border controls in the Union. Like the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), I did not seek election to the House wanting to see it reduced to the position of a glorified county council. I do not want to see its substantial powers slip away, wittingly or unwittingly, to Europe.
I am sure that you will agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, despite all the flak that the Government have received from Opposition Members in the recent discussions about live animals, fisheries or whatever, the supreme irony is that the Opposition would hand over even more power and control to Europe. The Liberal Democrats would abolish the right of veto in almost every area of competence in the European Union, leaving us with qualified majority voting.
Right hon. and hon. Members in both Opposition parties should be pressed as to what they would do over the European question. Sooner or later the Opposition parties must reveal their policies. They cannot simply say, "Well, I wouldn't start from here."
Mr. Mackinlay rose --
The Opposition parties must come up with alternative policies. Opposition Members must come clean on where they stand on the extension of qualified majority voting, from which so many of our problems flow.
Mr. Mackinlay: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Government Members are dishing out the nonsense that somehow the Labour party would not be more robust in Europe than the Government. It would be extraordinarily easy to be more robust in Europe than the Government, because they are pathetic. Yesterday, I asked why our contributions to the common agricultural policy have increased by 56 per cent. since the last Labour Government was in office. The Labour party is calling for a major and fundamental reform of the CAP, and the Minister of Agriculture is pathetic in his attempts to pursue that matter in Brussels.
Mr. Waterson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene in his intervention. If only his party were as robust as its present leader in 1983, when he said that Labour would negotiate a withdrawal from the EEC, which had drained the country's natural resources and destroyed jobs. There is no evidence that Labour would be any more rigorous than the Liberal Democrats.
I am sorry for speaking for longer than I had intended, but I did take many interventions. I will conclude by emphasising that, under this Government, the UK still has the veto--and we proved at Corfu that we are not afraid to use it when this country's interests demand its use.
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Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) took many interventions, including two from his own side that completely holed him below the water line. I do not want to intrude into the enjoyable civil war that we are able to observe on the Government Benches. It has become the best political show in town, and I would certainly like my full ecu's worth. There has been much talk in this debate and elsewhere about the single currency, but it is not the real issue for the Tory party. The real issue is in part addressed by the Bill--this country's future in the European Union. That matter is dividing today's Tory party like the corn laws did in the 19th century. It is fascinating to watch. There should be debate, but in this day and age, such a debate within a party is seen as internecine strife. It is held that political parties must be monolithic in their views, but that would destroy parliamentary and any other form of representative democracy. I welcome the debate, but I welcome even more the fact that it is sorely dividing the Conservative party.
The other struggle in the Tory party is between left and right--between the monetarists, who see themselves as the custodians of the shrine of the blessed St. Margaret, and the supporters of the "One Nation" philosophy. The struggle is manifested as debates on the European Union and the single currency.
The Prime Minister is placed in an almost impossible position. He is continually looking over his shoulder at his own right wing--at his Euro- bastards, or however he describes them in unflattering terms. The Prime Minister is a total prisoner. He knows that, and so does any objective observer. The right hon. Gentleman cannot say what he really believes about Britain's future in the European Union. I would like to hear him in relaxed mode one day, saying precisely what he really believes as opposed to what he must say to keep his warring party together.
I am relaxed, in the context of the Bill, about the notion of a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union and a single currency. No politician should be frightened of public debate. I take a completely different position from the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), but am happy to debate with him throughout the country and to let the people decide. I claim no originality for that phrase, but it should guide us in the governance of this country. This is the sort of issue on which the people should decide. It should not be confined to debate among political parties or so-called opinion formers.
I do not believe that our country has a realistic future outside the European Union. Nor, if a single currency was presented as credible, would it be realistic for Britain not to adopt it. That possibility does not even exist. It may be all right to rule that out for 1996 or 1997, but when a single currency is a reality at the end of the century, it would be absurd for this country to remain outside it.
All economic interests would think it impossible, so we would be required to join a single currency to safeguard our economic position. The Prime Minister's so-called opt-out was nothing more than an economic and political
Column 637figleaf, with which he covered himself to keep his party together. Too much current debate on economic union is esoteric and confined to politicians.
Mr. Richard Shepherd: In speaking for a single currency, is the hon. Gentleman content with the mandates and statutes of the European central bank? Are not those unacceptable arrangements the real difficulty, the terms of which could themselves rule out our membership of a single currency?
Mr. Banks: The terms are not set in concrete. I can see many objections to an independent central bank having no popular or democratic accountability. I have never worried about political involvement in economic decision-making. I do not necessarily believe that bankers should decide exactly what should happen.
There are political consequences of economic decisions. We saw the way in which Helmut Kohl interfered, as it were, over the amalgamation of east and west Germany, in saying that the ostmark would have parity with the deutschmark. One could argue that was not a sensible economic decision, but it was a necessary political decision. There is no reason not to continue debating a central bank and its accountability to a European Parliament, or whatever other trans-European body takes its place.
All institutions, whether pan-European or national, should be accountable to elected representatives. The highest authority is that derived from the ballot box. Appointed business men or bankers do not have the authority that even we have as Members of Parliament. Unfortunately, I cannot support the hon. Lady's Bill, much as I support much of the drive behind it. I apologise to my feisty opponent, the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman). We go from television studio to television studio together, causing mayhem--often much to the discomfort of members of our respective Front Benches. However, I cannot support the hon. Lady's Bill, which is not well drawn.
I cannot, for example, support clauses 1 and 3, which would leave Her Majesty the Queen to decide the terms of a referendum. Such matters are for the Government of the day or for Parliament to decide. We might want a referendum one day on the future of the monarchy. Are we to allow Her Majesty the Queen to determine its terms? She might choose wording such as, "Do you want to keep the Crown and all its majesty, or do you want to hand the country over to a bunch of swivel-eyed Trots?" If that were the question that HM the Queen decided was to be put to a referendum, I would not stand much chance of having the republic that I should like.
Mr. Heald: I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but he has perhaps not fully appreciated the fact that an Order in Council would have to be made and laid before the House to deal with such matters. Therefore, it would not be the Queen alone who took the decision but the House of Commons.
"The questions need not be in the exact words preceding the subsection, so long as Her Majesty is satisfied that their wording reflects the true intent and spirit of the Act"
Column 638That is putting too much discretion in the hands of an unelected and unaccountable individual. What on earth is such a provision doing in the Bill, as it takes power from the people and hands it to someone who has inherited her position rather than earned it through the ballot box?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman does not need to explain what he was saying. In my judgment, the remark was made in a disparaging manner, and I should be grateful if he would withdraw it.
Mr. Banks: I was led into it, but of course I withdraw it at your request, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and move on rapidly to safer ground. We are moving to closer economic and political union in Europe. That is inevitable, and I welcome it unreservedly. That does not mean that I want us to hand over, lie down, roll over and wait for people to walk all over us, but closer economic and political union is, inevitable and should be welcomed.
My view is shared by some colleagues, but is not necessarily my party's official view. Personally I look forward to a united federal Europe with a European Government elected through a European Parliament. It is a perfectly reasonable position that I am prepared to defend, especially in the context of a referendum, because we are debating significant constitutional matters.
With reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), there is a big difference between a referendum on capital punishment, which is a matter of conscience, and a referendum on an issue of prime constitutional significance. No one can force me to vote to restore capital punishment, because it is a matter of conscience, but someone could certainly lead me down the path of constitutional change, because I represent the interests of the majority of the people.
Mr. Waterson: That is precisely the point that I was trying to make. I feel no less passionately than the hon. Gentleman about capital punishment, although we hold different views. Even though I know that my argument would win in a referendum, I would still not wish to hold one, because it would not be appropriate in that context.
Mr. Banks: I join hands with the hon. Gentleman. When one has talked about supporting a referendum on Europe, one often gets letters asking why one does not support a referendum on capital punishment. It is worth putting the record straight, because there is some confusion among a certain element of the electorate.
Mr. Richard Shepherd: The critical distinction is not that which the hon. Gentleman is seeking to make, but has to do with the irrevocability of the issue at hand. Any Parliament may reintroduce or do away with capital punishment, but the issues that we are debating are for
Column 639ever--that is the intention. When something so fundamental is at stake, the people must be able to express their view.
Mr. Banks: That may be the case. Also, constitutional matters affect all of us individually and collectively. Capital punishment does not affect all of us as directly as constitutional change, whether it is irrevocable or not--unless one happens to be the person murdered, but that is another issue.
I shall conclude my remarks as many other hon. Members wish to speak. I want a broader and deeper European Union. I see no reason why we should say that history stops at the nation state. What is it about the nation state that is so holy that we cannot move on? Nation states are merely the result of wars or principalities coming together through unions and treaties, usually in the aftermath of war.
The big difference is that what is happening now in Europe is not taking place in the aftermath of war; this is not something being imposed on the people. It is not a question of the strong imposing something on the weak. Conservative Members may believe that it is an imposition, but it is certainly not an imposition on the weak by the strong in the aftermath of war. People are not being forced to do this; they are doing it because they believe in it. There may be faults in how it is done, but it cannot be compared with how Europe has been redesigned and reshaped in the past.
This is our great opportunity: a united states of Europe certainly does not frighten me. Indeed, it excites me. I look forward to its advent, and I welcome any step that takes us closer to a united, federal Europe.
Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West): It is a privilege to be allowed to take part in the debate after the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), because he dramatically illustrates so much of modern Labour thinking. The exterior is all chirpiness, vigour and originality, but the substance of the argument is all political correctness.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West believes in a federal Europe--as quickly as possible--and in animal rights. He is as much a child of political correctness in this decade as was Lord Jenkins in the 1950s and 1960s. There is no difference in the substance of what the two of them had and have to say. Lord Jenkins advanced his ideas with monumental gravitas; the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, in this modern, classless, politically correct age, advances his ideas with the cheeky chirpiness of a London cockney. Both of them believe in political correctness--a fact that is useful to my argument. I shall be brief, because I cannot be otherwise. I realised the sense of isolation and alienation that people in my position feel when I saw my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson)--I do not mean to offend him--deriving support and help from his central office notes. Sad to say, I am not allowed central office notes, although I am allowed the Library notes. My hon. Friend thus has the advantage of me.
Even without the assistance of central office notes, I can say that I have always had an objection to referendums. I regard a referendum as a last resort which, when it is resorted to, brings with it considerable
Column 640disadvantages. It is true that a referendum is inconsistent with parliamentary sovereignty. It is also true of a referendum that the public at large are likely to be uncertain as to whether its result will be mandatory or merely consultative. A referendum is certainly capable of creating conflicts between Parliament and people, and between a Member of Parliament and his constituency.
A referendum, in short, is a highly divisive mechanism to be resorted to only in the very last moments of a very difficult situation.
I seriously believe in united parties. To be sure, there is a need for vigorous debate within a party, but not to divide it. I cannot think of a better way of making the Tory party more seriously divided over Europe than to hold a referendum, with two camps fighting on different sides and then attempting to form a Government thereafter. It seems to me that the principal proponents of the two views on Europe in the Cabinet are both right in wanting to avoid a referendum. We know from a recent speech that the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not want a referendum; and we know from the way in which the press is briefed that the Secretary of State for Employment does not want one either. They are right. If it possibly can be avoided, it should be avoided.
We have only to think of the position of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer if we had a referendum now on the single currency. What would happen if he were passionately advocating in the referendum campaign that we should have a single currency as soon as possible and that we should be a member of it, only to find that the admittedly consultative referendum took a different view, as it were, and he found himself as Chancellor, without the authority of public support, moving forward to a single currency and continuing the process of preparing for it? Would he have to resign?
The ways in which those processes would work are difficult to ascertain. It is so much better if a decision can be reached by discussions within the parties, by a process of assessing public opinion and compromising, as public men so often have to do, to decide not what is desirable in their private and personal opinion, but what is politically possible.
My tentative proposal for a referendum on the single currency is based on the proposition that if we cannot have a proper divide between the two great parties, in the last resort a referendum may be a necessary but extremely undesirable way of resolving the public's demand for some say on the issue. Here I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne that the subject will not go away. In particular, the issue whether we should go into a single currency will not go away.
There are many in my constituency who argue that not many people discuss with them on the doorstep the pros and cons of a single currency. They say, "It is a Westminster argument, and is of no interest to people in Wolverhampton." The people in Wolverhampton, Warrington or wherever are extremely interested in the results of good or bad government. We are interested in the results of good or bad government, but we are interested also in the systems and theories of government. It is those systems and theories that produce the results. When a dreadful mistake has been made, it is our duty to examine whether we can improve the system of government to prevent a repetition of the mistake.
Column 641We are right to say, for instance, after the experiment of following the deutschmark, under the Chancellorship of Lord Lawson, as he now is, or after the experiment of being in the exchange rate mechanism for two years, between 1990 and 1992, that we have already seen enough of the single currency in its early stages to know that it raises considerable economic and constitutional problems. We are right to say also that the matter should be discussed, even at the price of some unpleasantness and disagreement within the Tory party. It will be so much better if the issue can be decided not by a perilous referendum but by a clear divide between the two parties. I thank the hon. Member for Newham, North-West for his apparently unconventional comments but expressions of a highly conventional view. The Labour party is becoming the party of politically correct federalism.
I am not accusing the Labour party of believing in much, except in the desire for office and in opportunism. I thought that the Labour party political broadcast that went out just before the 6 o'clock news yesterday was remarkable. It contained a most reassuring message to middle England, and particularly to middle-class people caught in negative equity. It was explained that the Labour party would suddenly be able to wash away all their problems.
There was not a word about how the Labour party had supported Mr. Lawson-- as he then was--in his disastrous attempt to fix the pound to the deutschmark, which led to interest rates becoming too low, a massive increase in the money supply and the housing boom, which was the first step towards negative equity. There was not a word about how the politically correct Labour party had not raised a single word of criticism about our entry to, and continued membership of, the ERM. Indeed, it wanted to go further.
Yet the Labour party was able to say that it would be able to put right--in some miraculous and unspecified way--the problems of those with negative equity. It is becoming the party of federalism and of the new political correctness, and all those who believe in that sort of thing will have a real choice.
On the other hand, it is becoming plain that the Tory party--in all its manifestations--has learnt from the disaster of shadowing the deutschmark and from the disaster of the ERM. It has learnt from the unexpected consequences of the disgraceful guillotine of the Single European Act by Lady Thatcher and my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), which was smashed through this House so that the nation did not understand the full consequences. The nation was appalled at the aggressive and authoritarian way in which the Maastricht treaty was imposed upon this House and the nation. Every time we see a new manifestation of our loss of sovereignty, the Tory party moves back a step and says, "Not me, guv." As we become more assertive in the national interest, so we shall find that no member of the Tory party ever supported the Single European Act or the Maastricht treaty. [Interruption.] Except for my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes). The great body of the Tory party will never have supported any of those measures in a couple of years.
There is cause, I am pleased to say, for rejoicing. We shall see an increasing divide between the two great parties, particularly on the single currency. I took
Column 642particular pleasure and encouragement from the way in which the Prime Minister put his argument on 8 January on the Frost programme.
Although I am sadly not a member of the Tory party at present, when I applied to 10 Downing street for a transcript of the Prime Minister's interview with Sir David Frost, the people there were good enough to send me a copy. I dare say that those at present in the party may find it even easier to get a transcript.
I hope that hon. Members will read that interview. On page 5 of the transcript, the Prime Minister deals with his arguments against entering a single currency in 1996 and 1997. First he says that we would have to be in the exchange rate mechanism for two years. I am sure that on Wednesday he will explain the disadvantages of being in the ERM. Of course, that argument will apply long after 1997. The Prime Minister's second argument was that the Bank of England would need to be independent. Again, he will have to explain the objections to the Bank of England being independent. Even more, I am sure that on Wednesday he will explain the disadvantages of monetary policy being managed not merely by an independent Bank of England but by an independent European bank.
Mr. Marlow: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. He said that one would have to be in the exchange rate mechanism for two years before one joined a single currency. The Government have said that they will not join until 1996-97, but they have not ruled out 1999. Does that mean that, if we join the single currency in 1999, we shall have to join the ERM by 1 January 1997? If the election does not take place until April 1997, does not that mean that the die will be cast before the election? If the die will be cast before the election, why not make the decision now?
Mr. Budgen: That is one of the points that will be made clear on Wednesday by the Prime Minister. We are glad that he is exercising political leadership and authority to explain further his important remarks on the Frost programme. I agree with my hon. Friend. The argument about being in the ERM for two years applies not only to 1996 and 1997 but, as far as I can see, into the foreseeable future. The Prime Minister's argument about the undesirability of an independent Bank of England also applies not only for 1996 and 1997 but for the foreseeable future.
Mr. Donald Anderson: The hon. Gentleman appears eagerly to await the time when the Prime Minister and the rest of the Conservative party will join his party, but before he takes too much comfort from what the Prime Minister said on "The Frost Programme", will he at least recognise that what the Prime Minister says depends on when and to whom he is speaking? Will he also consider that the Chancellor of the Exchequer very recently said that the Prime Minister agreed with him? Who is telling the truth?
Mr. Budgen: The Prime Minister is primus inter pares. I have no doubt that on Wednesday he will exercise the full authority of his office and give a definitive statement of his attitude to a single currency.
Column 643Whatever snide remarks--I use the word carefully--are made about the Prime Minister, the statement on 8 January was made for public consumption. Whatever may be said by unkind and untruthful people who wish to imply that one impression is given to one audience and another impression is given to another, the Prime Minister's remarks are on the record.
I have the record. I have no doubt that the Prime Minister will wish to expand those arguments in a more formal way. An appearance on a programme such as "The Frost Programme" is necessarily conversational in style. He does not fully expand all the arguments.
The third argument that was given on the Frost programme was the need for proper convergence. I have no doubt that on Wednesday the Prime Minister will expand on that. There can be temporary convergence, but there is not only the problem of creating temporary convergence, but the problem that once an economy has become converged with another, it does not necessarily remain converged. It can diverge. How does one accommodate those forces of divergence within a single currency?
We look forward with tremendous excitement and anticipation to what will be, I am sure, an extremely important and authoritative speech on Wednesday. We know that, when we have heard the Prime Minister expand those three arguments, we shall be clear in our minds that they do not last only for 1996 and 1997, but are arguments of principle against the single currency for all time. When that happens, the Tory party--
Mr. Shepherd: I am grateful, and I appreciate that my hon. Friend invests a great deal of authority in the Prime Minister's remarks on "The Frost Programme", but our right hon. Friend's caution on the matter goes back a long way. I am sure that my hon. Friend would not want to forget the important speech to the Confederation of British Industry in north Wales in 1990, in which he referred to a single currency as a "leap in the dark".
Mr. Budgen: I do not want to widen the gap between my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne and myself, and lead to a further period of sadness, isolation and deprivation, but none the less I am sure that I shall be forgiven for saying that vague terms such as a "leap in the dark" are easily used. Although the arguments in the transcript of "The Frost Programme" are in shorthand and in conversational form, they are very important. We know that we can trust the Prime Minister to explain them with clarity and distinction.
We are grateful to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West for explaining the position of his party--a party of chirpily described, but fundamentally conventional, federalism and political correctness--but we are emerging as a party that does not need a referendum and a party that can be united in honourable patriotism and an earnest desire to enhance the role of the nation state.
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Ms Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East): I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate, but I do not know whether what I have to say accords with the definition of political correctness enunciated by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen). I congratulate the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) on winning a high place in the ballot and being able to introduce her Bill. I also congratulate her on presenting her case with her usual verve and panache. I am sure that she will not be surprised to hear me say, however, that I do not support her Bill and take issue with her on many of the aspects of the case that she put forward today. The hon. Member for Billericay said that what has been happening in the past few years in the European Union amounted to a constitutional revolution, but she and her hon. Friends are also trying to enact considerable constitutional changes in the way in which we do political business in this country, by advocating a series of referendums. If we accepted the need for all those referendums, we would be moving toward a referendum-type democracy--something that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) would welcome, but that we need to consider in the abstract and on its own merits, rather than merely adopting the hon. Lady's Bill or the other that is proposed today.
Mr. Duncan: The hon. Lady says that she objects to referendums because they introduce a great measure of constitutional change. How does she reconcile that with the Labour party's policy of introducing dramatic constitutional change within the United Kingdom by devolution? To be consistent, should she not favour both or neither?
Ms Quin: This morning we have heard demands for a series of referendums on European issues. That is the subject of this debate. If the hon. Gentleman asks whether I favour constitutional change within the United Kingdom, I certainly do and I am a longstanding supporter of a variety of constitutional changes, including a large measure of decentralisation.
This Bill and the subsequent Referendum (Single Currency) Bill to be introduced by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, and other motions considered by the House in recent days, concern a series of referendums on various aspects of the European dimension.
Mr. Heald: Does the hon. Lady think that it is right, as the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) conceded to me earlier, that, if Hertfordshire is to be governed from Norwich, we should have a referendum on that?
Ms Quin: I do not argue against the idea of people in different parts of the United Kingdom, who may be affected by constitutional change which a Labour Government would want to introduce, voting on that issue. However, if we are to move towards a system in which we increasingly use referendums, that must be considered on its merits rather than, as Conservative Members are doing, by launching ourselves into a series of referendums specifically on Europe. We are not against
Column 645referendums per se, but issues that constitute a change in the way that we operate should be considered on their merits.
Ms Quin: My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which has been made by many people in the past two or three days. What is happening in Northern Ireland has interesting implications for developments within the United Kingdom. In terms of giving the various parts of the United Kingdom a greater say over their political and economic development, it sets an interesting precedent. It involves not just the national dimensions of Scotland and Wales but also, hopefully, the regional dimensions within England. I agree with my hon. Friend on that matter.
On the European dimension and the intergovernmental conferences that will begin next year, the Opposition's position is that, if substantial changes result from the 1996 IGC, including moves towards a single currency, the consent of the people will be important for those developments to take place. The people may express their views either via a referendum, which is a likely possibility, or via a general election. Much would depend on the timing of the next general election and how it fits in with developments taking place within the IGCs.
Some people say that the IGCs will begin towards the beginning of next year; others think that they will not get under way until much later; some think that they may be swiftly concluded with fairly minor changes, in which case it may not be deemed necessary to hold a referendum; others think that the conferences will be protracted, last for 18 months or so, and lead to considerable constitutional changes. All those uncertainties make it extremely difficult at this time to say definitely whether a referendum on Europe should be held.
Mr. Maclennan: I am glad to hear that the hon. Lady speaks for the Labour party in recognising that the British people should have an opportunity to express their view clearly about the outcome of the IGCs if they affect significant constitutional change. How can she argue that a general election would give British people that effective right when she knows that the Conservative party is divided and that it is impossible to see how those divisions could be healed within the time scale of the discussions? The last time we discussed European matters during the debates on Maastricht, it was clear that the Labour party was also divided. What is the argument of principle against a referendum on the outcome of the IGCs?
Ms Quin: In the debate initiated by the Liberal Democrats a week ago I was asked that question by one of my right hon. Friends. As I said then, supposing that, as a result of the IGCs, the only important change was that the United Kingdom decided to sign the social chapter and that that had been part of the discussions in the previous general election--where there was a clear difference between the two major parties--I do not think that people would argue that there needed to be a referendum on that particular issue even though it changed our relationship with the European Union.
Column 646I must respectfully say to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) that I am aware that not everyone in his party is entirely enthusiastic about referendums. Indeed, all the members of his party were not in the House to support the vote for a referendum that took place about 10 days ago. It is clear that differences of opinion exist even in the hon. Gentleman's party. We must accept that. In return, I accept that, if people feel strongly that, because of the forces within political parties, their voice has been denied, that strengthens the case for a referendum. In the example I gave, however, I do not think that a referendum would be essential.
We support the idea that people should have the chance to express their view. In the light of some of the comments made this morning, I am bound to say that I do not think that a referendum is necessarily an easy or straightforward option. We must bear in mind that there are pitfalls in the referendum process.
A number of hon. Members have spoken, quite rightly, about the imprecise form of questions referred to in the Bill. According to the Bill, those questions would be framed
"to invite an opinion as to whether the United Kingdom should-- pursue full integration with the European Union under a constitution which is federal in character".
There has, understandably, been a lot of discussion this morning about the nature of the word "federal". Many Conservatives seem to think that it means something that is highly centralised, yet in Europe it is often understood to mean something decentralised, as in the Federal Republic of Germany, which represents a decentralised system. It is ironic that we helped to set it up after the second world war. It has proved to be an enlightened political system. There is plenty of scope for dispute about the meaning of that word. Clause 1(2)(a) continues by referring to
"a single currency and a common sovereignty".
There is also a great deal of discussion about that. The second option is that the United Kingdom should
"remain in the European Community, but only as a member of an association of states trading freely with one another, with substantial repatriation of sovereignty."