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The Government's five tests are self-serving; the Prime Minister will call a referendum on the euro only if he believes that he can win it and that it will redound to the credit of the Labour party in a subsequent general election. That is pretty synthetic. Conservative Members should claim greater credit for the fact that John Major got us the opt-out on the single currency that has enabled Britain to take time to decide whether we want to join it. We failed to take the credit that was due to us for that.
Aside from the euro, both the Irish referendum and our dealings with our constituents show that the phrase "democratic deficit" is an understatement. How many hon. Members could name the Members of the European Parliament who represent different regions of the country, as we represent constituencies? Hon. Members' faces suggest that few could get all the names right. Consideration of Europe should not be dominated by whether we support the euro. Let us move to more positive ground.
I am sure that all hon. Members agree that we should have a competitive, responsive European Union that people believe relates to them, and with which they can engage. We can build on that and support a European Union that welcomes the countries of eastern Europe. Most members of my generation remember with joy the tearing down of the Berlin wall and the dismantling of the Warsaw pact and the Soviet Union. Our ability to welcome such countries into the European Union is a fantastic triumph that we should celebrate. I was 18 when the tanks rolled into Prague in 1968. People had a humiliating feeling of powerlessness. No one could do anything about what was happening.
Instead of believing that the European Union is somehow taking us over, we should celebrate what we can achieve in Europe. We should be bold in doing that in this Parliament. Like any political institution, it is far from perfect, but we should acknowledge that we and other democrats in Europe have the capacity to change it. Perhaps it has taken a drubbing at the polls for my party to recognise that, although people in the United Kingdom might not love the European Union, they do not wish to leave it. The United Kingdom Independence party candidate in Banbury received only 600 votes.
All hon. Members should approach this Parliament with considerable humility, and a determination to try to re-engage the people of this country in the political and parliamentary process. Back Benchers should be keen to devise ways in which to hold the Executive legitimately to account. We should also acknowledge that we can often agree. The Chamber need not be a place where the only measure of success is how ably we confront each other. We must all work out ways in which to provide better public services and engage in improving our standing in the European Union. That should be celebrated, not condemned.
David Winnick (Walsall, North): As the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) mentioned the matter, I should say that I was older than 18 when the tanks rolled into Prague in 1968. I was here, participating in a debate on that. I had recently returned from a private visit to Turkey, and I was the last Labour Back Bencher to speak when the House was recalled at the end of August 1968.
We should be worried about low turnout. Perhaps people took it for granted that the Labour Government would be returned with a large majority. Although the Prime Minister and the rest of us tried to undermine such complacency, persistent Labour leads in the opinion polls contributed to a feeling of, "Well, Labour's going to get in, so why bother?" A writer in The Daily Telegraph today argues that a feel-good factor contributed to a turnout that was lower than usual. I agree with the hon. Member for Banbury that, whatever the explanation, none of us should be complacent. It is unfortunate that the turnout was much lower than in previous general elections.
As long as the integrity of the voting process can be protected, there is a case for a wider range of voting methods than the orthodox way of going to the polling station. I support that provided that we can be confident about maintaining the integrity of the process. Let me mention the more controversial issue of what is known inaccurately as compulsory voting. We should examine the position in Australia, where citizens are obliged to vote unless they declare beforehand that they do not intend to do so or abstain in person at the polling station. We cannot have compulsory voting as such for the obvious reason that we can hardly force religious minorities such as, for instance, Jehovah's Witnesses, who will not vote on principle, to do so. That would be most undemocratic. I do not believe that Australia is a less democratic country than Britain. All that I would argue at this stage is that the Electoral Commission could perhaps look into the matter, as well as the Home Affairs Committee.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) gave certain warnings to all sides. I do not intend to give any advice to the Conservative party; that is not my role. However, I want to make one or two points about the position of the parliamentary Labour party. The hon. Member for Banbury referred to humility, and that is the one thing above all others that we have to show after the second successive Labour landslide.
I watched Conservative Members for 18 years, particularly after their second and third electoral victories in 1983 and 1987, which was when their arrogance grew. They came to hold the view that they were unbeatable, and that the situation had so changed in this country that, no matter who led the Labour party or what policies we had, we were unable to get a majority in the House of Commons. More and more Conservatives took the view that, whatever happened, they were going to sit on this side of the House for a very long time to come.
The good thing is that when I was out on the doorstep, like all hon. Members, day after day, although criticisms and reservations obviously were expressed--it would be strange if they had not been--I did not get the feeling that the electorate looked on Labour MPs standing for re-election as an arrogant bunch. That was encouraging and I hope that it continues to be the case.
I want to make one or two points, following what the hon. Member for Banbury said, about this House. There is bound to be a difference in, say, the situation between 1974 and 1979--or after the 1992 election, when the Conservatives' majority had been whittled down to a rather narrow one--and between the previous Parliament and now. Obviously, when a majority is narrow or almost non-existent--as it was between 1974 and 1979--the Chamber is bound to have much more of an impact. That goes without saying. I can just imagine the situation--I was between seats at the time--when there was a vote of confidence on 28 March 1979. Such circumstances are hardly likely to arise in this Parliament.
There might be ways in which we could examine how we conduct our affairs, to see whether we could improve matters. Let us take Opposition days, for example. In many respects, they have become a sort of ritual. There is very low attendance. Every effort is made on both sides of the House to ensure that Members come in for the main speeches, which is understandable; that is the role of the Whips. However, there is very little interest in the debates, except when they are on certain subjects.
Would not it be possible, instead of having these ritual Opposition days, for the Opposition to decide whether they want to have a debate or to raise an issue by some other means, such as putting questions to Ministers, as the Hansard Society has recommended in the past? It would not be quite the same as Question Time, more an opportunity for Members to have longer supplementary questions than otherwise. If I were a Minister and I had a choice, I would rather have a ritual debate than face questions that would not be on the Order Paper beforehand. That is one possible suggestion for trying to liven matters up.
I have considered whether there could be any improvement to Prime Minister's Question Time. It is yah-boo, but it is difficult to find a different format. Back Benchers--and, indeed, Front Benchers, unless they are the most senior Ministers--are unlikely to get much national coverage. I have been somewhat flattered to be told by people who take an interest in politics, and who watch the proceedings at Prime Minister's Question Time and on other occasions, that they have seen me on the screen, and to have received one or two flattering remarks, which, with due humility, I do not take too much to heart.