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8.30 pm

On Second Reading, I referred to the impact that I thought that would have on the springtime of nations, which we may remember from 1988-89. At that time we were all elated by the way in which, with great courage, those countries disentangled themselves from the Soviet Union. We were all exhilarated by those events. However, I fear for those countries, as I do for the United Kingdom,

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in respect of our democratic principles and the forum of the House of Commons. For the reasons that I have given in the many debates on the Nice treaty in which I have participated, I believe that this House is being reduced day by day—not only by the attitude of the Prime Minister and the Government Whips but by a whole series of forces, including those which require Select Committees to be nominated by the Whips, and the refusal to accept the Liaison Committee report. That is all part of a process, and that is why I am a vigorous and enthusiastic member of the Parliament First group.

On the day we returned after the election I saw the draft of the Parliament First group motion. I said that if I were the Prime Minister, in the aftermath of a landslide victory, what would worry me most would be the fact that hon. Members from both sides of the House—many of them highly respected—were combining to put Parliament back in its proper place. In order to achieve that, given the encroachment of legislation such as this, which is about European government and emanates from the treaties of Nice, Amsterdam and Maastricht, it has become increasingly necessary for parliamentarians to take a stand.

This will be a test for the Leader of the House, to see whether he can deliver anything meaningful. I spoke to him recently, and during an exchange in a debate, he said that he would be prepared to meet some of us to discuss the implications of the need to increase the power of Back Benchers. When we make a stand of that kind, we are standing up for the voters of this country, which is what it is all about. The bottom line on all these European questions is democracy and accountability.

I wrote a pamphlet a few months ago entitled "Associated but not absorbed". It calls for an associated European area, which would mean that if the current member states were not prepared to listen to the arguments for renegotiation of the treaties, the associated countries could gather together and form their own treaty. That would effectively outflank the process of so-called irreversible integration. As with the great battles of the 19th century, such as those over the corn laws and the Reform Act of 1867—as the hon. Member for Nottingham, South seemed to suggest if I read his mind correctly—reversibility can be achieved only by people making it clear that when there is no response in their interest from Governments or elites, it is up to them to ensure that their freedom and democracy is preserved. Only time will tell what the exact mechanism for doing that will be. That process is dangerous. There is a disconnection.

I have heard for very many years about the democratic deficit. However, the continuing process of integration has been accompanied by a refusal to do anything about that democratic deficit, which everyone acknowledges exists. Although the riots in Gothenburg, for example, certainly did not relate exclusively to the Nice treaty, they did occur at a European Union summit and were symbolic of people's determination to have their views heard. I deeply regret the fact that anarchists and others have become involved in all those processes, and I believe profoundly that it is essential that protest should be peaceful, but I also say that Governments create such circumstances, by carrying on as if voters were unimportant or did not matter at all.

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A short time ago, as hon. Members may recall, I said that a fateful decision was taken when the Danish referendum was disgracefully rejected by the Danish Government, and John Major's Government agreed to allow another referendum to be held. I strongly objected in the House to that decision. The following week or so, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung published an editorial saying that elections are becoming a form of protest, and that that is very dangerous and must be stopped. Such language shows an attitude of mind that is not only extremely dangerous but has continued ever since.

Those who hold such views do not seem to have discovered that sooner or later, people refuse to put up with those views. They rely greatly on the fact that people do not know what is going on. Does anyone have the foggiest idea of the implications of enhanced co-operation? If so, I defy them to explain them to me.

Yesterday we had a debate on the formulae, philosophy and provisions of enhanced co-operation. Hon. Members can judge for themselves the outcome of that discussion, much of which was between the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies) and me. We discussed the range and depth of enhanced co-operation, the manner in which it is creating gravitational pull, the way in which it is moving towards direct taxation and the fact that it is centred on eight member states, regardless of the Union's enlargement to 27. We also discussed many other matters, although I shall not repeat them as they are set out in the report of that debate. However, I defy anyone who has not become a serious political analyst—or, I am sorry to say, a lawyer—to explain the precise consequences of enhanced co-operation. It has a vast impact.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) implied that he thought that the treaty was unimportant in many respects, by saying that he could not see any constitutional implications in it. He therefore questioned our tabling a new clause providing for a referendum. As I know him to be a man of great distinction and perception, I am astonished that he could not see the constitutional implications of enhanced co-operation. Moreover, enhanced co-operation is only one of the treaty's provisions.

Given the small number of hon. Members attending this debate—there are only two Conservative Back Benchers in the Chamber—

Sir Teddy Taylor: Two very good ones.

Mr. Cash: I shall leave my hon. Friend to say that; I make no claims for myself.

I am trying my best to put the facts on the record, and to some extent I have succeeded. However, no information is going from this House to the public on the subject of enhanced co-operation.

The communication between ourselves and the public depends on the media. I am grateful that some of my comments on defence matters were referred to in the national press this morning, but some columnist, commentator or worthy journalist should be prepared to reduce the complexity of these matters by writing an article for one of the great national newspapers to enable more people to understand what is going on.

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We are individual Back Benchers, but journalists have access, through the prints, to up to 3 million people and can warn them of what the treaty contains. The same applies to radio and television. During the debate on the Queen's Speech, I spoke about constitutional implications, including the reform of Parliament. In that speech I referred to the BBC and the broadcasting authorities generally, and suggested that their research departments and commentators might take an interest in the treaty. Perhaps I am a wishful thinker, because I will be surprised if there is any reference to this debate on the radio or television. I hope that I am wrong, and I will continue to try my best.

As for the Irish and Danish referendums, the Irish people were presented, through their referendum commission, with a paper that was delivered to every household, summarising in simple language the implications of the Nice treaty. I will not be told by anybody, no matter how self-important they may seem, that the Irish people did not know what they were doing. They received information and formed the judgment on which their decision was taken.

There were other issues, such as the McCreevy speech—there were also problems involving Mr. McDowall—around the time of the referendum. But there is no doubt that the Irish people made their decision, by a substantial majority, in the light of information made available to them. It is irresponsible for anyone to suggest that they did not know what they were doing.

Mr. David: Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the turnout in the referendum was only 35 per cent.?

Mr. Cash: No doubt the hon. Gentleman will remember the degree of cynicism and apathy generated by the continual driving through of this process by the elite, which was reflected, for example, in our turnout for the European elections of no more than 23 per cent. The failure—by Europe's elites, establishments and Governments—to inform people properly has led to much of the apathy and cynicism that exists, so I do not take the hon. Gentleman's point very seriously.

8.45 pm

I campaigned in the Danish referendum, and I appeared on platforms with French leaders during France's Maastricht treaty referendum. I did so because the matters under discussion, as they applied in those countries, affected Britain. Decisions reached by majority vote in the Council of Ministers, or by Governments at intergovernmental conferences, are part of the constant movement towards political union. They have an impact on us because laws are transferred to this country by section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972.

Britain therefore has an intrinsic interest in what is going on in other countries, and it is essential for us to take an active interest in referendums held elsewhere. However, we must do so with a degree of circumspection, depending on the country involved and whether its Government want us to participate in the referendum process.

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