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Mr. Cash: The hon. Gentleman clearly anticipates a riposte from me, and he shall have it: Denmark is not holding a referendum on the Nice treaty because the Danish Government are frightened that they might lose. That is borne out by the history of referendums in that countrya history that I know well.
The Danish people voted no in the first referendum, and then were badly let down by the British Government and others. Another referendum was held, and during that campaign companies blackmailed people by threatening to close factories. People voted yes in the second referendum, but deeply regretted it. I remember being in a café in Copenhagen, and a young woman sitting with her boyfriend next to me started to cry. When I asked her why, she told me that she had voted in favour of the proposal set out in the referendum, and now wished that she had not. People were frightened. The next referendum in Denmark was on the euro, and they voted against it. I therefore base my answer to the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) on facts, not conjecture or speculation.
Referendums should obtain the consent of a country's peoplein deciding, for example, who should govern them, and how. They should not be used indiscriminately, but they are appropriate when vast tranches of power are being engineered by the elite. That is what is happening with the Nice treaty, for which no referendum is planned.
The Government stand accused of refusing to give the British people the right to have their say on the Nice treaty. The same thing happened with the Amsterdam treaty, in connection with which I tabled an amendment similar to new clause 37.
Moreover, I organised and ran the Maastricht referendum campaign. I am glad to say that I was supported by Bryan Gould, a member of the Labour party, and by the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey), from the Liberal Democrat party. They were my joint chairmen. We ran the campaign together, and obtained 500,000 signatures to the demand for a referendum from our own Government.
On 11 June 1996 I introduced the Referendum Bill. I was hauled into the Chief Whip's office and given a roasting, which made no impact on me whatever, for daring to introduce a Bill that was supported by no fewer than 95 right hon. and hon. Members, about 98 per cent. of whom were from my party. I pay tribute to several Labour Members, too, and I remember from the Division list that the distinguished and right hon. Member for Llanelli supported the proposal.
I gave my reasons for objecting to our not having a referendum. I do not think it necessary to go into the speech that I made on that occasion, because it dealt with matters that are now history. However, the rather pathetic attempts to haul me over the coals for daring to bring forward that Billan action that has proved entirely justified, in the light of further moves towards greater integration, which I predicted at the timemake me think that at least I did the right thing for the right reason.
It is important that Labour members preface our remarks on Europe so that people are aware that we are not xenophobic little Englanders. In fact, from the late 1960s and early 1970s, many of us have pursued a policy of a united socialist Europe. I do not suppose that there will be many Institute for Public Policy Research booklets or research pamphlets on that for the time being. During that debate, we learned that if we were to build a socialist Europea Europe in the interests of working peoplewe would need to take people with us, fully engage them all the way through the process and secure their support step by step.
That is why the Irish referendum is a lesson for us. I have some anxieties about how it has been depicted. I know that a number of issues were brought to the fore in that referendum, but there is an element of patronising racism in some of the comments that have been made about that debate. I hope that we can call a halt to that.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) entered into a wonderful alliteration around the Irish debatesurprise in Sligo and so on. To follow that theme, there were doubts in Dublin and worries in Waterford and there was downright chagrin along the Shannon. The Irish people came to a clear view about the overall European project, not necessarily about the treaty of Nice.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the general election was a referendum on the treaty of Nice. There was certainly a commentary about Europe throughout the election, but the detail of the treaty was not a key issue in the pubs and clubs of my constituency, although it may have been in his. He also argued that people were not demonstrating against the treaty, but that does not mean that there is tacit support for it either. There are no people marching in the streets in favour of it.
The key questionone to which I do not yet have the answeris what triggers a referendum in a country with no written constitution. There was no referendum on Maastricht or Amsterdam, and we do not propose one on Nice. Yet for other political decisions it is almost as if we have taken a referendum diuretic. We have had referendums not only on Wales and Scotland but on a mayor for London. We are promised referendums on regional assemblies. We demand referendums on the reform of councilswhether there should be a mayor and cabinet, a leader and cabinet or a leader and chief executive. A referendum has been called for on parish councils. There was a referendum on the Good Friday agreement. A range of referendums has been established, but not on this issue.
I understand why people say that the criteria for referendums are whether something is reversible or amendable, but without a written constitution, the main criterion has been that a debate has taken place in the House on a matter on which there is a certain level of political sensitivity so that the political will exists to consult the people. Often, to be frank, that has been politicians wanting to consult the people, hear what they want and confirm their prejudices.
The political sensitivity about the treaty of Nice is that although it contains some significant elementsmy hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) made the most eloquent and detailed speech about the implications of the treatypeople from all parties are concerned that we are embarked on creeping, incremental constitutional change, treaty by treaty. At some stage, we have to confront the need to put the creeping centralisation of the EU to the people. My hon. Friend pointed out some of the key issues in the treaty, and other key issues will arise in subsequent discussions. They are about choice. The treaty of Nice and enlargement raise questions about how those policies will be paid for and what policies the EU will pursue to ensure a balance between centralisation and diversity as the new countries enter the EU.
There should be an open debate about whether we are going for a centralised state or some form of confederacy. At some stage, we have to draw the line. I know that the argument is put before us that, with the intergovernmental conference coming up in 2004, we need to encourage a debate. I agree with that, but we have not said that we will hold a referendum on the future of Europe either before or after the IGC.
At this stage, it would give some of us, and many of those whom we seek to represent, comfort if we made a very explicit statement that we will have a debate on the future of Europe and that, if we do not have a referendum on the treaty of Nice, there will be a referendum on Europe. Some argue that the euro is just a financial matter that does not involve constitutional change, but I disagree: it is about the overall future direction of Europe.