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Sir Teddy Taylor: To resolve the question, why does not the hon. Lady ask the Minister, an able, conscientious and talented person with lots of officials to back him up, a simple question: what happens to Britain's share of objective 2 and objective 1 in the event of Europe expanding to include eastern Europe? There are three possibilities: the money will be cut, it will be increased or it will stay the same. Why not ask the Minister and see what he says?
Ms Munn: I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will have heard those comments and that there is no need for me to waste time repeating them. If he wishes to deal with the hon. Gentleman's point in his winding-up speech, I am sure that he will do so. As I was saying, I hope that my constituents will not need such assistance in several years' time.
Why do the Opposition propose a referendum on the Nice treaty when they are so reluctant to support a referendum on the euro? That reluctance has been made very clear. Some hon. Members suggested that the general election constituted a referendum on keeping the pound. If that is the case, the decision has been taken and the matter is over, although I am sure that that is not exactly what the people believe.
I believe that the treaty will make significant improvements and help enlargement. Constituents of mine who raised the issue during the general election campaign were supportive of enlargement and wanted us to move ahead, but many people do not understand the detail of the treaty. That is for us to talk about and explain, but I support the Government's position, which is that a referendum is unnecessary on this matter.
Dr. Ladyman: Very little time remains, so I shall keep my remarks brief and hope that hon. Members will forgive me if my contribution does not include some of the usual pleasantries. Three very thoughtful speeches were made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), and I hope to deal at least in part with some of the issues that they raised.
Whenever we enter into a treaty, the minimum consequence is that we reduce our national room to manoeuvre, but sometimes we go further and limit our sovereignty. Whether we share or pool it, it will be limited in some way. However, we do not automatically have a
There is a precedent for holding referendums on issues of national importance when certain criteria are met. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington said, we have no written constitution, which means that we have no rule book and can only try to judge the nature of that precedent. In my view, for a referendum on a treaty to be appropriate, that treaty should involve a quantum leap in our constitutional position, cross party lines to the extent that we cannot resolve the matter clearly in a general election, and involve a complicated issue that is difficult to deal with and will become submerged in a general election campaign.
If those are the tests of whether a referendum is necessary, the treaty of Nice does not fulfil them. It does not constitute a quantum leap in our constitutional position. As the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said, matters of tax and defence are still to be decided by unanimity. The treaty does not deal with what would usually be called significant losses of sovereignty.
Although attitudes to the treaty cross party lines, certain parties offered clear choices in the general election. One party proposed a referendum on the treaty, but it was rejected. Another argued that we should leave the Union altogether, but it, too, was rejected. Thus the criterion that I described in relation to party lines has not been met.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South added another set of criteria. He said that a referendum should be held on a measure that is unamendable and irreversible, but I respectfully suggest to him that he did not make such a case in respect of the treaty of Nice. He also argued that the treaty of Nice would have consequences which were sufficiently significant to justify holding a referendum on it. Of course it has consequences, but they are reversible and amendable. We could renegotiate them at the next intergovernmental conference. My hon. Friend did not make a clear case for the consequences being irreversible.
If consequences are the deciding factor in whether to hold a referendum, we must bear it in mind that all our actions have consequences. My constituents often ask me whether I would vote to reintroduce the death penalty. I tell them that if they want someone to do that, they must elect a different person. In the past two elections, they have chosen not to do that. Yet opinion polls tell me that my constituents would like the death penalty to be reintroduced. If they want that, they can vote for someone else, because I shall not support its reintroduction. My decision has consequences, but we do not hold a referendum on the subject; the decision is left to me.
I agree that the Nice treaty has consequences. I believe that they are beneficial; some of my hon. Friends would argue that they are detrimental. However, that is an argument not for a referendum but for voting for or against the treaty in Parliament.
Mr. Frank Field: Does my hon. Friend accept that, in 1975, on the only occasion when we held a referendum, none of his criteria were fulfilled? We held it so that a divisive issue could be settled in the country.
Consequences are an insufficient reason for a referendum. If we hold referendums simply because decisions are difficult, we undermine parliamentary democracy. It is strange that Conservative Members, who usually lecture us about the importance of Parliament and the need to ensure that it is supreme again, argue for putting aside our supremacy because they do not like a decision and want a referendum on it.
Peter Hain: It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friends the Members for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn), for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson), for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). I am sorry that my hon. Friends the Members for Caerphilly (Mr. David) and for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) were unable to get in, not least because of the long speech of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). However, I shall not make much of that.
The debate was of high quality and some fundamental issues were raised. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead made some important points. One was answered by my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet when he talked about surrendering sovereignty. Membership of the European Union does not mean surrendering sovereignty, which we have kept. We have retained the veto where it matters: for example, over taxation, social security and defence.
As my hon. Friend said, we are considering pooling sovereignty. How else can we combat the drugs menace, human trafficking and the environmental catastrophe that faces the world, especially Europe? How else can we tackle the problems of globalisation, and negotiate with the World Trade Organisation and other bodies, unless we do that from a common position of strength?
We pool our sovereignty, or surrender it, through membership of the United Nations Security Council. We thus give up our ability to do as we like about foreign policy. We pool our sovereignty through our membership of NATO. We thus give up our right to do as we like to defend our country. However, we gain in strength and influence by pooling sovereignty.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead said that he believed that enlargement could proceed without the Nice treaty. I suppose that that is theoretically possible. [Hon. Members: " Ah!"] Wait for it! We have had this argument before. It would be theoretically possible if all 12 states had exhaustive individual accession treaties, but frankly, that is not feasible. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will accept that it is not a serious proposition to construct a new Europe on that basis.
One of the most powerful points that my right hon. Friend made was about the gap between the leaders and the led in Europe, although I am not sure that a referendum is the logical solution. This is a serious problem. The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) was kind enough to address it, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South. I made a speech on the subject yesterday, which is available on the Foreign Office websitewww.fco.gov.ukin its full glory, as opposed to the summary that appeared in The Independent.
A serious problem faces the European Union in terms of the language that is usedthe Eurospeak and Eurobabbleand the sense of an elite body talking to itself, meeting behind security cordons and barriers, having been ferried there by limousines. This is a serious issue that we need to address, and Britain is determined to ensure that it is addressed. However, we will not address it by holding a referendum.
If we are seeking to bring the leaders and the led closer together in the European Union, we should do it by constructing a different approach to communications, to policy and to the institutional relationship between the leadership of Europe and its citizens. Similarly, we would not deal with the low electoral turnout in Britain, which is an increasing problem, by holding a referendum on it, because that would not be a sensible way to proceed.