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1.45 pm

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): I am delighted that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) has given us an opportunity to debate the issue. However, I am saddened that he appears to have been hijacked by the extreme right of his party.

I confess that I am not a big supporter of referendums. I believe that they are especially inappropriate when trying to deal with the intricacies of creating a treaty. Let us examine the facts. The draft constitutional treaty has 565 clauses, five protocols and two declarations. The vast majority are almost identical to those in previous treaties, but it is important to scrutinise the document line by line, clause by clause,

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not simply subject it to a question of yes or no. Although a referendum might be appropriate for "Pop Idol" when deciding whether Gareth Gates or Will Young should win, it is unsuitable for examining a treaty. That needs to be done with due diligence and only Parliament can do that. [Interruption.]

Referendums in many parts of the world have often left countries and regions—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to be heard.

Mr. Bryant: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Referendums can render countries ungovernable. Let us consider California, where subsequent referendums were passed on a cut in taxes every year and on an annual increase in education spending. That made California almost ungovernable. I note that the policies are remarkably similar to those that Conservative Members are trying to advance—a miracle of increasing spending and cutting taxation—but I do not believe that the people of the world will subscribe to it.

A principal problem with referendums is that, on the whole, people do not answer the question that is put to them. Let us consider the 1986 referendum in Spain on whether it should join NATO. I do not suppose that many Conservative Members wanted Spain to vote against joining. However, many people voted according to whether they liked the Government of the day, not on the issue. [Interruption.] I believe that we should hold referendums on only two conditions—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I have already asked that the hon. Gentleman be given the privilege of presenting his opposing view.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I cite one of the late Enoch Powell's points of order? He said that an hon. Gentleman is entitled to speak but not to be heard.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I shall not comment on that matter.

Mr. Bryant: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Conservatives are clearly in quite a state today.

I believe that a referendum should be held only when the question is susceptible to a yes/no answer, and I maintain that this treaty is not susceptible to such an answer. Let us take article I.14. I believe that that article needs changing, and I hope that it will be amended. I am certain that the Government are trying to get it amended. But let us say that it stays in. Would that be the issue on which people voted yes or no, or would it be some other part of the treaty? Would people vote against the quotation from Thucydides that starts the treaty because they had hated Thucydides at school? Why would people vote? Would it put Britain in a better position, after a referendum, to argue for a stronger treaty on our behalf, or would it put us in a weaker situation because we would not know what we wanted?

12 Nov 2003 : Column 311

The first condition, then, is that if we are going to have a referendum, it should be susceptible to a yes/no answer. Secondly, it should be advanced only when a substantial change in how we are to be governed is being proposed. I would point out to the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon that the ink is not yet dry on the draft constitution document. I should like to quote someone that he might have heard of, who said a few weeks ago in the House of Lords:

That was no wild lunatic; it was the former Conservative Foreign Secretary, Lord Howe.

If the ink is not yet dry on the document, how can the Conservatives already call for a referendum? They do not know whether the constitution will involve a substantial change. I believe that, so far, the document does not propose a substantial change in the way in which Britain is to be governed—certainly not as substantial as the changes in the Single European Act in 1987, or in the Maastricht treaty in 1992.

The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon tried to tell us that we were going to have a president, and that we would therefore be entering a superstate. Perhaps he studied a little bit of French at school. The word "président" in French just means "chairman". It is very simple: there is not going to be a president of Europe. The hon. Gentleman is misleading the House.

Let us deal with the pro-referendum—

Hon. Members: More! More!

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order.

Mr. Bryant: They will be appearing in panto later in the season, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Let us deal briefly with the pro-referendum arguments. The argument that has already been advanced by so many Conservatives is, "It's good enough for all the other countries of Europe, so why can't we have one here?" For a start, that is factually wrong. I shall correct the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon. Only three countries have so far committed themselves to holding a referendum. Five have said that they are thinking about it, two have said that they will definitely not hold one, and 15 have said that it is extremely unlikely that they will do so. The hon. Gentleman's argument does not hold water in terms of the facts, but it does not do so in terms of logic either.

The logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument is that, since everyone else is doing it, we should do it too, but that would take us down the route of having qualified majority voting for treaty ratification processes. Why is he not arguing for a single European referendum? That is where his logic is taking him. I believe that it is much

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better for each country to follow its own tradition. Ireland's tradition means that it will have a referendum because it has to. Germany, following the tradition that we enforced on it in 1948 that it should not have plebiscites, will not hold a referendum because it is constitutionally impossible to do so.

It is particularly interesting that the Tory leadership and Front Benchers are arguing for a referendum. They did not do so for Maastricht. On 21 April 1993, 85 Conservative Members who are still Members of this House voted against a referendum; only 13 voted in favour. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) argued forcefully against a referendum, and he was practically manhandling people through the Lobby.

The truth is that the Conservatives want a referendum for nakedly opportunistic reasons, so that they can say no—as the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon has already suggested that he would—and so as to start a complete unilateral renegotiation of all the treaties. But it takes two to tango, and it takes 25 to start a renegotiation of the treaties of Europe. The Tories have no one else to tango with or to renegotiate with. All that they are really talking about is withdrawal, and I urge the House to vote against this Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):—

The House divided: Ayes 145, Noes 233.

Division No. 359
[1:54 pm


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Allan, Richard
Amess, David
Arbuthnot, rh James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Bacon, Richard
Barker, Gregory
Baron, John (Billericay)
Barrett, John
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)
Bercow, John
Blunt, Crispin
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Brady, Graham
Brazier, Julian
Burnett, John
Burns, Simon
Burt, Alistair
Carmichael, Alistair
Clappison, James
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Curry, rh David
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Djanogly, Jonathan
Dorrell, rh Stephen
Drew, David (Stroud)
Duncan, Peter (Galloway)
Ewing, Annabelle
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster)
Flight, Howard
Flook, Adrian
Fox, Dr. Liam
Francois, Mark
Garnier, Edward
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)
Goodman, Paul
Gray, James (N Wilts)
Green, Damian (Ashford)
Grieve, Dominic
Hague, rh William
Hammond, Philip
Hancock, Mike
Harvey, Nick
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John (S Holland)
Heald, Oliver
Heath, David
Heathcoat-Amory, rh David
Hendry, Charles
Hogg, rh Douglas
Hopkins, Kelvin
Horam, John (Orpington)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jenkin, Bernard
Johnson, Boris (Henley)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Key, Robert (Salisbury)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lamb, Norman
Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Letwin, rh Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Lidington, David
Lilley, rh Peter
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
McDonnell, John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Mackinlay, Andrew
Maclean, rh David
McLoughlin, Patrick
McWilliam, John
Maples, John
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham)
Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian
May, Mrs Theresa
Mercer, Patrick
Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Moss, Malcolm
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Norman, Archie
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Osborne, George (Tatton)
Ottaway, Richard
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)
Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Randall, John
Redwood, rh John
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Angus (Moray)
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Roe, Mrs Marion
Rosindell, Andrew
Ruffley, David
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Sanders, Adrian
Sayeed, Jonathan
Selous, Andrew
Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Shepherd, Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns & Kincardine)
Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
Streeter, Gary
Swire, Hugo (E Devon)
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, John (Solihull)
Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Trend, Michael
Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Tyrie, Andrew
Walter, Robert
Waterson, Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Weir, Michael
Whittingdale, John
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Wishart, Pete
Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Young, rh Sir George
Younger-Ross, Richard

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Eric Forth and
Mr. Andrew Mackay


Adams, Irene (Paisley N)
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen)
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary
Bailey, Adrian
Baird, Vera
Beard, Nigel
Beckett, rh Margaret
Benn, rh Hilary
Bennett, Andrew
Benton, Joe (Bootle)
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Borrow, David
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Browne, Desmond
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Casale, Roger
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cooper, Yvette
Cranston, Ross
Crausby, David
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
David, Wayne
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Dean, Mrs Janet
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Brian H.
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Etherington, Bill
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Follett, Barbara
Foster, rh Derek
Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
Gardiner, Barry
Gilroy, Linda
Goggins, Paul
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Hain, rh Peter
Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Hanson, David
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)
Healey, John
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hendrick, Mark
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Heyes, David
Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)
Hoon, rh Geoffrey
Hope, Phil (Corby)
Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Eric
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Kaufman, rh Gerald
Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Keen, Ann (Brentford)
Khabra, Piara S.
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Laxton, Bob (Derby N)
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Liddell, rh Mrs Helen
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)
Luke, Iain (Dundee E)
Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Stephen
McCartney, rh Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
MacDonald, Calum
MacDougall, John
McFall, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNamara, Kevin
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mahmood, Khalid
Mallaber, Judy
Mandelson, rh Peter
Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Meale, Alan (Mansfield)
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, David
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moran, Margaret
Morley, Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)
O'Hara, Edward
Organ, Diana
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)
Pound, Stephen
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purnell, James
Quin, rh Joyce
Quinn, Lawrie
Rammell, Bill
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Raynsford, rh Nick
Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N & Bellshill)
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Ruane, Chris
Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester)
Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
Salter, Martin
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Sheerman, Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Shipley, Ms Debra
Singh, Marsha
Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh John
Squire, Rachel
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Claire
Watts, David
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Betty (Conwy)
Wills, Michael
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Worthington, Tony
Wray, James (Glasgow Baillieston)
Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, David (Telford)

Tellers for the Noes:

Ms Bridget Prentice and
Charlotte Atkins

Question accordingly negatived.

12 Nov 2003 : Column 315

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