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Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South) (Lab): I am delighted to follow the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). I have listened to the speakers from both sides of the House; I am in exalted company today.

I believe that the constitutional treaty was a success for the Government, and I think that we were successful because we led from a strong position, because we are integrated with Europe. A treaty is necessary simply because when there are 25 states—when there is an enlargement of that degree—there is no choice but to look at the constitution and the existing treaties. The intention was that the treaties would be used to bring government closer to the people and bring Europe closer to the people. If we can effectively implement the treaty as has been suggested, I think we will give clarity to the European Union and could help to reduce people's disenchantment with Europe. Taxation, foreign policy, public services, the economy and defence were separated out, and in each case that separation was maintained by the Government. There were red lines that we decided we would not cross, and they have been secured; that was of the utmost importance.

The new treaty is important in itself. I accept that it establishes a constitution for Europe. I had some doubt about whether we should hold a referendum; I did not think that we needed to, because I did not believe that the changes were significant within the treaty itself. But we have taken a decision. We will have a referendum and we should move in that direction.

Much of the content of the new treaty is already set out in the existing treaties, and basic principles, such as the primacy of the treaty and the law made under it, remain the same. The primacy of Community law has been with us since 1964, and it is not a novel doctrine, as far as I am concerned, since a state has never been able to plead a provision of its own law as a reason for not complying with a treaty obligation. The 1964 provision existed, but we are not changing it in any significant way.

I believe that the new treaty is less integrationist than the existing treaties. For example, the new treaty confirms unambiguously that the Union has only the competences conferred by the member states. That point has been made by a number of speakers. The European Court, it is generally accepted, has been reluctant to develop any concept of "implied powers", and I believe that the new treaty may well discourage that further. Secondly, the new treaty makes express provision for a state to leave the Union, and the point is made that if we are so concerned about the powers of the European Union, the opportunity is still there for us to withdraw if necessary.

It may have been implicit in existing treaties that states had a right to withdraw, and I think that that will be confirmed. The new provisions confirm that member states are principal actors. The case of Costa v. ENEL in 1964 spoke of the permanent sharing of sovereignty. That would no longer be the case with the new treaty. It is also clear that no state could be forced to accept it against its wishes.

Much has been said about how bad the treaty will be for Britain and how we should be greatly concerned about it. We have to deal with the myths that have been
 
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perpetrated and consider the federalist proposals that have been rejected. They are: the EU should be named the united states of Europe; the EU should have certain competences organised on a federal basis; there should be EU-wide taxation; the Commission President should be elected by EU citizens; there should be majority voting for deciding EU foreign policy; there should be majority voting for treaty amendments and an end to ratification of treaties by national Parliaments; the Commission President should chair the European Council, with his presidency and the European Council presidency merged into one; there should be a European mutual defence guarantee, separate from NATO; unanimous voting should be abolished and replaced with qualified majority voting; and the EU Foreign Minister should be accountable to the Commission, not national Governments.

We have to deal with the issues before us today and those that are important to the people of this country. We talk about human rights. I wanted the European charter to go further and extend equal rights to trade unions and trade unionists in this country. We have maintained our dignity and peace in this country for a long time, and the EU has played a vital part in that.

In response to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, we should be deciding whether the constitution makes things better or worse. I think that it will improve matters for this country. It will make things easier to understand. The treaty does not alter significantly what has been endorsed by previous Governments. I ask the House to support the Government because the concept is worth while.

4.2 pm

Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): I am a strong supporter of the new constitutional treaty for the European Union and I shall vote in favour of the Bill's Second Reading. However, I want to express, and this is probably the last suitable occasion on which I can do so, my strong reservations about one part of it. I shall vote for that part with great reluctance because I strongly disapprove of the provisions on the referendum.

The greatest change that we are making to our tradition of parliamentary democracy in this country and the role of this Parliament in our national life is the concession to determine the decision in a referendum. We will never again win back for Parliament the right to control the nature of our relationships with the European Union. The only other European referendum was widely regarded on all sides as a cynical manoeuvre by Mr. Harold Wilson, who had to finesse his party and to get around it to endorse our continued membership of the EU. He pretended to hold a referendum on a financial deal of no great importance that he had renegotiated when he came into office after 1974.

I very much regret the then Prime Minister of my Government persuading me to agree to a referendum on the euro. I am not going to go back on that. We may, in due course, have one, but I agree with the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) that at least it would be on one narrow finite judgment. I am not sure that a modern industrial
 
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democracy should be entrusting its monetary policy to a referendum, but so be it, and I shall take part in that debate, if and when it ever arises.

Mr. Cash: Is my right hon. and learned Friend proposing to vote on the reasoned amendment, which lays such emphasis on the supremacy of this Parliament in respect of the implementation of the treaty? Does he not recognise that if the part of the Bill that deals with implementation is defeated, there will be no need for a referendum?

Mr. Clarke: Out of deference to the party system on which this Parliament is based, I almost certainly will remain seated in my place when the reasoned amendment is put. As the opinions of so many of my colleagues and of my party have changed so much over the years, I shall wait for them to veer back in my direction. I quite concede that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has as good a record for consistency as I have on the subject, but he will know how unpredictable our course can be.

Going back to my point about the referendum, I support the treaty and I believe it is an important document, but I do not believe it makes such important differences to our relationships with Europe as did the European Communities Act in 1972, the Single European Act in the late 1980s or the Maastricht treaty in the early 1990s. They were all far more significant pieces of legislation determining our constitutional arrangements.

Parliament had more than one day for Second Reading on most of those. There was huge resistance to the idea of guillotining even a day's debate, let alone timetabling the whole thing, which was all taken on the Floor of the House of Commons. I took an active part in all that. I was one of the two Whips designated to be in charge of the original 1972 Bill, so I listened to hours of debate, even if I was silent during it. A huge, protracted, important, high-quality debate took place about the principle of the primacy of European legislation over British legislation in areas of European competence. That is what it was all about, and similar debates took place thereafter.

There was a free vote in 1972. Here we all are, proud parliamentarians, and what are we saying? The vote in the House is not going to decide the issue at all. At the general election, people can freely vote for their party, regardless of their views on Europe, because the general election vote will not determine a damn thing. We can have, if we wish, a treaty negotiated by the British Government, and we can have it ratified by the British Parliament, but the decisions on this treaty will be determined by a popular plebiscite in which the national media will endeavour to play as large and as influential a role as possible. I cannot allow that to pass without comment, even though it takes part of the 10 minutes which, under our present arrangements, we are allowed to express our views on the future of our relationships with the European Union.

The referendum will be a huge disappointment to practically everybody, not least to the side that loses. It will be a lottery. The history of referendums shows that they are a lottery. They have been a lottery in the rest of Europe, where most of the countries saddled with the
 
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need to hold referendums deeply regret it, but of course I hope the referendum lottery goes my way. It will be very difficult to get large numbers of people to vote in it. Most people will continue to say, as they do now, that they are not quite sure what it is all about and what the treaty will do. We will all infuriate the public as we debate it in ever more strident terms, because as is clear from this debate, there will not even be agreement within the two sides of the argument about what the treaty does.

We have had the most ferocious arguments. I have already debated the issues several times with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), and as many audiences can testify, the two of us are quite incapable of agreeing on what the consequences of the treaty are. As that goes on, the danger is that even my right hon. Friend and I will lose adherents on all sides as people get exasperated by a Parliament so foolish as to put such a huge and complex subject to a popular vote.

How will British Governments negotiate in future, when everybody who negotiates with the British Government on anything with a European tinge will know that the Government can agree, the Government might have a parliamentary majority behind them, but the Government can guarantee to deliver nothing because they must go to a plebiscite on any deal they do? Far from strengthening the hand of a Minister, it is my judgment, and the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), may agree, that that will weaken the hand of every Minister in negotiations. Any negotiating partner will think, "We've got to watch these fellows. Anything they agree will get overturned afterwards."


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