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Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I am pleased to participate in the debate because I tabled the first early-day motion that called for a referendum in May 2003. I was delighted when the Government decided to hold a referendum and I congratulate them on that. I understand that there was a little soul searching in Downing street before it happened, but the right conclusion was reached.
However, I remain profoundly opposed to the constitutional treaty. Along with millions of Labour supporters and trade unionists throughout Britain, I shall vote no in the referendum. I have often spoken about EU matters in the Chamber and I shall not dwell on all the issues today. I have reservations other than those that I shall express but other colleagues, including my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) and for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) have covered them.
The constitutional treaty is, at its heart, hostile to social democracy. The thrust of today's EU is deeply anti-socialist and the neo-liberal philosophy is being driven forward. There has been a conflict in the EU between the two forces and, unfortunately, the neo-liberal force is winning against the social democratic force. I want to reverse that drift.
The drive to marketise and privatise public services under the bland-sounding term of liberalisation threatens to turn back the clock and unpick the fabric of
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social democracy, welfare states and social protection that has transformed the lives of working people in post-war Europe.
We hear the term "flexible labour markets." A couple of years ago, I was on holiday in Portugal, and although my Portuguese is not good, I understood a sign on a building site that said, "No to flexible labour markets". The Portuguese construction workers understood perfectly what labour market flexibility means. The Swedish no in the referendum happened because Swedish social democrats and trade unionists perceived the threat and voted no.Where countries are already advanced in liberalising service areas, article III-148 of the treaty commits them to
Even without the treaty, the new Commission attempted this week to relaunch what it described as the flagging Lisbon agenda. There is serious anxiety, especially among trade unionists, that that will be to the disadvantage of working people. The European Trade Union Confederation, which is now led by John Monks, a good friend and former colleague, stated:
The treaty will consolidate Maastricht and the Single European Act, both of which I opposed. I believed that the Common Market or European Community was jogging along nicely before the Single European Act, which constituted a step change towards a much more neo-liberal construct. That is where things went wrong. I would be happy to revert to the position before the Single European Act and I would probably complain only about the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy. We could work happily with our European colleagues on that basis.
My colleagues have made several points about the referendum. I believe that the Electoral Commission has criticised the wording although it has acquiesced in what the Government have done. We probably will not be able to persuade the Government to make the wording more neutral, but it is significant that the Electoral Commission questioned it.
It is right to place limits on campaign spending. I remember the 1975 referendum when the amount of money spent on the yes side was grotesque when compared with that spent on the no side. I was on the no side at the time, and I remember well the pathetic resources that we had, compared with the massive resources used to persuade people to vote yes. We want to see more balance this time.
This referendum should not be held on the same day as other elections. We want a separate day for it, so that people can focus on the issue, rather than thinking, "Oh, well, it's just another election", which might lead them to vote yes or no in a casual way. They need to focus specifically on this important decision that Britain has to make. I also want a constituency count. My constituents know very well what my views are on these matters, but I would like to know what their views are. They might
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be different from mine, but I would like to know what they think. Every other hon. Member should also be aware of what their constituents are saying, so a constituency count would be important.
It has been said that the constitutional treaty is just a "tidying-up exercise". If that were the case, it would not be that important if we did not adopt it, would it? We should still have what we have now, and it would not be that significant. However, so much effort is being put into ensuring that the whole of Europe votes for the treaty that I suspect that it is rather more important than just a "tidying-up exercise". There is a lot more to it than that.
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I am very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins). I have listened carefully to this afternoon's debate. I have had the opportunity to speak on this subject twice in the past year, and I do not want to repeat a lot of what I have already said. I would, however, like to build on some of the points that have been raised today.
I do not regard the treaty as just another European treaty, and I certainly do not regard it as benign. We have to look at the end agenda. There are legitimate debates to be had on both sides of the argument. I say "both sides of the argument", rather than "both sides of the House" because this is not a party political issue. It is a matter of national importance involving our future relationship with the European Union. I have no problem with people who do not share my view that we have already gone too far down the road of European integration. However, I say to the Governmentand I reflect on this in regard to previous Governmentsthat I have difficulty with the fact that, over the years, politicians have not spelled out clearly what they were signing up to in the name of the people. That has caused the feeling that we, as a nation, have lost control of our right to govern ourselves in many important areas of policy.
I do not share the view that signing up to the common market, as it then was, led to peace in mainland Europe at the end of the last century. I respect the views of those who genuinely believe that, but I personally do not think that the common market prevented France and Germany from tearing each other apart as they have done in previous centuries. I believe that it was the presence of the Soviet bloc, the cold war and the formation of the NATO alliance and the link with north America that kept the peace in mainland Europe.
We are talking about the type of relationship that we want with Europe. I fully share the views of those who have flagged up the additional powers in the treatythe euro-creep, as it is euphemistically called. These significant powers are being given to people who have not been elected by the people of this country, and who are not answerable to us as our elected representatives.
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We cannot call them to the Dispatch Box to answer our questions. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) so eloquently spelled out earlier, this illustrates the democratic deficit that we are experiencing.
I know that this subject is not the public's idea of a hot political topic. They have more important things to concern them. However, if we do things by stealth in one treaty after another, and if we erode people's right to elect through the ballot box every four or five years those who make decisions on their behalf here, when they suddenly wake up to the fact that that right has gone, it will not simply be a matter of their not turning out to vote in general elections. Voter apathy will not be the only price that this country pays for such stealth; I believe that there will be a reaction on the part of the public when they realise that their democratic rights have been taken away from them. Yes, we all take our democratic rights for granted and it is already possible to see in some countries what can happen when extremism feeds on the lack of democratic accountability. It is a very dangerous path to go down.
I say to Ministers and colleagues that, whatever side of the argument they are on and whatever they believe the right relationship between this country and the EU should be, at least be honest in telling people what is being done in their name. Let us not have spin or gloss; let us not keep telling people that they have not really signed up to this or that. They know. We all receive hundreds and hundreds of letters about it. The phone rings in the office: it is another small business; it is another person who wants to know why they have to do such and such, why they are bound by various rules. As their MP, I have to tell those people, "I am very sorry, but there is nothing I can do about it, because these decisions are not taken in the House of Commons. The people who have put these decisions before us are not the people"
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