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Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): It is a pleasure, Mr. Speaker, to be called so early in the debate, and to follow the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy). He spoke about proportional representation, which was not mentioned in the Labour manifesto. The Government have made no commitment in that regard, and the subject did not appear in the Queen's Speech. The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber said that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had reneged on his commitment to proportional representation, but he will remember that my right hon. Friend set up a commission under the late Lord Jenkins to look into the matter. That commission produced a very good report, but it did not lead anywhere.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber for finishing his speech on the high note of Europe. I want to make that the most important element of my contribution, given the commitment in the Queen's Speech to a debate on the referendum in the first instance, which will be followed by the appropriate legislation and then the referendum itself. The Leader of the Opposition called for a date for that referendum. We
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do not yet have that date, but I have no doubt that the referendum will be held, regardless of the outcome of similar procedures in any other European country.
I turn now to the royal prerogative, which used to mean that no treaty was required to be approved by Parliament or the people of this country. However, the Government passed the royal prerogative to this House when we agreed to go to war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. We are now to go still further, by passing the royal prerogative to the people of our country, who will decide in a referendum whether to ratify the European constitution treaty. The right hon. Anthony Bennor Wedgwood Benn, or Tony Benn, however he wishes to be calledwill be very pleased about that. He has argued for many years against the use of the royal prerogative in respect of wars or treaties. This Government have passed the royal prerogative to the people themselves, and that is a very interesting development.
Simon Hughes : Does the hon. Gentleman support the view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, given during the election, that the royal prerogative should be given up completely in relation to decisions about war, and a decision always made by Parliament? Does he support our view that the use of the royal prerogative should cease completely and that treaties and decisions about war and peace should be made by Parliament, not the Executive?
Sir Stuart Bell : Yes. I agree with the Chancellor and with the proposition that the hon. Gentleman has put forward. Clearly, if the royal prerogative were passed to Parliament on the question of war and if we pass the royal prerogative to the people on the question of the treaty, it could never go back again. That is a development in our constitution that we should all welcome. The right hon. Anthony Wedgwood BennTony Bennwould, as I said, welcome that more than anyone.
The destiny of the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe is in the hands of United Kingdom citizens. When the referendum comes, they will have an important decision to make. That decision will affect not only this generation, but generations yet unborn. Mr. Speaker earlier urged us to have a careful debate and to be polite among ourselves as we discuss points with care and interest. When it comes to the European debate, we ought to be careful with the facts and to ensure that we have a proper debate that can go out to the country so that the country can make its decision. As the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber said, some 58 per cent. of those who voted in the general election voted for parties in favour of a yes vote.
There have been references to the 1983 election from my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), from the Leader of the Opposition and from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. We fought that election on a manifesto that called for peace, jobs and freedom. As The Guardian succinctly, if drily, said, that was better than fighting for war, the dole and slavery. If we think about the history of our continent over the past 60 years, however, we can see that we have lived in peace from one end of it to the other, apart from the difficulties in Northern IrelandI am glad to see the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) in his
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placeand on the eastern front in Kosovo and such places. We have had peace in Europe, and that is due in no small measure to the fact that the European nation states wished to come together, did come together and have stayed together ever since. We tend to overlook the fact that the continent was riven by war for 1,000 years, and I ask any Member who cannot sleep at night to dip into Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", where he or she will find that for many generations before nation states existed, tribes in Europe were also involved in warfare.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): My hon. Friend is a passionate European who has fought the European cause for as long as he has been in Parliament. Does he take the point made by the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy), that we should gear up for the referendum campaign? It is not just a question of having debates in the House. The Government have to lead a proactive campaign in the country if we are to win the referendum, if it comes next year.
Sir Stuart Bell: I may, I think, commit the Government to there being a referendum next year, regardless of the outcome of the French referendum. The 25 nation states in Europe must make up their minds, and it is not a question of one saying no and the rest of us turning tail on the European treaty. A decision will have to come to the British people, but my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) makes a valid point. In France, the treaty has been sent to every French household. It is a very lengthy treaty, but that was an important thing to do. For a while, it became a bestseller in stores. When that happened, the no vote became a yes vote in the opinion polls. My contribution today, following as it does the contribution of the leader of the Liberal Democrats, is the beginning of a campaign, in so far as we can engineer a campaign. Clearly, though, the campaign must be Government led, and it is a matter of some regret that the Conservative Opposition maintain their opposition to the European Union, even though it was a Conservative Prime Minister in 1972 who took us in. It was Baroness Thatcher who, in 1986, signed up to the Single European Act, and it must astonish the people of our country that a party that used to be so pro-Europe has become less European now.
I often like to quote a line of poetry to the House, and today it is:
We spend much of our time on events that happened a long time ago. It is proper and right that we should celebrate the 60th anniversary of the ending of the war in Europe and, in July, the ending of the war in Japan. I often wonder whether it is proper and right that we should celebrate Trafalgar day 200 years after that battle. [Hon. Members: "Absolutely."] Well, Opposition Members will be heartened to learn that the people of Orleans in France have just celebrated the 576th anniversary of the liberation of the city by Joan of Arc and her defeat of the English, with no less a personage than the president of the National Assembly in attendance. We are not alone in looking back to a long-gone but not forgotten past. The point about such
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commemorations and celebrations is that they remind us how Europe was riven by wars for century after century. That is no longer the case, and the peoples of Europe can come together to live in peace and harmony, and to reach their own personal destinies.
Our 1983 manifesto concentrated on peace, jobs and freedom, as I have said, and great play is made today of the unemployment rates in France, Germany and Italy. In fact, we have 72.9 per cent. of our citizens in work. In Germany, it is 64.6 per cent, in France 61.9 per cent. and in Italy 56.2 per cent. We trade among ourselves and we take in each other's washing, and the consequences for our prosperity can be seen from Ireland to Portugal and Spain, and as far as Greece. It is no wonder that 10 more nation states have now joined the European Union. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley referred to Bulgaria and Romania, and three other nation states also wish to join the European Union, in the interests of their people and to give them the prosperity that we have enjoyed.
I am reminded of the point made by John Fitzgerald Kennedy when he said that all boats lift on a rising tide. The prosperity from trade and job creation brings prosperity to all our people and we should welcome the chance to share it. We live in a global economy. We cannot get away from China, India or the US. We have to be able to work together to improve our markets and to participate in the world market. That is why the European Union is so significant.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) referred to Teesport and a new deep-sea container port is proposed for Teesside, which will bring enormous benefits to the Tees valley and the north-east. It would provide some 500 jobs and could create 6,000 to 7,000 new jobs indirectly over the next few years. That development is on the back of the European Union and the trade it brings.
I mentioned the backward stream, and we are proud of the Bill of Rights of 1688. However, the treaty that we are to debate in the House and in the country will establish a constitution for Europe and a charter of fundamental rights. That will cover many of the points that have been made today.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar referred to the right to dignity for the elderly and to respect, as did the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister. That is in the declaration of human rights, which is part of the treaty.
The treaty also refers to the right of persons with disability to enjoy the right to social and occupational integration; to the rights of the child; to the right to choose an occupation, engage in work, conduct a business and conclude a contract and to the right to move freely within the territory. The treaty provides for a post of Minister for Foreign Affairs, merging the roles of the high representative for foreign affairs and the external relations commissioner. All that will maintain and build on the peace in Europe that we have enjoyed for 60 years and will provide a framework for dialogue with other states in the world.
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An important and significant part of the work of the Chamber over the next year will be to hold a proper debate on Europe. It must be a debate, not a battle. It should be based on the facts, which will be put to the British public in the referendum, when it comes. The debate must take into account the interests of present and future generations. It is in the interests of our country that there be a yes vote in the referendum. We should carry it through the House of Commons and hold the debate, and for years and years to come the British people will be better for it.
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