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The right hon. and learned Gentleman has listed several things that would not need treaty
8 Jun 2005 : Column 1271
change but he has just listed one that would need such a changeperhaps he is about to set out a couple of others. There might be an argument that such measures should be included in the accession treaties for Romania and Bulgaria. Does he agree that that would be a suitable way forward?
Sir Menzies Campbell: There is much force in the view that we should not seek to bring about by the back door changes that the failure of the constitution to continue to have political life would prevent. People would have some sense of resentment if they thought that there was some kind of manipulation. In due course, there will have to be some form of treaty change to deal with the differing circumstances of six and 27. I used the illustration of the number of commissioners merely as an indication of where treaty change would be of great value and importance, not least to deal with the question of burgeoning bureaucracy to which reference has already been made.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The right hon. and learned Gentleman has pointed out that the EU is very different from when it was founded. Does he agree that it is also very different from when the UK joined? As the British people have never had a say about the current European Union would he welcome a referendum on our continued membership of it, given the benefits that he has just listed? Is he in favour of giving people a referendum on our continued membership of the current EU?
Sir Menzies Campbell: I know that it is advised that Latin be used sparingly in the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I cannot help saying, quot homines, tot sententiae. It seems that there are a variety of opinions on the Opposition Benches about just how far we should proceed. [Hon. Members: "Answer the question."] I should answer the question with more enthusiasm
I should answer the question with more enthusiasm if more Conservative Members than the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash)if my memory serves me righthad joined Members on the Liberal Democrat Benches, as well as some Labour Members, in supporting new clause 51 in the Committee on the Maastricht treaty legislation, which called for a referendum on that treaty. The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) may be surprised to learn that the Government of the day whipped against that proposal and as a result no such referendum was held. I do not think that it is necessary to hold a referendum for the purpose he described, but if there is to be any change in the relationship between Brussels and London there should be a referendum. That is why the former leader of my party, now Lord Ashdown, was the first leader of a national party to call for a referendum in the event that a decision was taken that Britain should join the single European currency.
As a matter of record I argued for a referendum on the Maastricht treaty as long ago as
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22 October 1992, in front of the Twickenham Conservative women's constituency committee conference. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is being uncharacteristically unfair to my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) whose position, as I understand it, is rightly that there should be a referendum if the Government propose to go ahead with a constitution that adds to the legislative competence of the European Union. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is arguing that the subsidiarity and proportionality protocol contained in the draft constitutional treaty should be adopted, and can be adopted, without a referendum, many of us on both sides of the House would celebrate that because it is a deregulatory and not a centralising phenomenon.
Sir Menzies Campbell: If I may say so, even in the hon. Gentleman's days before the Twickenham ladies' Conservative club, I always suspected him of being a closet Liberal and he may have just demonstrated that. If he is saying that the parts of the proposed constitutional treaty that have a deregulatory effect, or indeed that give substance to the principle of subsidiarity, might be adopted without the need for a referendum I think that he will find a ready audience for that proposition on the Treasury Bench, as indeed the Minister is indicating. As I said earlier, quot homines, tot sententiae.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): The first referendum call was on 28 February 1992 when I moved my Referendum Bill. I sought and obtained the support of the then leader of the Liberal Democrat party. It was the last measure on which Lady Thatcher voted in this Chamber. It predates all the Liberal Democrat claims that it was the only party that called for a referendum on Maastricht. The motion was debated by the House and there was a vote.
Sir Menzies Campbell: I have never claimed exclusivity in the matter. All I was saying was that some of us were arguing for a referendum on Maastricht when the formal position of the party of which the hon. Gentleman is a memberalthough it is not necessarily a formal position that he frequently supportswas in the opposite direction.
The notion that there is some unbridgeable ideological split between Anglo-Saxon liberal economics on the one hand and some Gallic social model on the other is entirely false. It is right to argue that we cannot abandon the values on which the European social model was foundeda model that is against exclusion and discrimination, that defends civil liberties and human rights and seeks to promote social justicebut in the globalised economy that model cannot be sustained without reform. There must be political reform to achieve greater accountability and transparency, some of which we have already discussed this afternoon, and economic reform to increase flexibility and productivity. Those two channels of reform must march robustly side by side.
Sir Menzies Campbell: I was about to come to that. So far, the Lisbon agenda has not received the strength of support and implementation that is required. As I have said in the House on many occasions, we must do much more to achieve the objectives of the Lisbon agenda.
The position of France and Germany has already been mentioned in the course of the debate and, as I have said, I believe that these are difficulties primarily of a structural kind. But we must be careful about offering ourselves as some paradigm of economic virtue and seek not, in some condescending way, to suggest to other countries in the European Union that we have found the perfect way forward.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Lisbon agenda. We should certainly seek to encourage productivity, enhance labour market flexibility and create a genuine free market in goods, persons, capital and, as has been observed, services. And we should seek to deregulate wherever possibleof that there is no doubt. But we should also have a rigorous approach here in London, because very often the argument is not that the original regulation from Brussels was particularly difficult or austere in its terms, but that by the time it had been through the machinery of government here it had become gold-plated, to the point where something that sought to create a common standard across the European Union was being implemented much more rigorously here in the United Kingdom, to the detriment of those whose businesses were affected by it.
I want to claim that the recent round of enlargement has been an enormous success. The ability to spread stability, democracy and economic opportunity to a wider region of Europe has been a tremendous thing for the continent. I hope that the demise of the constitution will not put an end to the accession negotiations with Turkey, or derail membership talks with other Balkan states such as Croatia. I hope too that we shall promote the forthcoming accession of Romania and Bulgaria with enthusiasmprovided, of course, that they meet the Copenhagen criteria in full.
But without doubt, in the changed circumstances since the referendums in Holland and France we must look again at the engagement of the people of Europe with the European Union. We need to start here first, not lecturing others but re-engaging the interest and awareness of the British people by ensuring that European issues are more frequently and more publicly brought into the national political debate. I do not think that any of us can be satisfied with the way in which we scrutinise European legislation in this place, and I do not exempt myself or my party from that criticism. We should find methods of ensuring that national Parliaments have a much greater role in the European legislative process and devote much more of their time to consideration of European legislative proposals. That is much more likely to stimulate active and wide-ranging political debate at a domestic level and bring about the sort of debate that the hon. Member for Woodspring was arguing for a little while ago. I see that as an obligation not just upon Government but upon Members of Parliament.
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