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During the summit, discussions will take place on the economic partnership agreements. Along with many others, we have real concerns about the practicalities of those agreements and about their effect on the developing economies in Africa. We fully support proposals to remove restrictions on goods and services coming into the EU from Africa. Indeed, allowing greater trade from African countries and businesses will undoubtedly do more to change the trajectory of development than a generation of aid hand-outs. However, Africa nations must be allowed reasonably to protect themselves against the influx of imports from the EU countries, which is likely to have a devastating effect on the least developed
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economies over a short period. The conditions imposed in the agreements cannot solely be for the benefit of western and European countries.

The worst scenario would be that no conclusion were reached before the World Trade Organisation deadline of 31 December. The result of that would be an increase in tariffs and severe damage to the fledgling economies of Africa. I therefore hope that the Secretary of State will agree that discussion of these issues needs to be a top priority for the forthcoming summit. The EU has a responsibility as a global power to do all that it can to work with the developing world and to help those countries to achieve their full potential.

The EU has a vital role to play in our society, in our nation, in our continent and throughout the world. Together, we have greater strength and influence on the international stage than we could ever have apart. Co-operation and cross-border issues have proved to be beneficial for the citizens of all EU member states and all benefit from EU policies in a variety of areas. We need to carry on working to ensure that the EU is doing what is right and is doing it well. Only by playing a central role in shaping the future of the EU can the UK ensure that that is the case. Now that the discussions about the future structure have been progressed and are being dealt with nationally, the upcoming summit will give the UK the opportunity to set the agenda for EU policies for the future, so that the EU can continue to be an active player on the international stage and maintain a strong economic presence for the benefit of all EU member states.

7 pm

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter). I should like to pursue one point that he raised.

I find the idea of calling for a referendum on the question of being in or out of the EU rather curious. It is like having a general election, but on the question whether we should have a Government or not. It is perfectly honourable to say, “I wish to have a Government, but not this one. I would like a different one.” That is what the democratic process is all about. If a referendum on the question of being in or out should ever be put to the people, I could just about envisage a scenario in which two questions were posed and people were asked whether they wanted the treaty or not. To deny them that opportunity causes a real difficulty.

This debate is always held among the same group of people. If anybody ventures to Germany between Christmas and New Year, they discover that a short British comedy film with Freddie Frinton called “Dinner for One” is shown—the Germans think that the whole of Britain watches it. It portrays a situation that repeats—every year, the same people say the same thing. That is what EU debates tend to be like, with the same people trying to say something different.

The problem is that the EU does not fall along party lines and, as political parties, we all hate divisions within parties. Parties do not like to talk about the EU in case it opens up divisions within them.

Mrs. Dunwoody: My hon. Friend is being rather unkind about Freddie Frinton, who was not only a well-known seaside artist but had a long career in
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which he played precisely the same act for at least 45 years, to my certain knowledge, with great success. We should be grateful that at least Germany acknowledges the superb quality of UK variety artists.

Ms Stuart: I have never been so pleased to be corrected by an hon. Friend as on this occasion.

Mrs. Dunwoody: Please thank me for my intervention!

Ms Stuart: I am deeply grateful to my hon. Friend.

Let me return to the EU.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): Just to be serious for a brief moment, my hon. Friend was right to say that we want a choice. Does she not think that we, as parliamentarians, could propose some serious practical alternatives for Europe—not for this Europe, but for a much better Europe?

Ms Stuart: Indeed. Let me return to the treaty. I ask the House to bear with me for a few moments, because one problem with most of these debates is that we do not pick up one issue and think it through logically to its conclusion. We tend to switch from institutions to policies and to make one case by using the other argument.

I want to remind everybody of the difference between EFTA, the European Free Trade Association, and the EEC, the European Economic Community. EFTA was a free trading area—something for which I think the Conservatives still hanker. The EEC, as it then was, introduced the freedom of movement of labour, which was very important, because the minute that people are moved between countries, the mechanisms are created that will eventually lead to deeper political integration.

The original institutions of the then EEC—the legal mechanisms of directives, the European Court of Justice, which had a mandate for achieving deeper political integration, judicial interventions or qualified majority voting, which came in later—have led to an EU with a range of tools, all of which were designed in one way or another to further political integration. The argument about the use of QMV, for example, is always, “We cannot hold up progress by allowing Malta to stop us.” I am afraid that if we are to have a union of nation states, there will be issues on which one member can say no. The minute we remove that right, we become federal states. If that is what people want, that is fine. I am one of those few people who are utterly agnostic about that because, having spent half my life in a federal state, I do not mind what people want, I just think that they need to know what they are getting, and it is no good pretending otherwise.

The UK likes QMV occasionally, but I want to draw attention to something very different, because not only was the movement of labour significant, but there was another tool—the internal market. Although the rest of Europe, by and large, always prayed the internal market in aid of deeper political integration and was little concerned with whether it was fulfilled or not, Britain always liked the internal market as an end in
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itself rather than a tool. We were therefore much more focused on that notion, but those are the type of tools that the Germans put on the negotiating table that cause us a problem.

The next problem is the time span during which things happen. The working time directive began to be debated in the early 1990s, but did not start to cause us political problems in this country until 18 years later when we realised that allowing the training of junior doctors to comply with the directive meant that many of our increased number of doctors were used up. As for the voters, they could no longer hold anybody responsible because they had all gone from office. People said, “The pass has been sold.”

At this point, I want to consider something that is currently on the table. When I became a Health Minister in 1999, one of the first things that I had to do was to go to Europe—I was the foreigner on the team, so they said, “She can do abroad.” There was a Health Ministers’ lunch, at which we all got together. A junior official came up and said, “There’s a case which you may want to raise over lunch. It does not really bother anybody apart from us, but the Dutch are sympathetic to us.” The case was called Kohll v. Decker and it related to a Luxembourg national who went to Germany for dental treatment, and it was asked whether that was part of the internal market.

I remember that the position taken at that lunch was quite eccentric. Only the Dutch Health Minister, who had been around for a long time, realised that there might be a problem, but the case was seen as a peculiarly British obsession. At that stage, we were waiting for another court ruling on the costs related to that case. To argue that, three or four court rulings down the road, we would have a problem with running the national health service, because we were the only country whose health system was completely funded by taxation and based on residency, with no controls—unlike other countries—was seen as the product of an eccentric lawyer’s imagination running wild. It was argued that I did not have to worry because health was not an EU competence. Health is now becoming an EU competence, albeit only on the public health side.

This is not a debate on the EU health directive or the court cases, but we had a succession of court cases that ended with a British case in 2006, where the ECJ pushed it to the limit and applied the internal market as a mechanism to allow people to travel from one country to another and claim health expenses without prior authorisation. We reached the point where Ministers were saying, “Thus far and no further. We now want a political input.”

That political input is now in a draft EU directive on health, to be published, I understand, on 19 December— politically, an extremely active date. I know exactly what will happen. We will get the directive and will be told not to be paranoid, as it is all perfectly all right. An early-day motion has been tabled that states that the logical conclusion of that directive is that it will undermine the way in which we run the NHS. What is so sad is that almost the only mechanism open to Members to raise that issue is an early-day motion. If we are honest, we all know the political significance of early-day motions. We might as well spray graffiti outside Big Ben—it would probably have more effect, because at least the cameras would catch it.

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If we pass the treaty, whatever it is called, we will create a situation in which, step by step, over the past 30 years—through legislation, court intervention or QMV—we will have completely recalibrated the presumption of who is in charge of legislation. This House is no longer in charge of all our legislation, so we must now find the areas in which we remain supreme. It can be argued that even matters to do with defence and foreign affairs can be circumvented. Over the decades, and step by step, the presumption as to where legislative power lies has moved away from this place. The problem with health legislation, for instance, is even worse, because that is something that we have devolved to Scotland and Wales. The result is that this House has become even less relevant.

The British people may well be entirely content with that, but it is something that they need to think about. We need to explain what has happened, and that is why this debate is so important.

Three things need to happen when the treaty is considered. First, given that the passerelle clause in its present state is not sufficient, the Government must make a clear commitment to bring in primary legislation, and not just to allow the House to have a vote, before there is any further erosion of our legislative power as a result of QMV. Secondly, the political parties must stop playing silly games about matters such as the new health directive—which incidentally looks suspiciously like the Tory policy on patients’ rights—and be more open about what they believe.

Thirdly, and most fundamentally, all three main political parties promised in their election manifestos that the treaty was so significant that the British people needed to be asked their opinion. If Labour, as the governing party, is so confident that the treaty represents a good deal for Britain, we should have the courage to ask the people about it, as well as subjecting it to 20-odd days debate in this House.

Michael Connarty: Does my hon. Friend accept that the call for a referendum is to a certain extent emotional and simplistic? She will have read most of the documents on the reform treaty, although she may not have seen the final draft, and I am sure that she has read with interest the reports from the European Scrutiny Committee. Does she agree that any referendum would not be on the reform treaty but would refer to populist and emotional matters such as straight bananas and immigrants stealing our jobs? Does she really want to reduce such an important matter to a travesty like that?

Ms Stuart: I agree that there are dangers associated with referendums. Some countries have banned them, for very good reasons, but two points are worth making. First, in mature democracies, referendums are part of the democratic process. Secondly, when people in Wales and Scotland voted in referendums in the way that we wanted, I did not hear anyone on this side of the House say, “They voted on devolution but they did not know what it was about.” The Labour party has used referendums more than any other, and I must repeat that we promised one on the treaty in our election manifesto. Therefore, there must have been a time when we thought that holding one was the right thing to do.

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As I said at the very start of my speech, our relationship with the EU is a constitutional matter. Opinions about it do not fall comfortably along party lines, so I do not entirely agree that it is an issue that can be decided as part of a general election. The fact that the previous Conservative Government did not offer a referendum on Maastricht—in fairness, they never said that they would—only strengthens the case that I am making.

Thirty years have passed since 1975 when, as I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), the Labour Government under Harold Wilson gave the country a referendum on European Community membership. Given what I said earlier about the shift in the presumption about where power lies and the changes in how this place deals with European affairs, I think that it is appropriate that we ask the people of this country for their opinion.

7.14 pm

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), for the very good reason that I share her conclusions about the necessity for a referendum. It is not unknown that I was very much in favour of a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. If we had had one, we would not be debating this matter now, as I am sure that we would have secured a no vote.

Mr. Davidson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cash: In a moment. Intriguingly, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, said that he voted yes in 1975. I presume that he was pleased with the outcome of that vote, as it confirmed our membership of what we now call the EU. At least the then Labour Government offered that referendum, whereas most of the present Government’s arguments against holding one now are completely absurd. I do not understand why the Government today cannot retain their stated position of 1975.

Mr. Davidson: The hon. Gentleman was in favour of a referendum in 1975, and so was I. May I draw to his attention the fact that the Liberals were also in favour of a referendum at that time? In contrast, we do not really know what they think now. They may be waiting for a reshuffle or something. Does he anticipate that the time will come when the Liberals will be able to decide whether they are in favour of a referendum on this matter?

Mr. Cash: I have the gravest doubts as to whether the Liberal party has any clear idea about where it is going with any policy, but an important point about the in or out question is being overlooked: that the proposed treaty is in fact a merger, through binding mandate, of all the treaties on the European Community and the European Union. It is also substantially equivalent to the original constitutional treaty, and that combination means that any referendum on a yes or no question would effectively come down to asking whether or not the British people wanted all those treaties. That is as close as I can get to asking whether we should be in or out, and I believe that some people may be underestimating the extent to which any referendum on the reform treaty would turn out to be one on all the treaties, as a whole.

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Kelvin Hopkins: Like the hon. Gentleman, I am in favour of a referendum. If one were to be held, it would be very popular and might well result in a no vote. Does he believe that many citizens in the rest of Europe might be very grateful to have a chance to think again about a treaty that has been imposed on them by their leaders?

Mr. Cash: I do, especially given what happened with the referendums in France and the Netherlands, and before those in Ireland and Denmark. We could have a referendum on this treaty, or on its ratification; I do not mind, and my motion on that subject has received strong support from members of my party. As I said earlier—and my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) suggested the same thing—I agree with the report from the European Scrutiny Committee stating that Parliament has been bypassed in a deceitful manner. That process was quite intentional, and our cross-examination of the Foreign Secretary has given us a more than sound reason for holding a post-ratification referendum.

We were taken into the EU in 1972 on what has turned out to be a misleading basis. In the same way, this treaty has brought together all existing treaties and now presents us with a similar problem. That is a not a proper way for this Parliament to behave. In my opinion, the Government’s approach has been dishonest and lacking in integrity. The most recent opinion poll was conducted in the past few days by Global Vision, and it found that 82 per cent. of people would like there to be movement towards an association of nation states through renegotiation—something that I have long advocated. If those negotiations failed because the other member states simply refused to accept them, the question of whether to withdraw from the European Union would arise.

The Prime Minister alleged the other day that I had said we must withdraw from the European Union. I have never said that that is my explicit objective. However, I believe that we have passed thresholds. In my opinion, we did that on Maastricht and then on Nice and Amsterdam. I tabled hundreds of amendments to all those treaties. Indeed, on the European Union constitutional treaty, I think that I managed to reach 400. However, the bottom line is that we should have a referendum, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston said. I echo others’ comments that we must preserve the right to legislate in this House for the electorate who elected us to represent them.

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