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The matter is simple; it is about simple democracy and simple freedom. As the Chairman of the Select Committee said, it is inconceivable that we should be confronted with ambiguity about whether we, as a national, sovereign Parliament, which has developed democracy over the past 400 years and passed it on to much of the rest of the world, could possibly face the legal obligation that is enforceable by infraction proceedings. I demand to know why the Government have not made the wording crystal clear so that there could be no question of a legal obligation on this Parliament. That raises the question of what lies at the heart of the European Communities Act 1972. Sections 2 and 3, on which everything else depends, state that we must obey all European laws that are passed in the Council of Ministers and that we must comply with all
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European Court decisions. That is the root of the authority, and what we must tackle during the series of debates in January.

Our debates will be about the right of the British Parliament, when necessary—I believe that it has already become necessary—to demand an endorsement of our supremacy. That remains the key issue; our entire democracy depends on it. People fought and died for it over the centuries and especially in the past 60 or so years. We are considering matters that are far deeper than what the Foreign Secretary described as navel gazing about institutional matters. Our debate is about fundamental questions on which the British people have a right to have their say.

Curiously, a referendum would enhance, not diminish, Parliament’s authority because referendums cannot be held without an Act of Parliament or a provision in a measure to effect them. There are moments when—with some humility, I hope—Members of Parliament do not presume to know what the people of this country should do when they are confronted with a life-changing impact on their daily lives.

It is almost impossible to think of a single subject, including tax—for a variety of technical and legal reasons that I do not need to discuss—that is not affected by the juggernaut and the labyrinth of the European system that the European Court of Justice can enforce. That applies to the question of a constitutional relationship between us and Europe because of a case called Frankovich. The constitutional position of the European Court of Justice is that we are under an obligation to give effect to whatever emerges from the European Union, whether it affects our constitution or not. The remedy therefore lies with us:

Have we not the humility to hand decisions back to the people for their determination? I believe that it is our right and duty to do that. We should also acknowledge the sheer impact of the morass of legislation, which I have observed for the past 23 years since I first served on the European Scrutiny Committee. It has been an interesting experience. I watched the whole process and, yes, fought aspects of it. In my own mind, I am not anti-European. It is pro-European to be pro-democracy. I believe that so-called anti-Europeans often present the best arguments to prevent this country from losing its right to govern itself.

Kelvin Hopkins: I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that it is important to distinguish between Europe and the European Union. We are all pro-European but we disagree with the construct called the European Union.

Mr. Cash: I could not agree more. The hon. Gentleman’s comments go back to my earlier point about the second world war. We fought for freedom and for Europe. That was right. In doing that, we prevented this country from being taken over by a dreadful tyranny.

Let us consider the charter of fundamental rights. It does not simply comprise a few isolated legal points that can be produced by the odd lawyer from university. It is about the way in which people will be
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expected to live in future. It affects every aspect of human life. After intense analysis of the position and listening to the Foreign Secretary and the legal adviser, who discussed the issue with us, the European Scrutiny Committee concluded:

In other words, we do not buy the argument that the Government have effectively excluded us from invasions by the European Court of Justice of our legal system in respect of matters that arise under the charter. That is a profound criticism and a profound indictment of the Government’s position.

Michael Connarty: Leaving aside the indictment of the Government’s position, does the hon. Gentleman concur that the TUC was wrong to oppose the treaty on the ground that the Government’s red lines barred the charter of fundamental rights from doing the things that he suggests? That conclusion led the TUC to oppose the treaty.

Mr. Cash: The trade union position has been somewhat variable. As I said to the hon. Gentleman earlier, a European Court of Justice decision has come out today, which, I am informed, extends the right to strike. That should make the Government apprehensive. If the court is already saying that, how much will it say about the charter of fundamental rights as and when it comes up for interpretation?

There is only one answer, which goes back to my point about intrinsic sovereignty. That is not a theoretical abstract; we are dealing with a decision about whether we legislate properly on behalf of the people whom we represent. The answer is simple: it is my “notwithstanding formula”. If we include in our own legislation the words “notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972” as a prelude to legislation that emanates from the European Union when we enact it in this place, that would require the judiciary to obey the latest, inconsistent, expressly stated measure from Westminster. They have no option. I think that we have reached that point, and I think specifically—although I would take this on a far more general footing—with regard to the Government claiming that they do not want the charter to apply to this country in the legally binding way I have described, the fact that, according to the ESC, they cannot guarantee that leaves them with only one option: to apply the “notwithstanding formula” in their proposals for the Bill to make certain that it does not apply. I am deeply disappointed and disturbed by the clap-trap put forward by the Foreign Secretary in the Government’s replies to the ESC report, because they know that that was not only a threadbare but a non-existent argument. This is a serious issue because the charter extends into so many areas of our national life.

I said at the beginning of my speech that I think this treaty is more important than Maastricht. Why do I believe that? I believe it because although Maastricht was about the shift to European government—that is why I opposed the treaty, causing some pain and concern to some, or most, of my colleagues—since then there has been an accumulation of other functions, which
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have been all-pervasive in that they have gone into almost every other field. Members might or might not know about the so-called doctrine of the occupied field. I do not wish to explain it in detail other than to say that according to that doctrine if the EU has been granted competence in a particular field, a country could not legislate in its own Parliament. Furthermore, with the self-amending text point, which has already been discussed, the reality is that neither can it have any referendums in respect of those areas; a national Government would not be in a position to say that they were able to go to the people because they would have already made the textual changes internally within the framework of existing competences. Huge issues arise in relation to the treaty, which need to be not only carefully considered, but rejected.

The Prime Minister has been talking about the governance of Britain and the fact that he thinks treaties should be approved by Parliament. This debate should have been on a substantive motion. The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, Chairman of the ESC, made that point. Although the debate is taking place on the Floor of the House, it should also be subject to a vote. Not many Members are here but there are a variety of reasons for that, and I think the Government stand condemned by virtue of their failure to have a proper debate on a substantive motion before the treaty is signed.

There have been deceitful circumstances, and also obscure and opaque circumstances, as we discovered from our cross-examination; some of them have not been entirely resolved even today. At some point between about 15 and 23 June—I cannot be exact—things were going on. The German presidency produced papers; it bounced people, and papers emerged. There are also question marks over whether there was more discussion than was being disclosed. I simply make this point: against that background, it is fundamental to the integrity of this House that we make certain that the Government are forced into a position in which during the course of the debates that take place next year, not only do we have a referendum—that is entirely justified in the interests of the British people—but they are made to explain how it was that the poisoned chalice of the reform treaty was passed by the former Prime Minister within what appears to have been a period of approximately just one week before he gave up office and the new Prime Minister came in. I cannot believe that the new Prime Minister did not know exactly what he was taking on. Therefore, in the light of what I saw when I watched the former Prime Minister in “The Blair Years” on television, I was bound to conclude that in fact the incoming Prime Minister in part took on his job on an understanding that he would not disrupt the smooth passage of that poisoned chalice which he received from the outgoing Prime Minister. I think that that is the real reason we are not being given a referendum; I cannot prove it, but I believe it is the case.

Some issues are so important to our constituents that we have to step up to the plate. I believe that this debate should have been on a substantive motion and that it should be subjected to a vote, simply as a protest and in defiance of the way in which the Government have behaved in betraying the British people and giving them a treaty they have no business inflicting on them.

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7.35 pm

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), and I agree that the debate should have been on a substantive motion. However, it does not help that Members of his party are, I think, on only a one-line Whip. I am not sure what that tells us, but I too am disappointed by it.

I spent a little time over the weekend reading through the Third Reading debate on the Maastricht Bill—or Maastricht treaty, as it became. It is interesting to note how many of the Members involved in that debate are also involved in today’s debate. The major parties now occupy Benches on the opposite sides of the House from those that they occupied then, but looking through some of the points made in that earlier debate revealed that when it comes to treaties such as this one, Governments of different political persuasions seem to take similar positions; it appears that when Oppositions get into government and go to Europe, something happens to them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) spoke about her experiences as a Minister in Europe. I too went to Europe as a Minister—to the justice and home affairs section—when I had a year in the Home Office as a Minister. We clearly saw there how everything that happens in Europe is built on deals and stitch-ups and people saying, “You give me that, and I’ll give you that.” The current Secretary of State for Justice was Home Secretary at the time, and even though he wielded a tough bat in the justice and home affairs area there were still times when, having gone there absolutely determined that we were not going to give an inch, word would come through after a while that the powers that be back at home in Downing street wanted something changed, because if we gave in on that, we might get something else somewhere else. I am elected to Parliament to represent my constituents, and I do not think that we should be involved in such deals, which ultimately end up in a kind of compromise whereby sometimes we get the worst of all possible worlds.

I am particularly sorry about the current situation, as my party had a manifesto commitment that they would put the treaty to the vote, and I personally put that in my election address. I am clear that I will not be breaking any promises that I made in the election. I will still do whatever I can to urge my Government to change their view on this issue. A commitment was given, and despite all the words that have been said, if the Minister is honest—I know he is an honest Minister—although he will not say so here and now, he will know deep down, as we all do, that this constitutional treaty, as I think it should still be called, is almost entirely the same document as the one that was rejected by the French and the Dutch, and the one that we offered a referendum on such a short time ago.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): The transactional relationship that the hon. Lady describes in European dealings is, of course, a feature of intergovernmental relationships too, but does she agree that the difference is that, because of the EU’s supranational reality and further ambitions, those transactions are not accountable to this House and are therefore entirely detached from the will of the British people?

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Kate Hoey: I think that that is the case. The reality is that absolutely nothing going on within the European Union is transparent. We need only look into the situation with the accounts. Is it not absolutely shocking that, 13 years on, no one has signed off the EU accounts? Where else would that be allowed to happen? If that were a company the directors would be up on charges, and even the smallest voluntary organisation has to have its accounts monitored, yet the reform treaty does nothing about that, and will make no change to it.

All the millions of pounds that this country puts into the EU are often subject to the sort of fraudulent behaviour or misappropriation of money that we all know goes on. Why should my constituents in Vauxhall, many of them very poor indeed, pay their taxes towards the EU fund without knowing at the end of the process exactly where their money has gone, especially when they know how little of it comes back to them or to this country? I sometimes open events where the European Union plaque is displayed—some insist on putting it up at every little project, even when only a very small amount of money is involved—and people are always grovelling around to say nice things about the EU. They thank the EU for their money, but they should not be thanking the EU: it is our money coming back—and there is a lot less of it than we jolly well put in! I find the whole situation with fraud and the accounts quite disgraceful. It may be nothing to do with the treaty, but if we sign it, things will certainly get a lot worse.

Daniel Kawczynski: Does the hon. Lady agree with me that in respect of the EU rebate, which the Government have abandoned—20 per cent. of it has been lost, which is equivalent to about £10 billion—all that money is pouring into eastern Europe, some of which they cannot spend quickly enough, while at the same time our own Government are borrowing £40 billion just to balance the books this year alone?

Kate Hoey: The hon. Gentleman knows that this was quite fully debated just a couple of weeks ago. The Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee says that the amount is £7 billion, so perhaps we could work out the difference between £7 billion and £10 billion—still a huge amount of money.

The Government have tried to argue that because the red lines were maintained, this is not a constitutional issue, so all the opt-ins and opt-outs that we have negotiated will prevent any further erosion of our powers to Brussels. The reality and the fact is—again, we all know it, but some people, including the Government, do not like to admit it—that the vast bureaucracy in Brussels is a self-perpetuating system, which will continue to take powers from us, whatever we do, wherever and whenever it can. It wants to push for more, and the only way in which it will be constrained is by allowing democratically elected parliaments, and then the people themselves, to vote.

The constitution was stopped—initially by the referendums in France and the Netherlands—only when people stopped it. Remember—the votes came through and everyone in the European Commission said, “The people of France and the Netherlands have sent us a message. We’re going too fast. The people do
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not like this, that or the other.” They said that they would reflect and come back with a more acceptable treaty. What did they actually do? They went away—there was a long period of silence; negotiations may have been going on, but certainly no one in this Chamber was involved—and came back with a very similar constitution.

Given that the Government and all three political parties promised a referendum, reneging on it now will, in my view, deeply damage the relationship between the public and Parliament, and between the public and the Government. It is not good enough for a manifesto commitment to be just discarded like that. I was amazed that the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, could not answer this simple question: if an amendment calling for a referendum were passed here, what would the Liberal Democrats do? [Interruption.] I see the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Willie Rennie)—presumably a new Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesman—in his place, so perhaps he can answer that question. I will not push him, though, because there is talk of a reshuffle and he might be involved in it. It does seem absolutely amazing that the day before the Prime Minister is going to sign the treaty, without a photograph— [Interruption]—or not. It is amazing that the Liberal Democrats still cannot tell us what they would do if there were an amendment calling for a referendum.

Kelvin Hopkins: I am astonished that the Liberal Democrat party, supposedly the most Euro-enthusiastic of all, has no Members in their places apart from the one Front-Bench spokesman. Where are they?

Kate Hoey: I had noticed that, too. Perhaps they have no Whip on at all today. The Conservatives have only a one-line Whip, while we have a three-line Whip, but I suspect that some of my colleagues have decided that there is not going to be a vote.

Mr. Davidson: As I understand the Liberal Democrat position, they do not know what kind of Whip they are on. I sought that information from their spokesman and the answer came back that he did not know. That clearly demonstrates the decisiveness with which the Liberals are approaching these European matters.

Kate Hoey: I will not rub salt into the wounds of the Liberal Democrats—[Hon. Members: “Go on.”]—but they have to be accountable, particularly in the many marginal seats where the public will be very interested in this issue. I know from my own constituency, as I am sure will many other Members, that it is of real importance to the average member of the public. Many people are concerned about the European Union, as they have seen it encroaching, encroaching and encroaching on their lives, yet since 1975 they have had no opportunity to say what they think. I can put down the Government’s reticence about having a referendum only to the fact that they know, deep down, that the chances are that the European constitution would be defeated in any such referendum. If they are so proud of it and think it such a great deal, there is no reason why they should not have that referendum.

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Michael Connarty: My hon. Friend knows that I respect her stands—they tend to be principled stands—on a number of issues. Given her inability, however, to enter into the detail of the treaty and her tendency to keep wandering around the outside of it, we need to remember that it has 150 clauses. Reducing that complexity to a simplistic referendum run in the press—mainly the Murdoch press, owned by an Australian with an American involvement, although I believe that Murdoch is handing it over to his son now—would not be helpful. Any such campaign would be run on the basis of anti-European bitterness, and would have more to do with Murdoch’s interest in the United States than anything to do with the European Union. Surely the detail—of the European arrest warrant, for example—should be debated in this Chamber line by line, not given over to some simplistic referendum campaign. I cannot understand why people adopt that sort of argument.

Kate Hoey: I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution, and I agree that the detail should be debated in this Chamber. It should have been debated long before we actually have to sign it, which is tomorrow. Following on from that, because this is a constitutional issue that deeply affects how we as a Parliament can influence legislation that will affect every one of our constituents—and because we promised a referendum, as did all the parties—this should be going out to the people in a referendum. Why are we afraid of that?

Mr. Drew: Not only did we make a clear statement in our manifesto at the last election, but ours is the party that fought for a referendum on Maastricht. Some of us who may not have been in this place at that time would have liked a referendum on Maastricht, as we could have rejected it. As Opposition Members said earlier, we would not be in the current mess if we had rejected Maastricht.

Kate Hoey: I entirely agree. I was here, and I voted against the Maastricht treaty. My party had told me to abstain. I was telephoned by the then leader of the party, the late right hon. John Smith, who told me that I would be sacked from my post as—I think—citizens charter and equality spokesman; some may remember the citizens charter, way back. So I know all about Maastricht, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right.

We hear all the time from the Opposition Front Bench about the Opposition not having a referendum on Maastricht. The difference is that the Opposition did not promise a referendum on Maastricht, whereas we did. I believe that the whole treaty is no different really, and that therefore we still need the referendum.

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