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Mr. Shepherd: The Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), introduced the concept that we, as a people, were perhaps too dumb to address the issues in a constitutional treaty of this nature. “Why should that be entrusted to the people, when we are the specialists?” he seemed to be asking. But let us think back. We have had 34 years of the divinity of the European Union, and all its wondrous works are on display for the poor dumb public to appreciate. It does not take a Murdoch press to tell the British people what to do; the demand for a referendum springs from a
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democratic instinct that something is profoundly wrong. Perhaps the hon. Lady could remind her colleague that this is still a democracy, and that in the end we believe in the people.

Kate Hoey: I pay great tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who I know cares passionately about democracy. I personally feel confident that the public whom I represent are clever enough, and understand enough, to make a decision on the referendum without having to listen to any of the media, because I happen to believe in the overwhelming interest that they have in it. I believe that we should trust their ability to listen to the arguments.

I have not gone into the detail, because many other Members have gone into great detail. In fact, I do not care how much detail we go into on this European treaty, because the detail into which I have gone, and the amount that I have read, has convinced me—and has, I think, already convinced the country—that it is more or less the same treaty on which we were promised a referendum last time.

I am proud to be a Eurosceptic. I do not consider that “Eurosceptic ” should be used as a term of abuse, although some people, including certain of my colleagues, may want to use it in that sense. I mean that I am sceptical, cynical and realistic about what goes on in the European Union. I am not anti-Europe and I am not anti any European country, notwithstanding the argument that is now pushed, by the Government, in particular, whenever a Member raises a single query or makes a single point about the huge bureaucracy and the huge costs of the European Union. We do not need a referendum on whether we should be in or out. What we do need is a detailed, independent cost-benefit analysis. We need to know whether what we are getting lives up to all the promises that have been made.

As I have said, I am proud to be a Eurosceptic, and I will continue to be a Eurosceptic. I hope that, even at this late stage, we will see action from the Government and the Prime Minister, who so bravely took the lead on Zimbabwe. I was very pleased that the Prime Minister did not go to the summit, and disappointed that the Council will not discuss the issue this week. I hope and believe that the Council will live to regret what it did in allowing Mugabe to go to Lisbon.

I do not want to digress, however. I am proud to be a Eurosceptic, and I will ensure that, as far as possible, my party sticks to what it agreed—and that means that we need a referendum.

7.54 pm

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) observed, there is a sameness about these debates. We go over common ground—but it is the very ground on which this Parliament is built, and the very ground on which we live. It is about ourselves again, this debate: that is all that it has ever been about.

Germany must do what Germany must do, as France must do what France must do. But in this debate, in these proposals, now over 34 years old, in the strong drift towards the creation—or attempted creation—of
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a federal state, the same question nags away. Who governs? To whom is this Parliament accountable? It is not accountable, surely, to a Commission in Brussels. It is not accountable to institutions formed by others. It is accountable to the people who sent us here.

There was a joy, in that at the last election all three parties promised that the people should be invited—no, not invited, but should be given the right, which we would express by law—to take part in a referendum on this treaty. I do not think that we need deal with the Liberal Democrats’ position, which remains as curious as ever, and my own party’s position will come under more intense scrutiny as the weeks go by, but Labour’s 2005 election manifesto promised this:

the European Union constitution—

That was the undertaking given by the Labour party—the Labour Government, in fact—and the then Prime Minister made it clear not only that the British people would have their say on the EU constitution, but that if the constitution were rejected he would not sign up to what was simply an amended version. At the time he said:

He went on to say:

But is that not exactly what is happening now? That is the deceit.

I have no intention of going into why paragraphs and so on are replications of the other constitution. What I want to talk about is the central trust. This House is at the lowest ebb of my lifetime. People’s contempt for our institutions and our Parliament is at a level that I have never perceived before. Why? Because we are not trustworthy. That is the truth. People do not believe what we say. How could one believe the Foreign Secretary after his embarrassing performance today?

Fortunately, the Foreign Secretary has a more mobile, expressionful face, and more mobile, expressionful actions and gestures than any Minister I have ever seen. He is like the itchy schoolboy—the clever itchy schoolboy. I toyed in my mind with whether this was a new Bevin. Was this Ernie? No, this was no Ernie; this was his master’s voice, although I was not sure whether I was hearing the gramophone or the dog that used to sit by the gramophone.

The truth is that this was a poor, poor performance. Every time the Foreign Secretary heard an argument that contradicted the line that was to be taken, his face played out the drama. But an interesting theme developed. Slowly there came that Ceausescu moment when he realised that not everyone bought the line that he was sending out. This is not a convenient House when your own colleagues start pulling apart some of the detail.

And that wretched European Scrutiny Committee! Whose job was that? Do you know, they actually had the impertinence to suggest that there should be a block on the necessity for a debate? Why, no; we were going to talk about much important things—much more important
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things—things that we cannot do anything about. That is the essence of the Foreign Office now: “We’re going to deal with Darfur with a European initiative. We’re going to deal with Zimbabwe with a European initiative.” No one believes a word of it. It is posture. That is what we saw today on two legs: outrageous posture.

Mr. Cash: Outrageous.

Mr. Shepherd: It is outrageous, because of the profound promises made by all three parties, but most of all because of the party of government’s promise that the people would have a referendum. Our youngest Foreign Secretary thinks that it is such nonsense. He can grin away, and he can spoon down the medicine from my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), our Front Bench spokesman, to try to brush this aside, but in truth we can talk to each other out there. The people who sent us to this place hear things and understand what has happened. They understand that those who promised things do not keep their promises.

The election addresses or manifestos of most Labour Members of Parliament will have contained the fact that they personally were committed to a referendum. Each one of them will stand in front of an electorate: it is not so far off. I may think that two and a half years is a millennium away, but it will come round faster than anyone thinks. They will stand in front of an electorate and the awkward little man or woman whom they did not deign to hear or did not want to know about, except to get them through the previous election, will say, “But didn’t you promise me a referendum?”

That is why we are in a crisis. The integrity of what we do and say represents the profoundest trust in British politics. People have to believe us when we say that it is necessary to go to war. They have to believe us; otherwise we are nothing. That is what we and the Government are betraying. I cannot conceive how the Prime Minister could have got into this position, but the cult of spin is so deep now in our political processes that they believe—we believe—that we can say anything to justify almost any position that is subsequently taken. I have finished my contribution to this debate, because it is about one thing. This House and every Member in it has a duty to hold their own party and this Government to the undertaking given freely and openly to the British people in the quest for high office.

8.2 pm

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): I agree with every word said by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). As Paul Simon might have put it, today has been a day of miracles and wonders. We heard the revelation from my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) about how her job as shadow spokesman on the citizens charter was threatened. I can announce that my job as Opposition spokesman on the cones hotline was threatened at the same time.

We heard the outstanding contribution from the Liberal Front-Bench team. The Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter), brilliantly deployed the strongest and most effective arguments for bringing back the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) that I have
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heard, and ended up by saying that we should have a referendum on the referendum that the Labour party had in 1945. Why not go further back? Why not have a referendum on the treaty of Versailles? That would be about as useful in the present situation. What are the Liberals proposing to have a referendum on? Would it be a referendum on Europe as it will be following this constitution? Would it be a referendum on Europe without that constitution? That is the crucial issue. They will have to hold a referendum on the constitution at some stage, otherwise their approach makes no sense.

Most exciting of all was the revelation from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, whom of course I strongly support, that next year we shall be facing 20 days of total futility. That is the promise that he has held out to us. We shall be discussing a constitution, which is called a treaty—the constitution that dares not speak its name—for 20 days, but we cannot make a single change to it. We cannot put in a full stop or a comma, and we cannot do anything about abhorrent apostrophes. I am already looking at holiday brochures and wondering whether the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is having any decent trips that I can go on to get away from that discussion. The most futile exercise that we have had in this House will be fascinating.

Kelvin Hopkins: I agree with my hon. Friend. It is rather like having marriage guidance after one has been divorced.

Mr. Mitchell: I thank my hon. Friend for putting it so effectively. It was said by some Labour Members that when the Conservatives were in power they did not hold a referendum on Maastricht. It does not matter two hoots whether they held a referendum on that, because it is dead and gone. The question is what to do now. If we are saying that the Labour party has been so strongly converted to the policies of Margaret Thatcher that we are going to do exactly as she did on all issues, I shall shortly be resigning from the Front-Bench job that I have not got.

What is the use of discussing something that we cannot change? It is important to amend this constitution, because it will be our constitution if it is passed—it will say what we can and cannot do, and it will take powers away from this place. It is thus important that we are able to have our say on it. It will make us part of a larger entity—a larger state—and it will close the door on that. That is what it is about. If we cannot change that and if we cannot put it to the people, we are futile and useless. As the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills said, we cannot change it even one teeny-weeny bit, and that makes us look silly, futile and useless. It shows contempt for the people who elected us, because they elected us to do a job. They elected us to use certain powers that they gave us, but those powers are being taken away and we cannot say yea or nay on the matter.

It is clear that the people do not want this treaty/constitution. The polls that I have seen indicate that about 81 per cent. of people want a referendum on the constitution—over Europe as a whole, 70 per cent. or so want a referendum. Why cannot they have one? Why cannot our people have one? We cannot say that a vote on a three-line Whip, in which Members who are doubtful about the whole proposition will rally behind the party line, is a substitute for, or an alternative to, a
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referendum—it just is not. There should be a free vote in any event, but that is particularly the case when there is to be no referendum. We are in this situation because of the way in which the European Union works.

Mr. Drew: On the three-line Whip, I have been encouraged to come along to make enthusiastic statements in support of the need not to have a referendum because the overwhelming case for the new treaty is such that we do not need one. Am I somewhat bemused about why I am in this place today? I am at least a little confused, so can my hon. Friend help me?

Mr. Mitchell: Confusion abounds, as my hon. Friend says. I came along all fired up, having limbered up courageously all weekend thinking that I would take the brave step of voting against my Government, only to find that we are not going to have a vote at all. Everybody has been fired up with different expectations—intellectual clarity was the last expectation of all.

We are in this mess because of the way in which Europe works. It is a construction of the European elite—they know better than the people what the people want, so they are going to give it to them. They feel that they are justified in building the ever-closer superstate by lies, half-truths and manipulation— by any technique available—dragging Governments behind them, however reluctantly. They exclude the people from the process, because in these matters the people’s views are dangerous. People might actually oppose something, negate something or vote against something that the European elite want. I am afraid that in a democracy that is the risk that they have to take, but it means that there has been a crab-like progress towards the superstate.

I visualise Europe as a kind of great amorphous blancmange edging slowly towards the superstate, overruling and engulfing anything that stands in its way. The treaty/constitution is a major step towards the superstate—it is the topping-out ceremony of that superstate. We should have a quiz in schools and for the public. What does one call an entity that has an army, a defence policy, a foreign policy, an economic policy, a currency, a president, a public prosecutor, a Bill of Rights, an immigration policy and a trade policy?

Mr. Drew: A federal state!

Mr. Mitchell: Exactly. We are being asked to enter a federal state whose policies we cannot control and to which we are forced to hand over powers. We have to do as the majority in that federal state decides. It is a state to which we are subordinate. That is what the treaty creates.

We should cast our minds over all those successful common policies that have evolved in Europe over the years. As I come from Grimsby, I think primarily of the common fisheries policy. What a success that has been for conservation, fish stocks and the development of a healthy fishing industry, especially in this country. What a success the common agricultural policy has been. How inexpensive, how wonderful, how marvellous it is, and what great benefits it has brought in putting up food prices for the family of four by £20 to £30 a week
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more than if bought on world markets. What a successful policy economic and monetary union has been. It has turned Europe into the high unemployment, low growth black spot of the whole western world because of its deflationary effect. That has been made worse by the rise of the euro.

We are told that we need this reform treaty—not this constitutional treaty, because we are not allowed to say that—to make Europe more efficient. What is wrong with the way it is working now? The London School of Economics tells us that Europe is working perfectly well and does not need these reforms. What is so disastrous about the—

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): I am trying to understand my hon. Friend’s position. I came to the debate today thinking that we might have the chance to introduce some amendments to the treaty. If it is not amended, I might be persuaded to vote for a referendum, but my hon. Friend seems to suggest that it is not worth amending, because the EU project as a whole is such anathema to his politics. He appears to be more interested in a referendum on the whole principle of the EU. Is he in favour of trying to amend the treaty, as I am, and then, if we fail to amend it, of talking about a referendum? Or does he want a referendum, come what may?

Mr. Mitchell: If that is the message that my hon. Friend has received from my speech, I have been speaking to no purpose for the last 10 minutes. He clearly has not understood a word of it. I shall use less elegant language in future so that my message gets across. I want to be able to alter the treaty, but I want to submit it to the British people to get their opinion on it, because that is the all-important opinion. It is the powers of this Parliament that we are surrendering—

Michael Connarty: Am I correct in thinking that, given the opportunity, my hon. Friend would want to pull out from the 1972 treaty? He appears to be taking a similar position to the most extreme Eurosceptics who want to renegotiate our membership of the European Union, or the common market, as it was called in its earlier years.

Mr. Mitchell: I am not saying that either. My hon. Friend seems to think that the people are not qualified to make a decision on this issue, because their minds would be seduced by Rupert Murdoch. I am sorry that he has such a low estimate of the intellectual ability of the people of this country. A referendum is the only way to decide it. We do not have the right to hand over these powers. We hold them on behalf of the people and it is not our responsibility to hand them over to Europe. This treaty would hand those powers over and that is a decision that only the people can take.

Jon Trickett: My hon. Friend’s position is unravelling slightly. If a series of amendments were to be agreed by the House, which is not inconceivable, is it not possible that a proposal may emerge that is so diluted that it is not worth putting in a referendum? The logic of trying to amend the legislation is to bring it to such a point that it no longer changes the constitutional nature of the UK and its relationship to the European Union. At that point, a referendum is not needed. My hon. Friend suggests that he wants a referendum come what may.

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