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21 Jan 2008 : Column 1307
9.12 pm

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): If the motion is passed, it will be a bad day for trust in British politics and for those of us who want self-government and democracy in our country strengthened. Ministers insult the intelligence of not only the British people but Members of Parliament. It is obvious to anyone who reads the document that it is largely the old constitution. It is obvious to anyone outside the House that a Member who was elected in 2005 on a promise to hold a referendum on the proposals should vote tonight to do that.

I find it heroic to the point of being bizarre that many Labour and Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament, who were elected in 2005 on small majorities, want to be with the Government in tearing up their promise to the electors to grant them a referendum. It is especially bizarre given that the Conservative party is so much higher in the polls than it was in 2005 and their parties are lower. It is bizarre, given that local content in elections is increasing rather than decreasing. It is odd, given that most Members of Parliament, when interviewed separately, agree with me that they need to do everything possible to build trust and confidence with electors because their party is so unpopular, that many should wish tonight to take action that implies that they intend to snub their electors and make it more likely that the 1,000, 2,000 or 3,000 electors whose support they need to retain will go another way in an election.

Ministers have forgotten, if they ever knew, that only one in five of all voters voted for the Government in 2005. They have forgotten that the Labour party polled even fewer votes in England than the Conservative party did in 2005, a year in which the Conservative party polled very badly. Ministers have forgotten that twice as many people decided not to vote at all in the 2005 general election as voted for the Government, because many of them had no trust in politics already. So how on earth can Ministers argue the indefensible tonight and tell their Back Benchers that it is for the good of their cause that they must snub the electors, tear up their promise and destroy what little trust remains in the Government by saying that there must be no referendum?

Looking at the situation from a party political point of view, my party welcomes the Government’s position, because it makes it more likely that we will win those seats. However, as a democrat and as someone who believes that trust in politics desperately needs to be restored, I am unhappy to see both the Lib Dems and Labour in such a strange mode.

As someone who believes that we have already lost too many powers to govern ourselves in a democratic way through Parliament and this Chamber, I am worried to see 60 vetoes on major policy areas being tossed away by the draft proposal, and to see Ministers now accepting that foreign policy and criminal justice will become part of the EU proper in a way that, under the European Court of Justice, will gradually reduce and limit powers. I am also worried to see Ministers pretending that they have protected their so-called red lines, when they have retreated at every conceivable turn.

There was an easy way of preserving our right to self-government in crucial areas such as tax and benefits, foreign affairs and criminal justice, and that
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was to keep the veto. It did not require great powers of oratory or persuasion, or the building of great coalitions. All that Ministers had to do on our behalf was to veto giving away the veto. It was terribly simple—they had the power, and they willingly and negligently decided to give it away. As a result, if the treaty goes through, our country cannot be sure that we will remain in charge of our own affairs even in those vital areas of foreign policy, criminal justice, and taxation and benefits or that we will be able do what the electorate wish us to do, by keeping our election promises.

The surrender of those powers will be another way in which trust in our politics will be undermined. Already people do not trust politicians in the House, because in so many cases we are unable to do what we say we will, as European laws and regulations prevent us. That will now happen on a much bigger waterfront if those powers are truly surrendered and the Bill goes through.

Daniel Kawczynski: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Redwood: I will not, because other hon. Members wish to speak.

I urge the House tonight not to surrender those powers but to strike a blow to restore trust in politics, and to show the public that we are prepared to stand up to an over-mighty Executive, who do damage to us but give in at every conceivable opportunity in Europe. That is what is destroying politics. We need to start restoring trust.

9.17 pm

Mr. Roger Godsiff (Birmingham, Sparkbrook and Small Heath) (Lab): Like other right hon. and hon. Members, I supported the Labour party’s 2005 manifesto commitment to have a referendum on the EU constitution. Some 240 clauses of the amended treaty are the same as the ones in the EU constitution. The 10 that are different relate to symbolic elements, as the Danish Prime Minister said.

I listened to what the Foreign Secretary and the Liberal Democrat spokesman said. I believe that the Foreign Secretary is an honourable man, but there are other honourable men and women who spoke on the issue after the treaty was agreed. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, said:

Jose Zapatero, the Spanish Prime Minister, said:

Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, said:

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Godsiff: I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but time is pressing.

Astrid Thors, the Finnish Foreign Minister, said:

21 Jan 2008 : Column 1309

I have said that I believe the Foreign Secretary is an honourable man. I also believe that the four other people whom I have mentioned are honourable. However, they cannot all be right. If the amending treaty is adopted, there will be a further transfer of power from Westminster to Brussels, as the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee—who is not here at the moment—has made clear. This will add to the half of UK legislation on business, charities and the voluntary sector that already originates in the European Union.

Mr. Redwood: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the problems is that more matters will come under the European Court of Justice? It is an activist Court that is always increasing the federal power, so many more things will be at risk, whatever Ministers might promise.

Mr. Godsiff: The right hon. Gentleman makes a good, valid point.

It has been suggested that, unless we adopt the amending treaty, the EU will be prevented from fighting climate change. However, it already has plenty of powers in areas such as environmental policy. The EU does not need a constitutional treaty to fight climate change. It simply needs to develop policies that work, and to have the political will to pursue them.

It is easy to label anyone who does not support the amending treaty as anti-European, and to say that referendums are somehow un-British. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) has pointed out, however, Labour Governments have quite rightly held referendums in the past, including those on Welsh and Scottish devolution and, back in 1975, we had a referendum on whether the UK should remain a member of the Common Market. Furthermore, even staunch supporters in the media, such as The Observer, believe that there is justification for the people of this country giving a vote on this issue. In an editorial on 2 September last year, it said:

Some supporters of the amending treaty try to make out that the changes in it are insignificant. On 25 June last year, in his last House of Commons comment on Europe, our former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, gave us one of his great one-line quotes. When referring to bringing together the staff of the Commission and the European Council, he said:

That is a great quote, but if all this is about is an open-plan office, one wonders why his friend, Mr. Sarkozy, is promoting our former Prime Minister to be its manager, and why our former Prime Minister is alleged to be seriously considering such a prospect.

The argument about the future of Europe is not, in my opinion, about whether the United Kingdom stays in or leaves; it is about the sort of European Union we want. Do we want a federation—a united states of Europe? I do not believe that that would be in the long-term interests of the people of this country or of Europe. Or do we want a confederation of independent states working for common objectives?

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Mr. Hayes: The hon. Gentleman is making a persuasive case. Does he agree that the difference in this debate is not between those who believe in an intergovernmental Europe, as he and I do, and those who believe in sacrificing our freedoms to a European superstate? Rather, the difference is between those who want legitimacy expressed through the will of the people and those who are simply prepared to disregard that and, frankly, to be dishonest about the full ramifications of the treaty.

Mr. Godsiff: The hon. Gentleman makes his points powerfully and I shall make a further comment about that in a few moments.

What I want to see is a confederation, but I believe that the amending treaty as it stands is a further step towards a federation—a united states of Europe. However, let me make this point clear: if that is what the British people want, so be it. What I believe is very wrong is to deny the British people an opportunity to have their say. They were promised a referendum by all the major political parties at the last election and I regret to say that, without a commitment to that from those on the Front Bench tonight, I will not be able to support the Bill.

9.25 pm

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): I have only a few minutes, so I will be brief. As I have never supported the concept of referendums, I am in no confusion about that issue. The matter before us tonight is not really about whether there should be a referendum, but whether the treaty is beneficial to the United Kingdom.

I was saddened by the Foreign Secretary’s opening speech. It is not that he said anything with which I particularly disagreed; what saddened me was the tone he adopted, which echoed the tone of the Government’s approach, who have sought to reassure people that somehow this awfully threatening issue can be defended by a series of red lines or other qualifications that the Government have proposed. The public out there are unsurprisingly confused when it comes to understanding why the treaty is a good thing. I shall vote for the treaty tonight, because I believe that it is a good thing, but I hope that the Minister for Europe will explain to others the treaty’s benefits to our country and why it will help us to influence what is about to happen in Europe and to meet some of the challenges ahead better than would be the case without it.

That brings me to the brilliant speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), whose eloquence almost tempted me to agree with him. But then I suddenly thought that a brilliant speech before the House does not enable us as a party to influence the very leaders of other countries whom we will need to have on our side if we want to make the changes we desire to the character of the European Union. That is the fundamental weakness of my own party’s position—it wants to be in Europe, but it really does not like it and it tells others that it does not like it. We are then rather surprised that others do not want to do what we want to do in the European Union.

This treaty provides several key developments. It is a shame that the EU is not more united on foreign policy,
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so if the treaty persists in allowing that to happen, it is all to the good. Given the problems we face in dealing with Russia at the moment, we need more rather than less unity. It is also important to address energy issues, so if the treaty enables us to do so, that, too, is a good thing. Speaking as a former Minister who did business at several Council meetings, qualified majority voting is, by and large, a good thing because it overcomes the opposition of any one member country.

Will the Minister for Europe please address some of those advantages so that the British people understand that if one wants to stay in the EU, one must make it work much more effectively? It is of no benefit to the EU that there is a weak Commission, and a weak Commission is likely to persist if, as further enlargement takes place, measures to introduce a leaner version—for example, the treaty would reduce the number of commissioners to 18—are not introduced. It is vital that we have someone in the EU who can represent the decisions that the nation states have made, so it is good to appoint a President for that purpose. It is very important to have greater consistency in foreign policy, particularly in the middle east, so if the EU nations have agreed on a policy, we need someone to represent those nations.

In my view, the British public have not even begun to understand that this treaty brings benefits to the UK and enables the UK better to express itself. What we must do now is ensure that the leaders of other countries realise that our vision of Europe, as one that is more liberal, more open and more interested in global trade and global environmental questions, is worth taking a lead on. In order to take a lead, however, we must convince those countries that we believe in the institutions created in the European Union. I will support the Government tonight, but I hope that they will subsequently be more enthusiastic about the tasks ahead.

9.29 pm

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): This has been a lively and at times passionate debate, in which we have had, I think, 22 speeches from both sides of the House, as well as a number of interventions, ranging in style from that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) to that of the future bishop of Rhondda, who is unfortunately no longer with us and conducting evening prayers. I am also interested to see that we have just been joined by the Prime Minister’s right-hand man, Mr. Ed Cojones, who can pass back to the Prime Minister our disappointment that he is not here to vote on these matters tonight.

The greatest contrast, however, was between the two opening speeches. Without wishing to be malicious to the Foreign Secretary, anybody watching the debate from outside would most certainly have concluded that my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) should be speaking for Britain on the world stage.

Tonight, the House is being asked to begin the ratification of a treaty that hands over major powers from this place to the European Union, and that is, in
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effect, the old European constitution under another name. To escape their solemn manifesto commitment of a referendum, the Government must subscribe to the fiction that the two documents are really different, a position described by The Economist as “a farce”.

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

Mr. Francois: In a moment.

Just in case any Members of the House have not had the opportunity to read through all 291 pages of the English version of the Lisbon treaty, let me summarise briefly how that has been achieved.

Article 1 of the Lisbon treaty carries forward large elements of the constitution and inserts them directly into the treaty of Maastricht. Article 2 of the Lisbon treaty does exactly the same for the other remaining key powers in the constitution by inserting them into a renamed treaty of Rome. The format might have been modified, but the substance is almost exactly the same. That is why the Labour-led European Scrutiny Committee, whose Chairman made a powerful contribution this evening, conducted a detailed comparison of the two texts and concluded that they are “substantially equivalent”, and that to argue otherwise is “misleading”.

Only this weekend, another Labour-led Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, which also undertook a detailed examination of the foreign policy aspects of the two documents, concluded:

I will now give way to the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick), who also promised electors in his constituency a referendum on the constitution.

Mr. Hendrick: I promised a referendum on a constitutional treaty, not on an amending treaty. In my contribution, I gave a long list of differences between the two treaties. As for what is substantively the same, if the hon. Gentleman means the replacement in the previous constitution of “ecu” with “euro” and “European Community” with “European Union”, what is the big deal?

Mr. Francois: I shall come on to demonstrate further that the two treaties are effectively the same. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his stunning input to the debate.

Despite the two Labour-led Committees—

Mike Gapes rose—

Mr. Francois: I see that the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee wants to intervene, but he will have to bear with me for a moment.

Despite those two Labour-led Committees concluding that the two documents are effectively the same, the Government still plough on regardless, arrogantly denying the people of this country the referendum that they solemnly promised in the first place. I now give way to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

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