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I have sought to add the words “including the Liberal Democrat party” to the EDM through my amendment. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the EDM is a bogus, vacuous attempt to obscure what the Liberal Democrat policies towards Europe really are? They are very different at the local level from what they are in Parliament.

Mr. Davey: Absolutely not. The hon. Gentleman should vote for the instruction, so that he can challenge us in debate tomorrow. What is he afraid of? [ Interruption. ] We have one convert, and I hope that we will have more. Will they vote for democratic debate in the House of Commons?

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman clarify a simple point? When the constitutional treaty, as he said, was around and his party members looked at it, they said that it transferred more powers than this measure. Why, at that stage, did they go for a referendum on the constitutional treaty, and not an in-out referendum, if it transferred more powers? Why have they suddenly come to this measure now?

Mr. Davey: We believe that it amounts to the same thing. If the right hon. Gentleman had listened to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), the then Leader of our party, he would know that he said that at the time.

The Government say that through their business motions they wish to promote debate. Ministers have told us that they are keen to find innovative ways to enable the House to debate all aspects of the Bill, and to make our debates more accessible to the public, and we have used a 19th century procedure to help the Government to achieve that. The general public simply do not understand why an elected Member of Parliament should not be allowed to debate and vote on the Question. They want the Government of the day to ensure that such a debate is held.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I recollect that very amendment to the Gracious Speech, because I supported it and voted for it. We have had that debate, and the only way to get a referendum for the people is to vote for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty tomorrow.

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Mr. Davey: I was grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support on 14 November, when he and five other Conservative Members voted with the Liberal Democrats, but that was before the Lisbon treaty was signed. Furthermore, our amendment was not contingent on the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, which is the point of our amendment today.

Turning to the Conservative position, Conservative Members have said in Committee and on many other occasions that they want to promote more open debate and that they do not like guillotines, programme motions and knives. Well, here is a test for them: they should vote for this instruction and for the House to have as many options as possible tomorrow in order to promote an open and wide debate. If they do not do so, we will not be able to take their protestations on future procedural motions in all sincerity, and, more importantly, the country will not be able to take their commitment to freedom of speech seriously.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): In response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), the hon. Gentleman said that an in-out referendum would amount to the same thing as a referendum on the constitutional treaty. In that case, he should vote for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty on the basis that it amounts to the same thing as an in-out referendum?

Mr. Davey: The message is clearly not getting through, which is yet another reason why we should have the debate tomorrow, when we can explain it to again and again to make it absolutely clear. For the hon. Gentleman’s sake, I shall repeat some of the basic arguments. For a start, the constitutional treaty, unlike the Lisbon treaty, contains the treaty of Rome, the treaty of Maastricht, the Single European Act, the treaty of Nice and the treaty of Amsterdam, so a vote on that document would be a vote on all the rules and the whole EU constitution.

In 2006, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) said that the constitutional treaty was a constitution, not simply a treaty, and as such would have revolutionised the European Union. He was right, which is why there was a case for a referendum. The nearest question with which this House can provide the people of Britain is an in-out referendum, which is nearest to the manifesto promises on which most hon. Members stood.

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): If there had been a vote on the constitution, it would have been a vote against a rulebook. How can one remain a member of a club when one has rejected its rules? It would have been an in-out referendum.

Mr. Davey: Indeed. Both the Prime Minister and the then leader of the Liberal Democrats talked in exactly those terms. In the spirit of upholding parliamentary democracy, I appeal to the other parties to back our instruction today.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): If we are committed to democracy, we can disagree with the rulebook while remaining committed to the overall organisation. When France and Holland said no, their
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positions were regarded as completely democratic and nobody said that they should leave, which is why we should have a referendum on this particular rulebook. The hon. Gentleman’s proposition is undemocratic blackmail.

Mr. Davey: The hon. Lady is entitled to her view, but I ask her to back our instruction to allow us to have a full debate tomorrow. Why is she afraid of having a debate? Indeed, what are the other parties afraid of today, and why are they trying to curb debate in the House of Commons?

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has indicated that he will not give way.

Mr. Davey: If the other parties in this House are not prepared to vote for this instruction and to have the debate tomorrow, one must question their motives. [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Hon. Members must allow the hon. Gentleman to speak.

Mr. Davey: It will appear to people outside the House that the other parties are afraid of open, public debate. They are afraid of facing the question and will not allow the amendment to be put. Some people might say that they are split down the middle on the issue. I am looking forward to the speeches of hon. Gentlemen and hon. Ladies in this debate; we want to know why they are frightened of open, public debate—

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con) rose—

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con) rose—

Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con) rose—

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con) rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Cash rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is not giving way, Mr. Cash—[Hon. Members: “He’s frit!”] Whatever his reasons, he is not giving way.

Mr. Davey: Mr. Speaker, I am genuinely grateful to you for calling this instruction today. You have done this House a great service—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Whatever you do, do not draw me into the argument.

Mr. Davey: I shall obey your instruction totally, Mr. Speaker.

I hope that all Members will now do the House and the country a service. I hope that they will vote for this instruction—for freedom of speech and democracy.

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4.1 pm

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): A little while ago, a good friend and colleague came up to me and said, “Andrew, we don’t need to spend too much time on this motion—do we?” I had to say that we did. I am speaking, and I intend to vote for the instruction. I want to explain to the House why.

First, in my own defence I should say that I have been consistent. The last time the House had a debate and vote on this issue, I was in the Division Lobby voting for it and there was not a single Labour Member in the No Lobby voting against it. That was some time ago, but the principle of having a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union has not altered. This instruction would enable such a referendum.

Secondly, I believe that the referendum is the way forward. We have had countless hours of debate on the question of whether the Lisbon treaty is the same as the constitution. Clearly, there is great division on that issue in this House and elsewhere. However, it would be in the interests of good governance, of the current Government and of any future Government in the next quarter of a century if the matter were put to bed and resolved.

It would be cathartic if between now and, say, 2012 it was enshrined in statute that there should be a referendum to reaffirm our membership of the European Union—a political vehicle that has been very good for this country. It has been a vehicle for conflict resolution and conflict minimisation, and it has been politically, economically, and commercially good.

I am prepared and keen to go out and argue for the European Union; the trouble is that the traffic has all been one way. There have been stories about straight bananas and other absurd things; rather than each one of us having to go out to evangelise and argue the case for Europe, stating how positive it has been and what the consequences would be for every constituent were there ever a day on which we withdrew.

I do not say this arrogantly, but I think that the referendum would be won; Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour Members would put in all their energies because they would know that it would be good for Britain. Therefore, the case would be overwhelmingly put. [Interruption.] The members of the flat earth society and all those who have peddled the most God-almighty nonsense about the issue would be quashed. The traffic has been one way, so it is now time that we said this.

In response to a couple of interventions that I have made on the Prime Minister, I have noticed that he has not totally dismissed the idea. He may well be waiting to see what happens tomorrow. However, whatever happens tomorrow, I hope that he will see that committing us by statute to a referendum between now and 2012 would be good for democracy and good for reaffirming Britain’s membership of the European Union. I believe that it would satisfy many constituents who want that opportunity.

It is time that everyone reflected on the fact that the instruction for the House in Committee to consider an amendment along these lines tomorrow is sensible. It would be fair to everyone. It would help many of us who have a dilemma as to whether the Lisbon treaty is the same as the European constitution—there will be arguments about that for ever and a day.

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While I have the House’s attention, I would like to point out that in the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs I have tried to move amendments to the effect that we should have such a referendum—it is in the minutes. I have asked for a referendum at every stage. I ask Members to pause and reflect on the matter, particularly those on the Treasury Bench, because it would be good for this Labour Government to do such a thing. I hope that Ministers will think about it over the next 24 hours. Even if the instruction is not passed, a signal from the Prime Minister or the Minister for Europe that we are thinking about it would help us all in the constitutional dilemma presented by the Lisbon treaty.

4.6 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): I am delighted and surprised in equal measure to have the opportunity to debate our instruction today—[Hon. Members: “Your instruction?] The instruction. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) in his place again. I am delighted to see so many of his hon. and right hon. Friends in their places, too. Last week, most of them only walked in so that they could walk out again. They have stayed a little longer today, and I hope that they will stay for the rest of my remarks. I said on 28 January that we would be flexible about the business motion, and we have been, on no fewer than seven occasions. I do not wish to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I am going to have to by objecting to his instruction. I shall set out briefly three short reasons why.

First, the House has already come to a view on these matters. On 14 November 2007 the House declared its intention, and it came to a decision very clearly when it voted by 68 votes to 464 against the proposal put forward by the Liberal Democrats. That position is already the settled will of the House.

Secondly, and equally importantly, we have never had a debate on an in-or-out amendment of the nature proposed by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends on any amending treaty. We did not have an amendment or debate of that nature on the Single European Act, Maastricht, Nice or Amsterdam, and we are not convinced that there is anything different in the nature of the Lisbon treaty that means that we should break that established European precedent.

Thirdly, and finally, the Bill is about the merits of the Lisbon treaty, not whether we should or should not be in the European Union. Some commentators—unfairly, I am sure—have said that this instruction is not so much about the inner detail of the Lisbon treaty, but about the inner dynamic of the Liberal Democrat party.

On the basis of those three considered but brief assessments I encourage the House to reject the instruction.

4.8 pm

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): The Minister has spoken briefly, and I will attempt to do the same. In a way, this gives rise to a happy and rare occasion during these debates: an occasion when I can support some of the things that the Minister has said.

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The weaknesses of the instruction are self-evident. The first was mentioned by the Minister: it is unnecessary. The House considered a motion on an in-or-out referendum, as it has been termed, at the end of debates on the Queen’s Speech. An amendment was moved by the Liberal Democrats solely on that subject, to the exclusion of any consideration of education, health, foreign policy or taxation. They moved it solely on that subject in a House that they have just said is afraid of debating the matter, and the amendment was rejected, as the Minister set out, by a vote of 464 to 68.

It seems unlikely that, in the passage of three months in an identical House of Commons, a majority of 400 will be overturned tomorrow. All Opposition parties have Opposition days available to us on which to table any motions that we wish. It is therefore unnecessary to insert the instruction into our Committee proceedings, still less to do that as a deliberate distraction from what is genuinely at stake with the Lisbon treaty.

The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) said that the motion’s purpose could not be clearer. I agree—its purpose is to try to paper over the deep divisions in one party between those who want to fulfil their manifesto pledge and those who wish to break it. I have never heard such a clear parliamentary equivalent of a cry for help. The Liberal Democrats are waving at us but we are not sure whether they are waving or drowning.

The pledge on which all Liberal Democrats stood at the election could not have been clearer, but I shall read it out in case they need reminding:

Their manifesto did not pledge a referendum on membership of the European Union or anything about voting for a treaty identical in all but name to the European constitution without consulting the voters.

The instruction is not a way of giving people their say, as the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton put it, but of denying people their say by letting some Members off the hook of deciding whether to stick to their manifesto commitment or abandon it. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) punctured beautifully the Liberal Democrats’ discredited central argument. If, as they claim, a referendum on the EU constitution is substantially equivalent to a referendum on EU membership, France and the Netherlands would no longer be members of the EU.

Philip Davies: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Liberal Democrats do not even want a referendum on in-or-out? I would like nothing better than an in-or-out referendum, but, however the Liberal Democrats vote today, it has no relevance to the way in which they should vote tomorrow. Does my right hon. Friend agree that they should still honour the promise that they made at the last election and vote for a referendum on the treaty?

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