I absolutely agree. The full absurdity of the Liberal Democrat leaderships position is that it wants a referendum on the possible use of one clause in the treaty, which provides for withdrawal from the European Union. Liberal Democrats do not support the use of that clause, yet they want to deny the British
people any say on the hundreds of other clauses in the treaty, the use of which they support. They confidently expect them to be used.
The instruction is patently a fig leaf to cover their embarrassment at their attempt to renege on their manifesto commitment. It is pretty small fig leaf over a pretty huge embarrassment. It does not deserve the support of the House because it is a distraction from the genuine issue before us.
Mr. Cash: Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would not be sensible to promote a referendum to stay in without including an assertion of the Houses legislative supremacy to ensure that we could legislate about the way in which we govern ourselves?
after much thought and consideration I have not been persuaded that the overall effect of the treaty is sufficiently different from the EU Constitution which was proposed prior to the last election. I am mindful of the promise I made at the last election which was to support a referendum on the Constitution. I will not use semantics to wriggle out of a promise so, unless something unforeseen happens, I intend to support the call for a referendum.
use semantics to wriggle out of a promise.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): I want to make three brief points. First, I was filled with horror at the prospect of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) being alone in the same Division Lobby as the Liberal Democrats, and for that reason I have decided to join him.
Secondly, I have sat through much of the debate over the past few weeks and have listened with growing alarm to the Conservative arguments that have been deployed. The exchange that just took place between the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) illustrates my point perfectly, because the right hon. Gentleman evaded the question that was put to him.
The truth, which has become increasingly apparent over the past few weeks, is that the fault line that has run through the Conservative party since the time of the corn laws is as apparent today as it ever was. The truth is that the Conservatives are the ones who are hopelessly divided. What many of them would really like is to come out of the European Union. For once in my life, I think that the Liberal Democrats are right. Let us test the Conservatives on that principle, because the reality is that they are playing semantics on this occasion, not the Liberal Democrats.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): There is a smell of fear over this Chamber this afternoon. We know perfectly well what this is about. I am disappointed that the right hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) is going to join the LiberalsI actually vote in the Division Lobby. [Laughter.] I am glad that is clear.
I voted in the notorious Division last November. I believe in referendums as a general proposition. In fact, I moved for a referendum on Maastricht, as some hon. Members present will recall. To try to get support for that, I went to see the then leader of the Liberal Democrats, Lord Ashdown, who gave his support. The Liberal Democrats would have voted for a referendum on Maastricht. I use that example because Maastricht was a treaty.
There is a fear hanging over the House, because each of our partiesthose on the Liberal Democrat Benches are not alone in this; the parties include the Conservatives and Labour, as well as the Liberal Democratspromised a vote on the treaty in their election manifesto. We have now heard all the semantics and the attempts to say, This isnt the same, its slightly different or Its composition is this or that, but when the public lookand as we have seen in the 19 hours given to clause 2they see that the transference of power goes on.
When the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) said that there was one-way traffic, I woke up. Ah, yes! Ive heard that expression before, I thought, but normally it is a one-way ratchet. No, the hon. Gentleman has got the traffic direction wrong. He was complaining that other people in this country argue about his propositionabout the divinity of Europe or otherwise.
The issue is controversial: people do criticise the treaties; they do believe that they knock the sovereignty of Parliament; and they do believe that they undermine the relationship between a Member of Parliament and his constituents and between the Government who make the laws and the population of Britain. People do believe that, but the ratchetthe one-way traffichas been the ever-increasing power of the European Community, now Union. That is what the central issue has always been. However, the promise that the three parties made is what Parliament is all aboutthe greatest trust of all.
Mr. Shepherd: The hon. Gentleman must forgive meI quite understand the difficulty of his position. That is why[Hon. Members: Give way!] I am going to finish my sentence, at least. That is why we have seen a construct today. It is a change from the storm in the Commons. Perhaps we will end up on the roof next. But whatever else we do, we know what the Liberal Democrats are about. They made a promise, and they now wish to resile from itthat is as plain as anythingbut they still think that the public are fools, and that they will not understand the distinctions involved in what they are doing.
Mr. Shepherd: They said that, if this were a vote on[Hon. Members: Give way!] I have the floor, if the House will forgive me for a moment. I should like to finish a sentence, or two, or three. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston pointed out, a vote on a treaty would not be about whether we were in or out. I remember the immediately previous leader of the Liberal Democrats standing in Westminster Hall saying that if Britain voted against the constitution in a referendum, it would mean that we had to leave the European Union. He was wrong on that, as France and the Netherlands demonstrated. The House cannot elide the two propositions as though they were one. They are distinct. That is what this proposal is about. It is to deceive the public out there.
While I am finishing this very lengthy sentence, I am also looking at the Government, no less. The Government of my country also promised a referendum on this treaty, and I have watched them trying to resile from that proposition as well. When I go into the Lobby today, it will be to damnI think that that is a parliamentary term, Mr. Speakerthe Liberal Democrats for their phoney attempt to cover over their own divisions. Now I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.
Chris Huhne: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was also extremely grateful that he joined us in the Lobby on this issue in November precisely for the reason that he gave earlier in his speech. I am surprised that he does not recognise that Maastricht was a far more significant treaty than this one. It is precisely because the British people were not consultedagain and again, under the Conservative Administration, over the Maastricht treaty, the Single European Act and all the other changes to the European Unionthat we need an in/out referendum. And that is precisely why the Conservatives are so divided.
Mr. Shepherd: I can only hope that the hon. Gentlemans electors out there heard his shouting. They will hear his words. What we stand for is what we undertake to the electors who send us here. Everyone knows that this treaty further disconnects the people of this country from their Government and their representatives in the making of law. It is fundamental to the rule of law that, when we vote, we accept the rule of law because consent has been given by the people. Once we break the link between the sovereignty of Parliament and the rule of law, we are in the kind of really big trouble that we find ourselves in today.
To hear that smug attestation from the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) is not helpful. It is not helpful to his own cause. That is the point. He is saying, We must have a referendum, on our terms, that we think we can win. But what he is telling his electorate is that he has resiled from an undertaking that he gave them. I do not accept this referral, and I shall vote against it.
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): I have some sympathy with the Liberal position[Hon. Members: Surely not.] It is not only because I have a natural sympathy with beleaguered minorities who find themselves in a hole of their own makingnot least because I have often found myself in that position. I am unhappy about the Liberal proposition because it poses the question of in/out against the question of yes/no, as though people could decide on only one of them. I would be inclined to vote for an in/out referendum if the Liberals were prepared to support the idea that I and others could have the opportunity to vote on a yes/no referendum. I would vote yes to remain in, but vote no to the treaty. Under the Liberal proposals, as I understand them, there would be a referendum only on in/out.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): The hon. Gentleman is wrong in his interpretation of this debate. If the instruction is given, tomorrow the House of Commons of the United Kingdom will have the opportunity to decide whether there should be a referendum just on the Lisbon treaty or on the wider range of issuesor, in theory, both. If the hon. Gentleman votes no today, that option tomorrow will be precluded.
Simon Hughes: I will give the hon. Gentleman the answer. We have made it clear that our preferred option is to vote for the referendum on the packagethe whole issue of whether we are in Europe or not. That would be a vote in Committee, which we would hope to win, but we cannot even try to win it if the House will not allow us to have that vote. That is what the instruction is about.
Mr. Davidson: I wish to clarify the implications of accepting the instruction, because I am anxious if I vote for the Liberal proposition that I will be less likely to be successful in a motion that I would like to propose on yes or no. If the Liberals give me an undertaking that they will vote for a yes/no referendum on the treaty, I will vote with them on in/out. If not, I have to assume that they are guilty of hypocrisy.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I will be very brief. It seems to me that this is an extraordinary example of sanctimonious chicanery. [Interruption.] What we had last week [Interruption.]
Sir Patrick Cormack: I would certainly not wish to be a president of any club that that gentleman could join. [Hon. Members: Ooh!] Last week, we saw an attempt by this shower to bully the Chair. Because they did not succeed in bullying the Chair, we now have this motion before us this afternoon. It comes side by sideand this is the answer to the hon. Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson)with something that I have never known in all my time in the House: a three-line Whip to abstain. Frankly, the Liberal Democrats ought to be ashamed of themselves. They gave promises to their constituents, on which they are indeed resiling. Other Members have done the same, but for sheer two-faced effrontery, the third-rate biscuit is won by the Liberal Democrats.