|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
13 This Act does not affect the power of the Secretary of State to make provision under section 129 of the 2000 Act (orders regulating the conduct of referendums) for or in connection with the referendum.
14 Section 126 of the 2000 Act (identification of promoter and publisher of referendum materials) does not apply to any material published for the purposes of the referendum if the publication is required under or by virtue of an order under section 129 of that Act.
donation means anything which is or corresponds to a donation within the meaning of Part 4 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (c. 41); and programme services means any services which would be programme services within the meaning of the Broadcasting Act 1990 (c. 42) if Gibraltar were part of the United Kingdom..
Mr. Hague: Amendment No. 293 is linked with new clause 1, and its effect is very simple: it would mean that the Act would come into force, and the Lisbon treaty would be ratified by the United Kingdom, only once there had been a referendum of the British people, in line with the manifesto commitments of every party in the House.
The Committee will understand that the arguments in favour of a referendum are many and varied. They include the arguments that the issues being decided are of great importance to the governance of Britain, that the constitutional nature of what is being proposed is transparently obvious, and that referendums have become a regular part of our constitutional practice in Britain in recent years, on matters ranging from directly elected mayors to the establishment of a Scottish Parliament. However, there is one argument that all of us in the House would do well to reflect on in the coming hours as we debate the issue of a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. It is an argument that
goes to the heart of trust in politics and faith in political institutions. Put simply, it is this: a referendum should be held on the issue because a referendum was promisedby the Government, by the Opposition and, yes, by the Liberal Democrat party.
Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): While we are talking about trust, on the basis of the right hon. Gentlemans considerable historical knowledge of the Conservative party, can he tell me of any occasion when the Conservative party has held a referendum on any treaty that it has negotiatedor indeed on anything else at all? Ought we not to measure the Conservative partys attitude by how it behaves in power, rather than how it behaves in opposition?
Mr. Hague: Parties should be judged on whether they keep the promises that they make. The only occasion on which the Conservative party has promised a referendum, other than on the possible introduction of the euro under the Maastricht treaty, was in the 2005 general election, and we are keeping that promise by voting for the amendment today. It is a pity that the right hon. Gentlemans party will not keep its promise by voting for the amendment.
Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there have been substantial changes, particularly as regards justice and home affairs, for which the opt-in and opt-out arrangements are far more extensive than they were under the proposed constitution? That was a matter of particular sensitivity for him and his colleagues. Circumstances have changed, and as that great Liberal, Lord Keynes, said,
When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?
Mr. Hague: The hon. Gentleman says that there are substantial differences between the constitution and the treaty before us, but last night on the BBCs Newsnight, a commentator said, There are differences but they are differences of nuance. He also said: I think you have to go through some pretty perverse constitutional contortions to be able to go back and explain to the electorate why that promise for a referendum doesnt hold. That commentator was one Mark Littlewood, head of media for the Liberal Democrats until last year. That is the accurate position. Clearly, it is not only the leader of the hon. Gentlemans party who can run into calamities from time to time.
The promise was made specifically about the European constitution, and given the overwhelming similarity between the constitution and the reform treaty, all attempts to wriggle out of that commitment will only be seen, and will only be, the weasel words with which a solemn promise is deliberately and calculatingly broken.
Mr. Elliot Morley (Scunthorpe) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman speaks of opting out of measures as a nuance, but it is much more than a nuance. Also, does he not think it significant that countries such as Denmark, Holland and France, which voted against the constitution, are not having a referendum on the treaty, because they do not see it as the same?
Mr. Hague: Nuance was not my word. It is the word of a former head of media for the Liberal Democrats. I will present my own analysis of the changes or similarities between the treaty and the constitution in a moment.
Since when has it been an argument that a Government in this country are absolved of keeping their election commitments because a Government in another country are not doing a similar thing? We cannot say that the election manifestos of parties in the House are invalidated because a referendum is not held in another country.
Mr. Evans: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Surely one of the fundamental changes, other than the promise made in 2005 by all the parties, is that the ratchet clauses in the treaty mean that there could be fundamental changes in the future, on which Members of Parliament would have no say whatever?
Mr. Hague: Of course that adds to the case for a referendum. It is an issue that we debated in Committee last night, and I am pleased to say that the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) and I, and Members of other parties, made common cause in saying that the use of such ratchet clauses should be subject to primary legislation, rather than the simple motion to which the Government have so far committed themselves.
We will put it
to the British people in a referendum and campaign wholeheartedly for a Yes vote.
We dont know what is going to happen in France, but we will have a referendum on the constitution in any event, and that is a government promise
I repeatin any event. Asked what it was that made the European treaty constitutional in nature, the then Foreign Secretary, now the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, said at the Dispatch Box on 6 June 2005 that it was the creation of an EU president and an EU Foreign Minister. He said:
Those points are central to the European constitutional treaty, and of course I see no prospect of their being brought into force, save through the vehicle of a constitutional treaty.[ Official Report, 6 June 2005; Vol. 434, c. 1001.]
Even the most casual voter, looking to see whether the promises made at election time are fulfilled, would recognise that that combination of statements does not allow for the abandonment of the referendum when a redrafted treaty still contains the essence of its constitutional nature, as defined by the current Lord Chancellor himself.
We are therefore clear in our support for the constitution, which we believe is in Britains interestbut ratification must be subject to a referendum of the British people.
Any proposals which involve significant change in the relationship between the Union, the Member States and its citizens should be approved in Britain through a referendum.
That is of interest to the Committee, because it went further even than the manifesto commitment. Not only, in the view of the then future leader of the Liberal Democrats, should the constitution be submitted to a referendum, but any proposals involving significant change in the relationship between the EU and its member states, he said, should be submitted to a referendum.
That is an interesting view. Difficult as it is to argue that the Lisbon treaty is fundamentally different from the EU constitution, relying, as the argument does, on the exaggeration of the significance of a small number of changes, when one considers the sheer sweep of the treatys provisionsthe creation of a president and Foreign Minister, or high representative, the abolition of so many vetoes, the provision, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) pointed out, for the abolition of even more to come, the total collapsing of the third pillar of the EU, the widened scope of the European Court of Justice and the increased powers of the European Parliamentan argument that the treaty is not even a significant change in the relationship of the EU to the member states can only be an exercise in intellectual nonsense and political deception. And that is what it is.
Chris Huhne: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, because he avoided answering my previous intervention on justice and home affairs, which he and his colleagues always regarded as the most sensitive of the subjects that we are considering. Does he now accept, and will he put it on record, that the reform treaty is substantially different from the constitution in that every single aspect of justice and home affairs is subject to an opt-out or an opt-in? That is a fundamental change, which he should acknowledge.
Mr. Hague: The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that there are some differences on justice and home affairs, which I will tackle shortly, between the constitution and the Lisbon treaty. However, there is an important point, which the European Scrutiny Committee has studied at length, to make. The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who has spoken so often in our proceedings, pointed out that the red linesthe hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) was considering the red lines on justice and home affairsleak like a sieve. That is why I am not satisfied with the changes.
dismissing all calls for a referendum
playing straight into the hands of the Eurosceptics.
Nothing will do more damage to the pro-European movement than giving room to the suspicion that we have something to hide, that we do not have the cojones to carry our argument to the people.
An explanation of why the Liberal Democrat leaderships protests in the debates have become ever more shrill is that, at some point in recent months, they have become separated from their cojones. Those unfortunate objects are now to be found impaled on a distant fence.
The argument that the Lisbon treaty is not only different from the European constitution, but so different that entire political parties are relieved of their commitment to hold a referendum does not stand up to much analytical scrutiny.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): The right hon. Gentleman is right to point out that every party in the House committed itself to a referendum, not least the Scottish National party, which committed itself first, and will vote for a referendum this evening. However, is not it right and proper to remember the public in the debate? Opinion poll after opinion poll shows that the overwhelming majority of supporters of the Labour party, the Conservative party, the SNP and even the Liberal Democrats want a referendum on the issue. It is no surprise that cynicism arises in the country about democratic decisions when we ride roughshod over our promises and public opinion on this matter.
Mr. Hague: Absolutely. That is well said. People in 10 parliamentary constituencies have had the opportunity, organised by the Electoral Reform Society, to cast a vote. It is noticeable that one of the highest turnouts and one of the largest majorities in favour of a referendum on the treaty was in the constituency of the hon. Member for Eastleigh. The margin for a referendum was vastly greater than his majority at the general election. He should reflect on that.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): My right hon. Friend makes a powerful case. Did he notice two other things about that interesting referendum? First, the number of votes in favour of a referendum was greater than the number of votes that the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) got
No; my right hon. Friend said greater than his majority. The number of votes for the referendum was actually greater than the number that elected the hon. Member for Eastleigh on the promise
to hold a referendum. Secondly, the hon. Member for Eastleigh failed in his campaign to stop people in his constituency voting on that crucial issue. Was that not an anti-democratic disgrace?
Mr. Hague: It was a shame to discourage people from voting. My right hon. Friend has picked me up on an important point. The number of votes cast and the majority may be similar in the Rhondda, but not in the rest of the country. My right hon. Friend has made an important distinctionmatters are even worse for the hon. Member for Eastleigh than I imagined, because the number of votes cast in a referendum was greater than his support in the constituency.
Matthew Taylor: Given the right hon. Gentlemans passionate commitment on the subject and his concerns about the treaty, which I do not doubt, will he clarify what will happen if, as is likely, the treaty goes through? If the treaty were in place and the Conservatives were in government, what exactly would they put to the British people in a referendum to enable them to vote on the concerns that the right hon. Gentleman has expressed?
Mr. Hague: The hon. Gentleman asks me to look a long way into the future. It is perfectly understandable that hon. Members in other parties are ever more inquisitive about a Conservative Government, since that moment draws steadily nearer. [Interruption.] The Foreign Secretary says that I always give that answer to that question, but it is the same question, so it receives the same answer. That consistency will apply under a Conservative Government.
The hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell asks me to concede the argument before it is over, but the issue is not yet decided. When it is decided in this place, it will go to another place, when it will not be too late for those parties that committed themselves to a referendum in their election manifestos to insist that it happens. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should recommend that course to his colleagues.
Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): The right hon. Gentlemans party has claimed throughout the debates that there has not been enough time to discuss all the detail, and many amendments have been tabled, yet the right hon. Gentleman expects the British people to vote a straight yes or no, which is nonsense. One cannot vote on a treaty that is 30 or 40 pages long; one can vote only on a principle.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|