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The truth is that the Conservatives do not want to know the facts about the differences between the treaties. Why? Because they are embarrassed about their sorry legacy. The treaties that saw the most significant transfer of power, the Single European Act and Maastricht, were pushed through this House by Tory Governments, with not a word from the Tory Front Bench about a referendum. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed
(Mr. Beith) said, those on the Conservative Front Bench have only ever promised referendums when in opposition, and only on the minor treaties such as Amsterdam, Nice and now Lisbon. That shows how confused and opportunist their position is.
Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): If the hon. Gentleman thinks that this treaty is simply a bundling-up of a few amendments that he feels is necessary, why does he not support the Government tonight and ensure that we do not have a referendum, which they might well lose?
Matthew Taylor: Did my hon. Friend notice that when the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), listed changes to the EU that had been set out in manifestos or passed through referendums, he omitted to mention the Single European Acta surprising omission, given that that was the fundamental change that moved us from the Common Market to a single European Union? The truth is that the Conservative party has no record on this in government; it says a lot in opposition because it plays the field and seeks support from anti-Europeans, but in practice in government it votes entirely contrary to that. That does the Conservative party no credit at all.
Mr. Davey: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The difference between the Lisbon treaty and the constitutional treaty is to do with that very point. The constitutional treaty would have allowed people a vote on the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty, and Nice and Amsterdam. We should have had a referendum on that, because it was a genuinely constitutional treaty wrapping up all the other treaties in one document. The Lisbon treaty does not do that. A vote on Lisbon offers no vote on Rome, no vote on Maastricht and no vote on the Single European Act. It really is that simple.
Mr. Redwood: I am grateful to the Liberal spokesman for giving way. Does he not understand that people outside this place want a vote on what we are debating today, and think that that was promised to them by the Liberal Democrats? Now that he is so steeped in broken promises, and if he does not honour his words from the last election, why would they believe anything that the Liberal Democrats promise at the next election?
Mr. Davey: The right hon. Gentleman would have done his case some good if he had voted with us yesterday. He would have enabled this House to vote tonight on a range of options, but his failure to do that means that when he makes such interventions today, he does not serve his own purpose.
Mr. Don Foster: May I take my hon. Friend back to a point that he made a few minutes ago? He made it very clear that the outcome of an in/out referendum and its implications would be very clear, but he also said that a referendum as proposed by the Conservative party would enable people to decide, for example, on whether to reduce the number of Commissioners. Could he confirm that, even if people voted as he has just described, it is not clear that that would lead to a reduction in the number of Commissioners? Indeed, it is not at all clear what the outcome of a no vote in a Conservative referendum would be.
Mr. Davey: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and when the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks was challenged on this point, he could give no answer. In fact, there were many points today when he could give no answer.
I do not believe that we should judge the differences between the two treaties on a word-count, but the Committee might be interested to know that the constitutional treaty contained 157,000 words and the Lisbon treaty contains 44,000 words. That is the difference: one of the documents had all the treaties in it, and the other does not. Only the Conservatives could deny that significant difference.
I have been focusing on the difference in the nature of the treaties for a very good reason. We Liberal Democrats believe that referendums should be used not willy-nilly, but with care and sparingly, for issues of constitutional significance. Even for issues of constitutional significance, it is not always clear to me that we need a referendum. I do not think that anyone in any party argued for a referendum when this House passed the Human Rights Actor, indeed, back in 1950, when the European convention on human rights was signed. We rarely, if at all, hear arguments that there should be a referendum on reform of the House of Lords or the Freedom of Information Act, so there are many constitutional issues on which people do not think there should be a referendum.
We believe that such analysis is directly relevant when one comes to make the judgment about whether a European treaty deserves a referendum. Treaties that make modest institutional reforms to make the European Union more efficient for enlargement, such as Lisbon, simply do not have the constitutional impact that some Members wish to ascribe to them.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke: Does not the history of our European debates demonstrate that people demand referendums only when they think that they are going to win them, and that the Liberal Democrats vote for a referendum only when they are confident that they are going to lose the vote, so that no referendum will actually happen?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has been a real ally during the debates on the Lisbon
treaty, but I think that today he is not being one. He will not be surprised to know that I disagree with what he says.
Kate Hoey: The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who has a very principled position on referendums, has said todayunless I have got him wrongthat the treaty and the constitution are the same. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is misleading the House?
What we have now
is far less important than Maastricht. I think the idea we have a referendum
is frankly absurd. Some of the Eurosceptics will have demanded a referendum just about the date on the top of the piece of paper.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Of course, the consistency of my right hon. and learned Friends position is that because he believes that a referendum is inappropriate in this case, he is going to vote with the Government. The logic of the hon. Gentlemans position is that he should be voting with the Government, too, because he does not believe that a referendum is appropriate. Is not the real reason why he does not have enough of the courage of his convictions to vote with the Government the knowledge that some of his own Liberal Democrat colleagues are reluctant not to vote for a referendum, because they know that they would be breaking their promises at the last general election?
Mr. Davey: That was not a very good try from the hon. Gentleman. He said that we were afraid of a referendum. We are absolutely not afraid of a referendum. His party could have supported us yesterday, and we could have had another question on a referendum debated today.
Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): Has not the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) perfectly summarised the Conservatives position? In the 18 years for which they had a majority of MPs in this House and could have had a referendum at any point they wanted, they chose not tobut just at this point, when they do not have enough MPs to win a referendum vote, they have suddenly become in favour of one.
The Conservatives have consistently failed to acknowledge that if they were to win the vote tonight, they would be in deep trouble. They have in no
way explained how, if they won a referendum on a no vote, they would take the matter forward, how the British people would have voted and why they would not in fact plunge Britain and the United Kingdom into a state of paralysis in terms of our continuing relations with the European Union. The Conservatives can only vote as they intend to vote tonight knowing that they will lose.
Mr. Davey: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, but I have to say that the position for the Conservatives is even worse. The only other parties in Europe that would support their position are Sinn Fein, a rag-bag of fascist and communist parties and the Dutch animal party. Those are the European parties with which they would be left to negotiate. The truth is that the Tories are isolated with extremists in Europe.
Mr. Davey: The Minister has informed me from a sedentary position that the new Government of Cyprus, who are communist, are actually supporting the treaty. I did not intend to do a disservice to them, so I am grateful to the Minister for that.
In examining the difference in the constitutional nature of the two treaties, I have been taking advice from the speeches of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks. Back in 2006, he made a very interesting comment on the nature of European treaties. He said of the defunct constitutional treaty that
the fact that it was a Constitution, not simply a treaty, would have revolutionised the EU.
There we have ita revolutionary document, or a simple treaty? Referendums are the democratic way [ Interruption. ] Revolutions are important in our government, and I would suggest that referendums are the democratic way to judge constitutional revolutions, but they are absolutely not the way to referee institutional reforms. That is why we Liberal Democrats believe that the only way to honour the pledge on Europe that most Members of this House gave at the last election is an in/out referendum.
We heard yesterday, and we have heard today, accusations that people think that this is some sort of rusethat somehow, we have made it up, that we imagined it all of a sudden. Let me take the House back to the history of the pledge that we made. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy), the then leader of the
Liberal Democrats, explained before the general election what we considered our pledge to mean. When arguing the case for a referendum on the constitutional treaty, he said:
Its time for this debatetime for us to decide what we actually want from Europe. I believe, once the argument has been joined, the consensus will be that its better to be in than out.
Mr. Lilley: May I help the hon. Gentleman explain why his party cannot decide whether to vote in favour of keeping its promises or to vote against doing so? The explanation was spelt out by the leader of his party, who said that it would all depend on the electoral arithmetic in the House. The Liberal Democrats would vote for a referendum proposal that would be defeated, but because their joining us would mean that a referendum would take place, they have decided to abstain.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I have listened to many of the Committee proceedings, during which the hon. Gentleman has made a strong case for the Lisbon treaty. He made exactly the same point in The Scotsman . He cited the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, a former leader of the Liberal Democrats, saying that a vote on the Lisbon treaty would effectively be an in/out referendum. If that is effectively an in/out referendum, why on earth do they not vote for it?
Mr. Davey: My point was that a vote on the constitutional treaty was the relevant in/out referendum. The hon. Gentleman has been honourable in his approach. He is from the Better Off Out group and he voted with us on 14 November, when we were grateful for his support.
I have dealt at length with the difference in nature between the treaties, so let me deal with the differences of substantive detail. When one looks at the really big changes proposed in the old treaty, one finds that, as has emerged from the debate, by far the biggest one was on justice and home affairs. To be specificas this debate so far has not beenthe proposal that the EU would have competence over cross-border police co-operation and cross-border aspects of criminal justice represents, to any fair-minded person, a big shift. It is arguable whether it is of major constitutional significance, but it was the biggest proposed transfer of power in the original treaty.
What happened to that transfer provision in the time between the old and new treaties? It remained for other member states, but the United Kingdom negotiated new opt-ins. That is a massive change. When pressed, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks had to acknowledge that, in a way that Conservatives had not done during the rest of our proceedings. What is even more interesting about the UK opt-ins negotiated at Lisbon, which were not in the old treaty, is that they
went much further; indeed, they took power back from the EU. Britain gained new opt-ins on aspects of JHA in areas that the Conservatives had signed away at Maastricht. That is one of the greatest ironies of this debate. The Conservatives not only want a referendum on a document that is significantly different, but in opposing the Lisbon treaty, they oppose powers being brought back to this country.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): Is not comparing the Lisbon treaty with the former constitution rather like comparing the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe with the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash)? The similarities are superficial but the differences are profound.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): I return to the reference to Maastricht. This is our 11th day of debate on the Lisbon treaty. Has a member of the official Opposition explained at any point during those 11 days, which have involved many hours of debate each day, how the Lisbon treaty contains an issue of greater constitutional significance than was contained in the Maastricht treaty?
Mr. Davey: Absolutely not; there has been a deafening silence. Interestingly, up to this point the Conservatives could not wait to intervene on me, but when I made the point about substantive difference and JHA they would not comment or intervene. They have been found out.
Mr. Cash: I would rather deal initially with the reference to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and me. It is perfectly apparent from our proceedings that he, like me, has been honest in his convictions on this issue. Our approaches have been based on our assessments of the way in which Europe should go, and that is why we have so much in common and why, despite our differences, we can maintain a parliamentary friendship.
When one examines both treaties, one finds some similarities. I have never sought to deny that, but the similarities are on the modest measureson the less significant, non-constitutional issues. People have tried to quantify the similarities by numberthe right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks talked about thatbut, interestingly, not by importance. They have also quantified them by saying how much of the Lisbon treaty was in the constitutional treaty, but not by saying how much of the constitutional treaty is in the Lisbon treaty; those are two different things.
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