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5 Mar 2008 : Column 1796

Bob Spink: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davey: No.

Let us examine some of the many similarities. Both treaties sought to change “ecu” to “euro” and “economic community” to “European Union” in all the past treaties. Both treaties contain a hatful of useful reforms, from energy liberalisation to information sharing about sex offenders, from cutting the bureaucracy to strengthening accountability. Are those the reasons why any of us promised a referendum? Absolutely not. Is it contentious to co-operate on tackling terrorism more effectively? Do we need a referendum on that? Why are the Conservatives so worried about Britain being more able to influence countries in eastern Europe? Is it to clamp down on the trafficking of guns, of drugs or of people? As has been said, when the facts change and the treaties change, people should have the courage to admit that.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): I would like to challenge the hon. Gentleman’s use of the word “modest”. I think it is good that the size of the Commission will be reduced, because I want an effective Commission, but we must consider the institutional structures. There is a basic principle that at any one time every country should be represented in the Commission. Once the Commission’s size is reduced that will no longer happen. That is significant, so the treaty contains big changes. Some may be good, others not so good, but the word “modest” does not apply.

Mr. Davey: I am afraid that I disagree with the hon. Lady. The idea that that is a constitutional issue deserving of a referendum is wrong. She will have to talk about the transfers of powers; that is the issue. The transfers of competence in the treaty concern things such as space policy. I do not know whether other hon. Members think that we should have a referendum about space policy, but I do not believe we should.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con) rose—

Mr. Davey: No, I will not give way, because I want to make some progress. As the House knows, the Liberal Democrats believe that there should be a referendum on Britain’s membership, because as pro-Europeans, we want to argue that case. We believe that such a referendum would enable us to get on to the front foot for the first time in a generation to argue the case for Europe. More importantly, it would enable us to set to rest people’s concerns about Europe and rebuild the deep coalition for Europe. Whether on climate change or on globalisation, on beating terrorism or on tackling international crime, the arguments for the future role of Europe are as strong as the past arguments for a Europe that has helped to bring peace and prosperity, democracy and human rights to our once battered and divided continent.

With so much at stake, there is a price to be paid for a strategy of Eurosceptic appeasement, which some pro-Europeans have adopted. That appeasement process means that deliberate misrepresentations of Europe go unchallenged, policies that are in the interest of Britain are not adopted, and the power of Britain’s
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voice and influence at the European table is diminished and reduced. How long can we go on appeasing the people who hold such views? They are damaging Britain’s national interest. The Foreign Secretary and his colleagues must address that point, because they are in danger of becoming the arch-appeasers.

2.30 pm

The Prime Minister will jump when Mr. Murdoch calls, but arrived deliberately late for a European summit with 26 other countries. Rather than running away from their pledge on a referendum, Labour should have joined us yesterday. After all, it was Tony Blair who said about the referendum in 2004:

For once, he knew the historic significance of what he had signed.

Kate Hoey: Will the hon. Gentleman include in the Liberal Democrats’ next election manifesto a pledge to have an in/out referendum? If so, will the electorate believe them, given that their last manifesto said that they wanted a referendum on the treaty?

Mr. Davey: The hon. Lady still has not got it, and I am slightly worried for her. I will argue for the inclusion of an in-out referendum in our manifesto, but we shall decide that in the proper way. I do not think that the Foreign Secretary or the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks are writing their manifestos tonight either.

It is time that we took the Europhobes on and called their bluff. I am sceptical about Eurosceptics. On the whole, they are really anti-Europeans and Europhobes, seeking to adopt a veneer of respectability and unwilling to see that to reform Europe is to be in Europe, at the table, arguing for your views. With a referendum on membership, the weakness of that position would be exposed, and with the yes vote winning through, as I believe it would, Britain could be unshackled from the chains of appeasement and ensure that European policy was based once again on a clear calculation of the national interest, and not on the interests of a weak Government avoiding screaming anti-European headlines.

We know from the polls that it is the referendum on membership that the British people really want. The MORI poll last weekend was the only poll of the British people that has asked the relevant question—whether

In that poll, more than two to one backed the in/out option.

Unfortunately, that option is not before the House because Labour and the Conservatives ganged up to gag the proposal the British people want. It has been rejected by the Conservatives because it would split them from top to bottom. By gagging debate and by
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opposing the vote that the British people really want, the Conservatives have once again lost the plot on Europe. They deserve to lose the vote tonight.

Mr. Stephen Byers (North Tyneside) (Lab): I wish to support the position taken by the Foreign Secretary and to argue against the amendments and new clauses. I shall make three particular points, which I shall do briefly as I know that many hon. Members wish to speak.

My first point concerns the history of the manifesto commitment in 2005. Secondly, I shall argue that the Lisbon treaty is a clear departure from the constitutional treaty that was being considered at that time—some of those differences have already been outlined. Thirdly, I shall discuss the constitutional position of this House and the role that we play in taking key national decisions.

Bob Spink: I shall present a petition later today on a referendum on this treaty. The Clerks have asked me to change the people’s words from


Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that that is a more decorous description of the policy of his party and the Liberal Democrats on this issue?

Mr. Byers: No, and I shall explain why. The hon. Gentleman has a principled position on the European Union, which a fair number of his colleagues share—they want to get out. The past 11 days of debate have made it clear that the new leadership in the Conservative party has not been able to move the party to the centre of British politics, where the majority of people believe that we are better off as part of the European Union. There is still a group in the Conservative party that has a stranglehold on policy on Europe, and it wants to take Britain out of the European Union. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for confirming that he is part of that group.

My first point concerns the history of the manifesto commitment in 2005. In 2004, the then Prime Minister took the view that the constitutional treaty that was being developed in the European Union, with the help of some of my hon. Friends, who played a key role, was in essence a refounding of the institution. The constitutional treaty aimed to repeal all the existing treaties and replace them. The former Prime Minister believed that that was of such significance that it formed a new constitutional structure for the European Union. He came to this House and said as much on 20 April 2004, when he made his position clear about the need for the British people to vote on the constitutional treaty.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman makes a persuasive case, but will he accept that he has failed to persuade the British people? In all the polls and other evidence that we have, the British people remain overwhelmingly of the belief that this treaty should be subject to a referendum.

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Mr. Byers: The people have not yet had the opportunity to hear my argument. When they have, we might see a shift in public opinion. I shall await that with eager anticipation.

Mr. Cash: I cannot remember whether the right hon. Gentleman was at the heart of Government when the decision that he mentions was taken by the then Prime Minister, but I understand—I have heard this from several sources—that the then Foreign Secretary and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is of course now Prime Minister, effectively forced the then Prime Minister into accepting a referendum on the grounds that the constitutional treaty had real implications for the sovereignty of this country and for voters. However, the European Scrutiny Committee has said that this treaty is substantially equivalent to the constitutional treaty. Does that not mean that this treaty should be subject to a referendum?

Mr. Byers: My second point is about the differences between the constitutional treaty and the Lisbon treaty.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that more needs to be done to explain the treaty to the British people? So far, the Eurosceptics have got away with blue murder in their interpretations of the treaty.

Mr. Byers: It is a failing of all the main political parties that we have not had the courage or the ambition to make the case to the British people that the European Union provides them with massive benefits. Those of us who have been in government can rightly be criticised for that failure over the years.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman knows that many issues arise in general elections and that it is often difficult to concentrate on just one. If he is keen to sell the concept of Europe and how it is changing through these treaties to the British people, what better way to do so than in a referendum campaign?

Mr. Byers: I am trying to explain why the manifesto referred to just the new constitutional treaty, and why we are not therefore breaking a promise. There is a different argument, which I will come to later, about the merit or otherwise of a referendum on a range of issues, and the constitutional reasons for that have been articulated very well over the years by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who has explained why referendums are not the way forward in a representative democracy such as the UK.

Let me go back to the debate about the manifesto commitment and to the point made by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). Without going into the details of what happened over Easter 2004, who said what and the outcome, as a result of those discussions the then Prime Minister came to this House on 20 April 2004 and made a commitment that there would be a vote of the British people on the new constitutional treaty, which was subsequently reflected in our 2005 manifesto.

The point that many hon. Members fail to recognise is that the manifesto was absolutely clear and referred
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specifically to the new constitutional treaty. We made a commitment to have a vote on the new constitutional treaty, and we definitely meant that constitutional treaty. When we put those words in the manifesto, there was no doubt that we were referring to the new constitutional treaty, which was what we had in mind when we included those words in our manifesto. We did not have in mind the Lisbon treaty.

Mr. Bone rose—

Dr. Julian Lewis rose—

Mr. Byers: I have a choice; both hon. Members are very Eurosceptic, so I am not getting a balance. I shall take the intervention from the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone).

Mr. Bone: I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s argument, but I have the text of the 2005 Labour party manifesto. The argument for the referendum was made not because it was a constitution, but because of what the constitution did. The manifesto states:

It then lists the very things that the Lisbon treaty will allow the EU to do. Is the right hon. Gentleman’s argument slightly off, because it does not seem to agree with the manifesto?

Mr. Byers: As I had a role in putting together the manifesto, I am clear about what it said. I think that the words that I have used clearly reflect the manifesto. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) has a copy in front of him, and he might clarify the situation.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): The manifesto is very clear. It states that we will put the

The reference to that treaty was specific. The manifesto also specifically stated that the Labour party would not split, as it did in 1975, and that the whole party—everybody who signed up to the manifesto—was committed to campaigning for the constitutional treaty in a referendum.

Mr. Byers: My right hon. Friend makes the point about what was said in the manifesto very well. It contained a clear and specific reference not to any European treaty but to the new constitutional treaty. The House and the British public need to be aware of that.

Dr. Lewis: Let us focus closely on that specific point. I am happy to concede that it is clear that the Lisbon treaty and the previous constitutional treaty are two different documents. If he is arguing on the narrow point that a manifesto commitment to a referendum on document A does not bind the Labour party to a referendum on document B—and if he is stopping at that—he has a logically consistent case, but why did the British people think that he was giving that commitment? Did they think that he was giving that commitment on the individual document or on its
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substance? If the contents of document B are the same as those of document A, the British people are entitled to think that he is breaking his promise if he does not give them a referendum.

Mr. Byers: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s concession, but the manifesto and our promise to the British people were absolutely clear. The manifesto specifically mentions a definitive treaty—the new constitutional treaty—and not any old treaty. I accept the criticism that we may not have adequately explained the distinctions between the two to the British public. All of us who have campaigned politically must bear that responsibility, and perhaps we need to do more about it.

2.45 pm

Mr. MacShane: Was my right hon. Friend in the House when the then shadow Foreign Secretary, the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), stood up after the French and the Dutch had killed the treaty and said, “I’m a doctor; I know death when I see it. The constitution is dead, Mr. Speaker.” I agreed with him. The Conservative party now wants to do a political Lazarus act: it wants to bring back to life that which it has declared dead to fight a battle that was won and lost in 2005.

Mr. Byers: I agree with my right hon. Friend. I was not in the House to hear the then shadow Foreign Secretary accurately articulate the position. To go beyond our manifesto commitment, the constitutional treaty was, of course, killed off by the votes in France and Holland at the end of May and beginning of June 2005. There was an attempt to resurrect the constitutional treaty. Some talked about returning to the French or the Dutch to try to get a positive vote in favour of the European constitutional treaty, as it then was. I recommend to the House a piece that I wrote for The Times at the beginning of June 2005, which said that no meant no and that the constitution was dead as a result of the decisions made by people in France and Holland.

Mr. MacShane: Circulate it.

Mr. Byers: I shall, with pleasure, for a small commission.

Mr. Duncan Smith: I do not mean to detain the right hon. Gentleman for any length of time. May I take him back to the point about the manifesto, because the debate runs around it? The truth is that the manifesto is wonderfully general, and the words used are intriguing—they prompt some questions. The manifesto states:

That is exactly what the Government say about the treaty of Lisbon, and it is no different from the way in which they sold the constitutional treaty in 2005. There is therefore no reason why they should not vote for a referendum.

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