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Mr. Gerald Howarth:
I accept that my right hon. and learned Friend has shown great principle in his stand on these matters, but does he accept that as Members of Parliament we are trustees for the time being of the powers inherent in the British people? We hold those powers in trust. In the exceptional case in which we collectively decide that we wish to hand those powers that we hold in trust to another body outside our control, should we not seek the express consent of the British people? That express consent has not been given. What the British people have seen over the last
30 years is a transfer of power from this Parliament elsewhere. They have never been given a proper opportunity to have their say, yet at the general election they were promised a referendum, precisely on this transfer of power.
Mr. Clarke: I disagree with my hon. Friend; he and I have never really seen entirely eye to eye on this issue. I do not believe that this treaty represents a massive further transfer of powers, and I can only refer my hon. Friend to earlier debates in which I have taken part and got involved in those arguments. I was actively involved at the British end of the Single European Act. I discussed the British position with the then Prime Minister as we tried to move towards the single market. That was a massive transfer of powerthe biggest since the original European Communities Act 1972, when we openly talked about pooling our sovereignty, and stood at the election to defend that decision. The Single European Act was the context in which we went in for qualified majority voting on a grand scale, because it was in British interests to do so. That is where the passerelle provisions came in; they are a sensible way of dealing with routine matters without having to go through the whole rigmarole of having an intergovernmental conference and all the rest of it.
There have been no new arguments in this debate. All the way through the debates on this treaty, I have been reminded either of Maastricht or of the Single European Act, the only difference being that even bigger issues were involved in the previous treaties than in this one [Interruption.] I said that I would not go on about the merits much further
Mr. Clarke: If my right hon. Friend will forgive me, other hon. Members are waiting to contribute. I cannot give way all the time, and I am not going to give way even to my hon. Friends who agree with me, some of whom may also be trying to catch your eye, Sir Alan.
Finally, let me deal with a question that really must be addressed: if we find that a referendum is carried, what happens then? That is relevant; the question cannot be avoided. It will change the course of history only if we get a no vote. That illustrates my objection to referendums. The trouble with introducing a referendum into a constitution, as Mussolini well understood, is that it renders Parliament powerless. In this case, it would also render the Government powerless.
I happen to believe that good democratic Governments often have to take tough and unpopular decisions. They do not do that if they live by newspaper headlines and focus groups; indeed, that gets them into the mess that the present Government have got themselves into. Governments have to take unpopular decisions that the focus groups do not likethat is what Margaret Thatcher didand then offer themselves for re-election to see if they can survive democratically when, some years later, people see the consequences of what has been done.
Let us say that on this occasion we finish the parliamentary process, in which the majorities have been about two to one in favour of the treaty of Lisbon, and we then hold a referendum. Given that
everyone I have so far met who is demanding a referendum actually intends to vote no, what do we do then? [Interruption.] Someone says that we should carry on with the present treaty. The hon. Member for Glasgow, South-West addressed this question, but effectively tried to sweep it away. The fact is that everyone across western Europe is absolutely fed up with the tedious process of carrying through reform of institutions, which it was previously thought would be pretty routine and agreed by most people, after the enlargement of the Union. If 26 other countries succeed in ratifying the treatythat means the Irish succeeding with their referendumand then the British come along and say, Sadly, although we, the Government, agree with ratification, and Parliament agrees with it by two to one, weve just got a no vote at the demand of The Sun newspaper. What do we do now?, it cannot be assumed that everyone else will renegotiate.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) at least accepted that major renegotiation would have to be faced up to. The idea that the other 26 Governments, all of which will have gone through the process of getting the treaty ratifiedwhich will have been politically costly for some of themwill then turn around and say to the Brits, Well, of course we shall now have to negotiate a European Union on a completely different basis, is, like many of the other arguments I have heard during these debates, absolute fantasy. It would not happen.
I think the hard-core opponents of the treaty know that perfectly well. I have heard a lot of people say, I am not against the European Union, I am against the treaty, and there are a handful of them whom I believe, but I do not believe many of them. At the very least, the people who want the referendum believing that they will win a no voteand none of them would demand a referendum if they thought they would lose itknow that it would cause a deep, deep crisis in our relationships with the rest of the European Union.
Among the European politicians whom I know are many friends of Britain, who would despair on finding that yet another neurotic spasm was taking place in the British political system, and that we were asking for everything to be reopened. There are provisions in the new treaty allowing members who want to leave to do so. We could start a negotiation on the basis of an association agreement. It takes a long time to secure such agreements, but Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein have managed to achieve them, and we could do the same if that is where we wish to be. But if there were a no vote, our role in the European Union would be finished and the House would be left with the consequences. The majority of us would not agree with the position we were in. It would be quite a decisive moment for our foreign affairs policy and our role in the world.
I am not impressed with our position in foreign affairs. Both main parties supported the invasion of Iraq, the biggest foreign policy disaster in recent years, and we have a totally discredited American President and Administration. The President now has more support in the House of Commons than he has in Congress, and we do not know where we shall be with whoever wins the next American election.
The European Union is finally getting its act together in improving its decision-making capacity so that it can move on to deal with economic reform, energy security, climate change, international development and our relations with the Russian Federation. All those are areas in which we need a common position. I would include foreign and security policy in other areas as well, but let us start with Russia. The EU is trying to achieve what we ought to regard as a triumph: an enlarged Union of 27 nation states, including states of the former Soviet Union, ready to move forward. And what do the Eurosceptics say? We will carry on as we are, left with George W. Bush, and try to detach ourselves from the European Union as it embarks on these great issues? They do not even know themselves what they would negotiate if they found themselves in an isolated position.
I shall not go any further into the merits of the bigger issues, but they would all be affected by a no vote in a referendum, which would repudiate Government and the parliamentary majority. There are big, big issues facing the United Kingdom in foreign affairs, and I think that we have been handling them badly for most of the past 10 years. They should be resolved in this House of Commons by a Government who are accountable to parliamentary representatives. To resort to the populism of allowing the media to believe that they can determine such matters in referendums would take us into even worse waters than I believe we are in at the moment.
Sir Gerald Kaufman: I agree with a great deal of what the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) said. For instance, I strongly agree with his attitude to referendums. The only referendum of which I have thoroughly approved is the one that was held when I lived in Leeds, on whether cinemas should open on Sundays. That was a very sensible referendum, but I cannot think of many other sensible referendums.
Referendums are exotic European notions, held in countries such as Switzerland. Although I in no way make any comparison to Members of this House who favour a referendum in todays debate, it must be said that Hitler was a great one for referendums. When he held a referendum in March 1936, his campaign poster urged:
Every vote for the FĂ1/4hrer!
I was a member of the Labour Government who held a referendum on Europe in 1975. In my view, it was daft to hold itbut Anthony Wedgwood Benn urged it on the Prime Minister, and nothing more needs to be said about any notion urged on anybody by Anthony Wedgwood Benn. The result was not the one that Benn wanted, howeverthere was a yes vote with a majority of two to oneand he has campaigned against it ever since. I think that he might be out
somewhere now with Brian Haw campaigning for a vote in favour of a referendum. The fact is that people accept referendum results only when they agree with them. Members of the Government had a free vote in the 1975 referendum, and I voted no, although I have since become a good deal wiser about the importance to this country of membership of the European Community and the European Union.
Mr. Graham Stuart: The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful argument against the use of referendums. Did he speak out so powerfully when the Labour party announced it as a policy ahead of the 2005 general election and promised a say to the British people?
Sir Gerald Kaufman: I was coming to that very point. The Government promised a referendum on the European constitution in their 2005 election manifesto. In my view, they were daft to do so, but I am a sycophantically loyal Back Bencher and I accepted it; after all, whatever it was, it was not the longest suicide note in history. Therefore, although I did not believe in holding a referendum, as it was in the manifesto on which I was elected, I was bound by it.
It is important to remind the CommitteeI have done so twice, but I shall do so againof that manifesto commitment, to which I and every other Labour Member of Parliament was bound. It said of the new constitutional treaty:
It strengthens the voice of national parliaments and governments in EU affairs. It is a good treaty for Britain and for the new Europe. We will put it to the British people in a referendum and campaign whole-heartedly for a Yes vote to keep Britain a leading nation in Europe.
I have a feeling that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson) would have picked and mixed on that part of the manifesto. I have great personal affection for him, as he knows, but I have to tell him that he was wrong about another matter as well. He said that if the Liberal Democrats could get away with it, they would campaign in one part of the country for one thing and for another thing in another part of the country. That is not so. If they could get away with it, they would campaign in one street for one thing and in the next street for another thing. A Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament in Manchester was elected to this House on the false pretext that the Christie cancer hospital would close. Two and a half years later, it is still open, so I would not trust a Liberal Democrat on anything whatsoever. The Conservatives are my opponents and I know where I am with them; I would far rather trust them than the Liberal Democrats, whowell, I had better not go on, because you will not permit certain language in this Committee, Sir Alan. I will now give way to the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory).
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I thank the right hon. Gentleman. His party is committed to holding a referendum on the euro if the Government apply to joina proposition first agreed by the Cabinet in which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) served, so the principle of a referendum has been agreed on all sides. What, therefore, is so odd about having a referendum, and keeping our promise to have one, on the treaty of Lisbon?
Sir Gerald Kaufman: I have just explained, laboriously, that we have no commitment to holding a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. There was no such thing as a Lisbon treaty in the 2005 electionit was not envisaged that there would be such a treaty when we were fighting that election. We were committed toI was committed tothe constitutional treaty to which our Labour Government were committed. Although I will support the Lisbon treaty because I am so loyal to this Government that it actually hurts me, that is not the same as the constitutional treaty on which we had the manifesto pledge. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South-West talks about the explicit promise in the 2005 Labour party manifesto. There was an explicit promise, but it was to campaign wholeheartedly in favour of accepting, supporting and endorsing the constitutional treaty that was then extant.
It is interesting to reflect on the Conservatives attitude to referendums up to now. In the 1990s, they signed up to the Maastricht treaty, which was fundamentalfar more so than this treaty or the constitutional treaty that we committed ourselves to supporting in 2005. It turned the European Community into the European Union. It was much more far-reaching than the Lisbon treaty. Did the 1992 Conservative manifesto promise a referendum on the Maastricht treaty? You must be kidding!
The Conservatives have been the party of Britain in Europe for 30 years...The Maastricht Treaty was a success both for Britain and for the rest of Europe. British proposals helped to shape the key provisions of the Treaty including those [Interruption.]
British proposals helped to shape the key provisions of the Treaty including those strengthening the enforcement of Community law...subsidiarity and law and order...All Member States must live up to their obligations under Community law. At Maastricht, we
secured agreement that the European Court will be able to fine any Member State which fails to do so.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke: As there is much debate about commitment to party manifestos, does the right hon. Gentleman recall, as I do, that one or two Conservative Members of Parliament elected on that manifesto appeared not to pay the slightest attention to it when we debated the Maastricht treaty only a few years later?
When the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), for whom I have great respect because he has been totally consistent on these issues for a long time, sought in this House to secure a referendum, one Tory Minister said that
every time we have such a referendum it is, in a sense, an abdication of responsibility by the House and the Government of the day.
This Government intend to make no such abdication of their responsibilities; nor do they intend to invite the House to abdicate from its responsibility...The treaty that we have...will require the approval of the House as a necessary pre-condition of ratification by the Government...the House will express the will of the British people in the matter. That will be expressed by freely elected Members of the House in the way that British democracy has traditionally settled these matters, whether they be large or small.[ Official Report, 21 February 1992; Vol. 204, c. 627-30.]
I say simply that I believe our parliamentary democracy is strong enough to survive without referenda.[ Official Report, House of Lords, 30 June 1992; Vol. 538, c. 661.]
Has the right hon. Gentleman noted that since the Conservative party, with the support of the Labour party, passed the Maastricht treaty, it has not won a general election? We intend to win the next one.
Sir Gerald Kaufman: The only Conservative leader since Margaret Thatcher not to have lost a general election is the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), and that was because he did not get the opportunity to lead the Conservative party into a general election.
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