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When this House debated the Maastricht treaty, the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills tabled a new clause calling for a referendum.

I shall quote the arguments put by the then Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, who always defeated me in debate when I was shadow Foreign Secretary—and when I had the Home Office brief—because of the painful condescension with which he greeted my vehement arguments. Douglas Hurd, who was 10 times the Foreign Secretary that the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) will never be, said of the referendum on Maastricht proposed by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills:

He claimed that to have a referendum

He rejected a referendum on the much more far reaching Maastricht treaty, saying:

I have told the Committee already that I am as sycophantic in adherence to the Whip as anybody in this House. I abase myself before my Whip, who is in his place to listen to me. I hope that he will let me off one or two debates as a result. [ Laughter. ] When the Maastricht treaty came before the House, I—sycophantic as always to the Whip—voted against a referendum, as, incidentally, did my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. However, we were not the only ones: others included the present shadow Foreign Secretary, the present shadow Defence Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who became leader of his party, and the present Opposition Chief Whip—

Mr. Redwood: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Gerald Kaufman: I see that the right hon. Gentleman voted against a referendum as well. I have the full Division list if anybody wants the names. Of those who obeyed the Tory Whip by voting against a referendum on the Maastricht treaty, 70 are still Tory MPs today. I have a feeling that, with the exception of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe and a few of his principled colleagues, every one of them will vote for a referendum this evening.

Mr. Redwood: I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has given way, because I think I can spare the Committee some of this misleading, rambling account of ancient history. We voted the way we did, first, because we made no promise at the general election that the people would get a vote; and, secondly, because we offered a referendum on the guts of the Maastricht treaty—the single European currency, which we did not favour. That was the referendum lock. His party offered the people a referendum, but it is now refusing it, so the ancient history is completely irrelevant.

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Sir Gerald Kaufman: The right hon. Vulcan—er, Gentleman—may try to wriggle out of the position that he took as a member of the Conservative Cabinet and the fact that he voted against a referendum on Maastricht, but nobody will be impressed. He said one thing as a member of the Government, to keep hold of his red box, his car and ministerial salary, but now, totally irresponsibly, he is ready to switch his position. In the 19th century, a former Conservative Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, described the Conservatives as an organised hypocrisy. The only difference between then and the 21st century is that the Conservatives are no longer organised.

Mr. Duncan Smith: I enjoy following the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman). We have agreed on some things; we do not always agree on everything. First, let me state my position, as he did not read my name out from his list. I voted for the referendum on Maastricht. I voted against a lot during that period, but for a referendum, and here I am, still on the Back Benches, which shows what follows all that rebellion.

I wanted to keep my remarks short, as I know that others wish to speak, but those who believe me when I say that will be mad, because I am a politician and will therefore go on a little bit. The hon. Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson) was right. At the Dispatch Box as Leader of the Opposition—wonderful days—I questioned the then Prime Minister about the issue with no effect, and I asked him for a referendum eight times. Eight times in a row he told me categorically that no such thing was necessary because what was about to happen was not consequential and—what was the phrase used by the Foreign Secretary?—not fundamental. Nothing was so important that it changed our relationship, and so there was no need for a referendum. It was not until after I had gone, sadly, that he gave the pleasure to my successor of agreeing to a referendum. I thought that was a bit mean at the time, because things might have been different—who knows? Never mind; I do not want to go back there.

That is the main point. The hon. Gentleman was absolutely right: we can only reach one simple conclusion. I know that there is a huge debate running and rolling, which is full of history and memory. I love these European debates, because we have a sort of private conversation with each other about what we did 10 years ago, what our antecedents did 100 years ago and what we might be doing in 10 years’ time. However, he was right to say that the truth was that the then Prime Minister, with some trusted and confidential friends, made a decision. As they rolled towards an election, they decided that they would not survive it unless they answered the question about the referendum, which the Conservative party claimed was the way to settle the issues about the constitutional treaty. That was very simple.

We are all politicians—although that might have escaped the notice of one or two colleagues—and we have to win elections. That is the simple sine qua non of being on the Government or Opposition Benches. Occasionally—surprise, surprise—Governments make cynical decisions. The decision on the referendum was
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a cynical decision made by the Government to get them past the election, and they decided to deal with the rest as it followed.

Mr. Hendrick: Does the right hon. Gentleman recall the Conservative party asking for a referendum on the Nice treaty before the 2001 election? We made no promise of a referendum, and we still won that election.

Mr. Duncan Smith: Come on! I must tell the hon. Gentleman, who intervenes quite a lot, that the politics of the situation dictates what happens at the time. In the time running up to Nice, his Government were not in trouble or difficulty and were able to envisage the coming election with some sanguine sense of success. Things were different by the time they hit 2004 and 2005. The reality was that the decision was taken.

The intriguing thing, which really bothers me, is that as I watched and listened to the Foreign Secretary, it occurred to me that I had never seen somebody speak for a Government who has looked so contorted and so twisted, and who has so turned in one argument against another. At one moment, his point was only that it was fundamental, but then it was not fundamental; then we were clearing the air, but then we were not because we were clearing fundamentals instead. The argument went round and round. If he reads it in Hansard tomorrow, he will say to himself, “What an awful day I had. I had to say something that I know is fundamentally not true. There is no major difference between the Lisbon treaty and the constitutional treaty. What happened in between was a political imperative.”

It is worth remembering that Valéry Giscard d’Estaing said something with which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) has agreed, although the latter supports the Government’s position on securing the ratification of the treaty. Mr. Giscard d’Estaing has said:

4.30 pm

I do not know why we dance around as though this were a silly game. The truth is that the Heads of State and Governments of all the countries that negotiated the constitutional treaty have said to each other, “We have got ourselves in a real mess over this. We allowed the public and politicians who are not responsible members of the Government to play a part”—politicians such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who speaks so cogently on these matters.

The member states believe that allowing the vox populi to get involved by having referendums in France and Holland put a kibosh on the whole thing, so they concluded that they would not do that again. They learned the lesson of all this nonsense about consulting the public, which is that EU Governments do not get what they want by doing that. They believe that they
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have a purpose that was laid down by their forefathers, and that they must see it through.

Europe’s bureaucrats have known for years that the way to get things done is never to ask the public if they want them to be done, because the answer will inevitably be no.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): Contrary to what we heard earlier, is it not true that a mature political class and a confident Parliament refer to the people on matters of such supreme importance? It is a sign of the lack of confidence of parliamentarians and the political class that they have refused to do so.

Mr. Duncan Smith: It is, but that should not surprise my hon. Friend, because he has been a student of the matter for long enough.

I draw the House’s attention back to the intriguing one-sided correspondence with the Government after the collapse of the constitutional treaty and prior to their decisions and the intergovernmental conference. It is reported in the European Scrutiny Committee’s third report of Session 2007-08 that the Foreign Secretary’s predecessor stated that there was

Everybody believed that that was when the new treaty was produced, but it was not. We know as a result of a leaked letter that Angela Merkel’s Government contacted the other Governments as part of the process of rebuilding the treaty.

The Germans are wonderfully efficient. They are so efficient that they always keep their records and put everything in them. They are not trying to hide anything from their public, as our Government are. We can congratulate them on that. With ruthless efficiency, they rounded up what members of Governments had said to them in discussions and negotiations. They asked such things as how they could find ways to get the treaty through without having to show that the existing treaties would essentially have to be repealed. One question asked:

Another asked:

Those are not just questions that the German Government or Angela Merkel wanted to ask. Essentially, they arose from minutes of meetings with either officials or Ministers of other countries.

The letter is fascinating because it blows the Government’s position out of the water. The Government and Angela Merkel knew all along what the process was all about. Having learned the lesson of what had happened to the constitutional treaty, they wanted its provisions back. They felt that they could not proceed without them. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe is honest about that; he believes that Europe needs them to proceed to the next stage, as did Angela Merkel and many other
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European leaders. The letter shows that they needed to find a way to avoid any reference to the public, such as a referendum.

The first point about which we should be clear is that the process is a classic, cynical political mechanism. If we believe that, we shall not go far wrong. I do not want to engage in the arguments about whether there were three or 38 things in the treaty—or, as the Liberal Democrats said on television today, that there are so many thousand words versus another so many thousand. It is all meaningless nonsense. The truth is that everybody believes the treaty is basically the same as the constitution. The collapse of the pillars and the nature of the debate are critical, so there is clearly some cynicism.

There is another reason for a referendum. People talk about the principle that the House should decide, but the truth is that the principle has become a bit of a joke. What do we really think we decide on in this place that the Government have not already told us we must decide? When did the House last manage to insert an amendment at any stage of a European treaty that reflected the will of the public or the House? It has not happened. We know about the wonderful whipping system on both sides of the House—I do not blame the Labour Government for that; I had to defy it myself in my day. The whipping system guarantees that, to a greater or lesser extent, the Government have their way and their business.

Mr. Cash: Does my right hon. Friend agree that in a referendum, which is itself authorised by—if I may say it—the humility of Members of Parliament who realise that they must hand the decision back to the people because it is so important, the people would be presented with a neutral question that cannot be whipped, so we would have genuine public opinion?

Mr. Duncan Smith: I agree and I hope that my hon. Friend catches your eye, Sir Alan.

The problem is that there is a conflict. I have enormous respect for my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe, as they know. They have constantly and rightly made the argument about the principles of the House and we have debated them many times, yet they may offer a basis for a referendum. Both have complained—rightly—about the way in which the Bill has been railroaded through the House. Debate has been curtailed in the appalling nature of the Second Reading debate instead of the line-by-line discussion we were promised. As I said the other night, who would ever have thought that when the Prime Minister said line by line he actually meant only the top two lines of the treaty with no discussion of the rest. There has been next to no debate, so the argument that should stand—that the House is supreme so it should make the decisions—falls in this case, because we have had no opportunity to make any mark on the treaty or to debate it properly. That process shames the Government, but it leaves us with one question. If we are unable to make the debate work, if we cannot question the Government properly and have no real opportunities to discuss the amendments, the only option open to us is to go to the country, because our process is not working.

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Mr. Gummer: I respect my right hon. Friend’s views on the matter, but if we took that line we should have to put almost everything that comes to the House to the people. The Government have destroyed the ability of the House to negotiate and discuss all issues. That is the fault of the Government and I can but hope that our Front-Bench colleagues will commit our party to pushing back all that so-called modernisation. However, he is not right to say that the situation is in any way unique—this treaty makes little difference to Britain’s position in the European Union.

Mr. Duncan Smith: My right hon. Friend and I are as at one on much of what he said, but the difference between the treaty and all the other business in the House over the past 10 years is that once the treaty is passed, it is gone. That will be it. We shall not have another chance. At least we have a chance to revisit domestic legislation and change it, but we get only one shot at European treaties until the next time around. As custodians of sovereignty, we need to refer back to the public if we are letting some of it go. It is as simple as that.

Ms Angela C. Smith: Is it not a fact that the time given over to discussing the Lisbon treaty in the Chamber is greater than the time provided for the Single European Act, the Amsterdam treaty and the Nice treaty combined?

Mr. Duncan Smith: What can I say to the hon. Lady? [Hon. Members: “Say yes!”] I could say yes, and I will. Yes. How about that? That is a bit of honesty. But—there is always a good “but” in politics—the issue is not just about time; it is about quality of time. [Interruption.] Labour Members should hear me out, because many of them have not been in the Chamber during debates on the Bill. The point is that a mechanism was used to curtail debate in the time allocated. That mechanism provided for Second Reading debates, and not line-by-line scrutiny. The quality of the process has been appalling, because we have allowed ourselves to be sucked into holding generalised discussions, debates and arguments. Only on a few occasions have we been able to get to the substance.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells, because a couple of days ago he got to the meat of the issue—it was the first occasion on which we had time to do so—and raised real concerns. Others, including my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), did so, too. We should have been given the chance to do that day by day, but we were not.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): My right hon. Friend is making a principled case for a referendum, but there is another principled case to be made in its favour: for good or ill, our membership of the European Union—the European Economic Community, as it then was—was eventually sanctioned by a referendum that was held when the EEC was a much more limited enterprise. The reason why ever more people, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), are changing their minds and agreeing that there should be another referendum is that there has been no popular consent for the arrangements that have developed over the years, as represented in the new treaty.

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