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5 Mar 2008 : Column 1851

The whole process was started off in a unique constitutional manner, with a mandate put forward by the German Government. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) mentioned their questionnaire. The mandate was agreed by the member states in a unique and unconstitutional manner.

Mr. Duncan Smith: Behind closed doors.

Mr. Cash: And behind closed doors. We cross-examined the then Foreign Secretary, who made it clear that she knew nothing about what was going on, officially. However, we know that the sherpas in UKRep, COREPER and so on were convened and carrying on negotiations behind the scenes. The questionnaire to which my right hon. Friend referred illustrates that point clearly. That is one fundamental constitutional change.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Cash: No, I want to get through my contribution as rapidly as possible, which is only fair to other hon. Members.

The second fundamental constitutional change is the obligation on national Parliaments, which we have discussed in previous debates. Other changes are the merger of the existing treaties into a Union with a legal personality, and the collapse of the pillars. The intergovernmental method is being done away with on certain matters in favour of the Community method, thereby vastly increasing the powers of the European Court of Justice. That is another fundamental change in the constitutional relationship between the UK and the EU. We are giving enormous additional power to the ECJ. The accumulation of the new constitutional powers and the reciting of the primacy of law in declaration 17 mean that, for the first time, we have reinforced case law within the framework of a treaty. That is another constitutional change of the first order.

The division of competences lies at the heart of how the EU and the UK operate. A House of Lords Select Committee made a similar point about them. Competences are the powers that are provided, and if we give powers to the EU, we are taking them away from the UK. I am not talking about specific powers, which are bad enough in themselves—for instance, the charter of fundamental rights was another constitutional change of the first order. I am saying, in essence, that changing the division of competences moves powers between the UK and the EU. I am clear about that, as are all other constitutional authorities. Even the Foreign Secretary admitted that there would be constitutional changes, some of which I do not like. They are predicated on the assumption that the EU will rather arrogantly say that it will be good enough to give us new powers in relation to the national Parliaments. Well, thank you very much, but we are a national Parliament that has been going for quite a long time. We have a history and a constitutional system that has stood the test of time and saved Europe from itself in two world wars— [ Interruption. ] Oh yes. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) should not shake his head—

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The First Deputy Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman should return to the amendment.

Mr. Cash: I am dealing with the constitutional implications of what the Foreign Secretary said. It is clear that in a range of matters in the construction of the treaty there is constitutional change of the first order between us and the EU. That is why a referendum is required. The Foreign Secretary used those criteria for a referendum in his argument. He said that if there were a structural change there ought to be a referendum, and, with respect Mrs. Heal, I am indicating that structural change is exactly what is happening in the treaty.

Part of the issue relates to why we should want a referendum. It is because the House should have the humility to decide that we want to give the decision back to the voters. Furthermore, as I said in an intervention on a Liberal Democrat Member yesterday, there would be no point in staying in if we did not have the right to legislate in line with the wishes of the voters of the UK as expressed in general elections. That is the basis of our legislative process. We give effect to the wishes of voters.

The plain fact is that unless we reassert the supremacy of our Parliament, as set out in my new clause 9, on which I expect us to be able to vote later, we would not be able to maintain our position in the EU. We must have a provision stating that notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972, we will continue to legislate on behalf of the voters of the UK and that the courts must give effect to the provision in any later Act even if it is inconsistent with the provisions of European legislation. That is not withdrawal. Case law is clear: such a measure would not repeal all the treaties; it is about particular provisions. My party agreed on amendments to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, which was pushed through both Houses, and we should do so again today.

If the vote goes the wrong way, we need a post-ratification referendum, for the simple reason that the issues go to the very heart of the way our country is governed. We are elected to represent the interests of the people, and if we fall down we must give them the right to make their own decision in a referendum. That is why a referendum is required.

Chris Bryant: As many Members want to speak, I shall try to be as brief as possible. It is a great delight to follow the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). There could be no two Members more diametrically opposed than him and me on nearly every issue, and certainly on Europe.

What has been interesting about today’s debate is first and foremost the fact that the Tory party has exposed itself as having an enormous problem about the European Union— [ Interruption. ] If the Tories can contain themselves, I shall move on to the Liberal Democrats in a moment. The Conservatives have form. Without a referendum they took through the Single European Act, which was probably the single biggest piece of legislation that dramatically affected the UK’s relationship with the European Union, and they took through Maastricht without a referendum—in both cases on remarkably small majorities. So far, there have
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been 40 Divisions during our debates on the Bill and the average majority has been 170, almost a two-thirds majority in every case, so it is difficult to advance the argument for a referendum on that basis.

Another problem for the Conservatives is that their party is radically split— [ Interruption. ] They can moan and groan, but none the less they will have to face the truth. It is not just that a few Conservative Members will vote with us; the much bigger division, which is why they are campaigning for a referendum, is between those who want to leave the European Union entirely and those who are a little bit more sensible in their policy towards Europe.

The Conservatives’ other problem is that they have no allies in Europe, so whenever they talk about renegotiating, as the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) did, they know perfectly well that they are deceiving the people of Britain, as there is nobody with whom they could negotiate. They would have either to have the kind of hissy-fit that the Liberal Democrats had last week, or back down from their position.

6 pm

It is for party management reasons, and from no point of principle, that the Conservative party has arrived at its position today, which is that there should be a referendum on any treaty whatever. That is what the shadow Foreign Secretary said; he said that any treaty that a Government brought forward should have to be put to a referendum. That is sheer nonsense, because the UK signs up to many treaties. None of them should be put to a referendum, because when any treaty has been negotiated, it is difficult to come to an informed position on it on the basis of a simple yes or no in a referendum.

Mr. Harper rose—

Chris Bryant: I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, because I am sure that there are many people in the House who would like me to stop as soon possible.

The Conservative party’s position is that if the Bill is passed and the treaty is ratified, they will not let the matter rest there, to use the phrase that was leaked over the Christmas period. Let us enter Planet Cameron for a moment and imagine what would happen if there were a Conservative Government. Let us imagine the Leader of the Opposition becoming Prime Minister and going to his first European Council, having chosen not to let the matter rest there. He would turn to the new President of Europe and say, “Tony, as I’m your heir, could you possibly let us have a new treaty? Oh, and I apologise to you, Mr. Rodriguez Zapatero, Mr. Sarkozy and Mrs. Merkel, for not co-operating with your political parties or your Governments over the past few years, but it would be nice if you signed up to a different form of treaty.” That would not happen. Instead, he would do exactly what the Liberal Democrats did last week—walk out of the room. That just goes to show that the Conservative position is not that of a potential future Government. The Conservative party’s foreign policy is the foreign policy
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of an Opposition party who know perfectly well that they will remain in opposition.

Let me turn to the Liberal Democrats—

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. Will the hon. Gentleman please relate his remarks to the amendments before the House?

Chris Bryant: I shall follow your advice, Mrs. Heal. Let me turn to the Liberal Democrat position on referendums and on whether we should have one. It is time that the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) came out. It is not that difficult in the end. It may mean being condemned by the Daily Mail and The Sun, but the truth is that it is fine to be a genuine pro-European. It is time that he and the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), who is not in the Chamber, owned up to the fact that they are pro-Europeans. The Liberal Democrats cannot hide that fact from the electorate. They cannot pretend that they really want a referendum, but that the wording is not right. They should put their heads above the parapet and own up to being the most pro-European party in the House, and to the fact that they would have signed up to whatever Europe had thrown forward.

The truth is that this is a proxy debate. It is not really about referendums. It is about whether people want to be securely and firmly in the European Union, because they believe that in an uncertain world it is important to have stronger international institutions, or whether they believe that Britain can go it alone. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Stone, who has moved but who, I am glad to say, is still in the Chamber. I believe that there will not be a fundamental change. We will still set our own taxes, and have our own Army and Navy, and our own foreign and defence policy. There will not be a substantial change, which is why there should not be a referendum.

Mr. Lilley: It is normally a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), but whereas all other Members who have spoken have recognised that the debate raises issues of principle that transcend and divide party, he chose to make a purely partisan speech, and made little contribution as a result.

Twenty-five years ago, I was elected to the House—as was the Prime Minister, as it happens. Unlike the Prime Minister, who was elected on a pledge to leave the European Community, I have always believed, and still believe, in remaining a member of the European Community. I have grave reservations about handing over further powers, and there are some powers that we have handed over which I would like to see returned to this country, but the reason that I have, for the first time, actively taken part in debates on a European treaty is nothing to do with Europe. It is to do with integrity.

Nothing in the 25 years that I have been in this place has made me so angry as to see members of two party Front Benches—or, should I say, the Front Benches of one and a half parties—who were elected on a clear pledge to the electorate that they would hold a referendum, telling their Back Benchers, as they themselves would be doing, to renege, to resile, to stand
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on their heads to renounce a clear promise that they had made to their electors. Nothing that I have ever seen in the House has made me so angry. That is why I resolved to participate in the debates and have done so every day since, in the limited number of days made available to us.

I do not necessarily believe that there needed to be a referendum; perhaps there did not. Nor was it necessarily wise to promise a referendum; perhaps it was not. The constitution and the treaty may be desirable or may be undesirable. They may be more significant or less significant than previous treaties, but every party in the House made a promise that their electors would have a vote in a referendum on that constitutional treaty, and the treaty of Lisbon endorses and implements the substance of that constitution.

Today hon. Members face a test of their personal integrity. That is what is at stake. I have no issue with those who told their electors beforehand and made it clear that they did not believe in and would not support a referendum. They are as pure as the driven snow. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who is present, is one of those and there are others on the Conservative Benches and in other parts of the House. However, if hon. Members repudiate a promise that they have made and from which they did not dissociate themselves at the time of the election, they bring contempt not merely upon themselves, but upon the House, the democratic process and the prospect of people voting in future elections.

Chris Huhne: The key point is whether there has been a change in what we are determining, compared with the previous position. Has the right hon. Gentleman had time to consider the view of Professor Steve Peers of the university of Essex in a Statewatch analysis on the justice and home affairs issues, for example, where he says clearly that there is a major change? He states:

In light of that, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would prefer to temper his remarks about lack of integrity.

Mr. Lilley: I will go straight to one of the arguments used by those who try to cover over the change of heart that they have had since before the election—that it should be a matter for Parliament that there has been a significant change. Parliament established a European Scrutiny Committee to investigate, decide and advise us on whether the Lisbon treaty was the same as the constitutional treaty. That Committee reported:

I think that that answers the hon. Gentleman’s point.

Those on the Front Bench have made it clear what they are going to do. It was positively embarrassing watching the Foreign Secretary squirming like a worm on a hook, if that is not rather unfair to worms, which do not deliberately place themselves on the hook. I
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wish Ministers had been as straightforward as Huey Long, a notoriously cynical senator in the United States of America, who on election promptly broke a solemn pledge that he had made to his electorate. When his advisers came to him and said, “What should we tell people who are asking why you changed your mind?” he said, “Tell ’em I lied.” The trouble with the Minister, who is a charming and nice Member of Parliament, and the Liberal non-rebels is that they do not have Huey Long’s integrity and they certainly lack his clarity.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. The right hon. Gentleman should think carefully about the language that he uses and the insinuation that he made.

Mr. Lilley: I take your point, Mrs. Heal. I withdraw the point: they have the integrity of Huey Long.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. The right hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member of Parliament. I am sure that he wants to employ the taste and decency that usually characterise debates in the Chamber.

Mr. Lilley: I take your point, Mrs. Heal, and entirely withdraw my previous remarks.

The first argument that supporters of the change of heart deploy is that the Lisbon treaty is less important than previous treaties. The only question that faces those who made a promise about the constitution is how the treaty compares with it—not with Maastricht or any other reforming treaty, but with the one on which they promised their constituents a vote. The European Scrutiny Committee has said that the treaty is substantially the same as the constitution. We know that almost all the leaders in Europe who are free to do so have said that the documents are the same. No Minister has explained to us why the Spanish Prime Minister, the author of the constitution, Giscard d’Estaing, the Belgian Foreign Minister, the Italian Prime Minister and countless other leading lights should say things that are untrue. Why would they say that the two documents are fundamentally the same if they are fundamentally different? Ministers have not even addressed the point.

The second argument is that no countries on the continent have held referendums on the Lisbon treaty. Of course they have not. Those that were required to hold referendums did so on the constitutional treaty. If they got a yes vote, they decided that they did not need another referendum on a document that is substantially the same. If they got a no vote, they decided not to get another biff in the face, and to pretend that the Lisbon treaty is different.

The third argument is that all the Governments of Europe signed up to the statement that the constitutional concept had been abandoned. I have before me the words of the statement that was issued after the Council meeting. It does, indeed, state that the constitutional concept was abandoned, but it continued, in the same sentence and the next, that, instead of

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That IGC endorsed and decided to implement the European constitution. The statement makes no bones about it. Therefore, every time the Foreign Secretary quotes the statement without the second part, he misleads—unintentionally—the House of Commons and the British people.

The fourth argument is obscure—indeed, it is designed to be obscure. As Samuel Johnson said, if you want to escape from a difficult hole, emulate the squid and squirt black ink in their faces while making your getaway. Supporters of the change of heart have adopted the argument that the constitutional treaty involved repealing all the existing treaties whereas the Lisbon treaty does not. They fail to say that the constitutional treaty abolished existing treaties but reintroduced all their powers in its text.

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