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6.15 pm

There are always two possible ways in which to move from an existing treaty, or set of treaties, or existing law, or set of laws, to a new final text. The first is to amend, in detail, all the existing laws until they are brought into the relevant form and adjusted and amended until they equal a final text; the second is to repeal all the existing laws and treaties and replace them with a new text incorporating those laws and any changes.

When we do that in this House—in respect, for example, of accumulated finance Bills—we normally call it a consolidation Bill. We consider it less, not more, important; we devote less time to it because it does not change any laws, but simply brings them all together. Essentially, what the European constitution did was to bring all the existing treaties together to make one document. If there is any doubt about the differences between those different routes, the Government have allayed them—they have published not only the Lisbon treaty, but the consolidated treaties that result from the Lisbon treaty. We know the final text that we have reached through the process of detailed amendment, and I have to report that it is almost identical to the consolidated text of the original European constitutional treaty. There is precious little difference, and the Government are adopting mere persiflage with their argument.

The Government say that a referendum is incompatible with parliamentary government. With a great flourish, the Foreign Secretary ended by saying that we should do what electors pay us to do. Well, after the last election, they sent us to fulfil our promises. All of us, except those who had dissociated themselves from the manifesto promise, were sent here to implement the promise to have a referendum on this treaty. If we do not do so, we are not doing what the electors pay us to do.

Those who believe in parliamentary government should be particularly wary, especially as that promise was made before the last election precisely to take out of the electoral arena the issue of whether the constitutional treaty should be ratified. People were told that that was done because they would have a separate vote on it in a referendum. If they are not to be granted that vote, Members were elected on false pretences—this House was elected having told people not to worry their little
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heads about Europe at the general election because they would face the decision later. It is an absolute abnegation of parliamentary democracy not to fulfil the pledge in those circumstances.

Finally, people say that the treaty is only a modest step and is no bigger than previous treaties. However, each step brings us nearer to a final point. If someone is on their way to Beachy Head, the first few miles do not matter, but the last few steps near the edge matter a great deal. I shall cite Hegel and Marx, authorities who may have more force on the Government Benches. They said that beyond a certain point, quantitative changes result in a qualitative change. Beyond a certain point, accumulative slices of the cake through successive treaties bring about a substantive, qualitative change. Over a period, if we keep on allowing without any check such transfers of power from us to the European institutions, we will cease to be a nation delegating powers to ancillary bodies and ourselves become an ancillary body allowed only to exercise such powers as a nation called Europe allows us to.

I do not think that my electors or those of any hon. Member want that to happen. If they do, they ought to have the chance to affirm it in a referendum and see whether they carry the day.

Michael Connarty: I have enjoyed today’s debate because of the new characters who have appeared in the cast of this great endeavour. Now that we are on the 11th day of our consideration, it is good that people want to get their names on the record. It would have been nice if they had read the treaty and heard the earlier debates.

I disagreed with the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) when he said that this was not a matter of detail. If people take the trouble to read the original European Scrutiny Committee report of October, they will see that it was matters of detail that flared up the treaty as a major item for public debate.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said that he was loyal, ever loyal and, therefore, too loyal. That was probably the case for many who should have advised the former Prime Minister that he was making a major error when he felt that he had to call a referendum because of parliamentary considerations. I do not think that the question of a referendum was relevant to this treaty. Why did that happen? Was it a rush of blood to the head? I would say that it was probably a rush of fear in the focus groups, which seemed to have more influence on Government policies in the run-up to the election than the party’s wishes on the matter.

The Government benefit from being roughed up by Parliament, and from being roughed up by their own side. Being roughed up by the European Scrutiny Committee has made the Government and the Foreign Secretary go to Europe and fight our corner hard on a number of issues. They have brought back something different from the original treaty for a constitution. That is the reality; this treaty is significantly different. There would have been a European Foreign Secretary, a president of Europe and a constitution. It was a treaty for a constitution. Aided and abetted by the Dutch and French voters, who rejected it, there was a panic, and then a two-year period of reflection. Everyone is right: it was a question of getting the treaty under the wire so
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that it did not cause another series of referendums, at a cost to the progress that member states wanted after Laeken and after the Convention.

We deal with many things every week involving EU powers that change the law-making relationship. Those EU powers are already in place in the Single European Act, Maastricht and Amsterdam. They are in processes we have had to opt into, such as the Schengen agreement, after the treaty of Amsterdam, to make a serious attempt to stop cross-border crime, terrorism, breaches of immigration and drug trafficking. That is why I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith) was wrong—we cannot opt out and have a new relationship. We have to deal with such matters within the European Union.

We have to progress with what we have, and what we have is—

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Michael Connarty: No, I will not take interventions from someone who has just come in. People have been sitting here all day, and all week.

It is important that people realise that what was sent by the “I Want a Referendum” campaign was a series of falsehoods—calumnies, in fact—concerning the work done by the European Scrutiny Committee. It sometimes chose to use half of a sentence, or even a quarter of a sentence. For example, it said that the Scrutiny Committee had said that the

That was not what was said in the report. What was actually said was completely different:

The campaign just took the last part of that sentence and presented it as a fact. The report went on to say that for countries that did not have opt-outs and derogations, the treaty was substantially the same, but that that was not the case for the UK.

What the referendum campaign sent out said that there would be a cut in the UK’s voting strength. Not true; it is a lie. The UK’s voting strength in the Council is going up because of the treaty. The campaign referred to immunity for Europol officers. People should read the report that we put out last week, which showed that the Home Office has won an agreement that Europol officers will not be given immunity. That is a fact; we have won that fight. It goes on and on, it says—

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Michael Connarty: No, I will not give way. I do not have time.

The campaign refers to

The treaty will not create a president for the European Union; it will create a president of the Council, who will not be a member of the Commission.

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Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Michael Connarty: I am not going to give way; I do not have time. We have a short timetable.

The campaign says that the treaty will create a Foreign Secretary for the EU. It will not. All those things are calumnies and lies, and they were in a document that was used to fool people. The campaign gave them a postcard, postage paid, to send back, so that it could call that a victory for a referendum.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: On a point of order, Mrs. Heal. Is it in order for the Chairman of the Committee to misquote the report, which is not just in his name but in mine, too? That is an outrageous abuse of the House, so can you correct it?

The First Deputy Chairman: That is not a point of order for the Chair; it is a matter for debate. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will get the opportunity to put the record straight.

Michael Connarty: The point is that the case is put in such a way as to suggest that the European Scrutiny Committee said something but did not expect the Government to respond. What we said—I am quoting from under the heading “the Constitutional Treaty and the Reform Treaty compared”—was that

However, we continued:

The Government came back and argued their case. We took a different view at different times, but let me put it on record that 48 amendments were tabled in the name of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) and his colleagues, and that all of them were defeated. Nine of those amendments proposed a referendum. The question of a referendum was defeated nine times in the process of preparing the European Scrutiny Committee’s report so, regardless of the— [ Interruption. ]

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. There are far too many private conversations taking place. Hon. Members who have been in the Chamber throughout the afternoon wish to hear the conclusion of the debate.

Michael Connarty: I was a teacher for 14 years and I had more rowdiness in my classes than in here, but I enjoyed the dialogue then and I enjoy here, too.

No one should leave the House saying that the European Scrutiny Committee did not consider the matter right to the end, including the question of a referendum. We took our job seriously, and I believe that those who have participated in the past 11 days of this debate have taken it seriously, too.

Angus Robertson rose—

Michael Connarty: The hon. Gentleman is recorded as having voted against a referendum nine times in the Committee. I understand why Members of the Scottish
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National party intend to vote as they do, however, because of the competences, and I sympathise with them on that.

Angus Robertson: In fairness, will the Chairman of the Committee point out to the House that the reason why some of us voted against a referendum in the context that he is describing was that it was not part of the Committee’s remit for that investigation?

Michael Connarty: If that was the reason, I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has put it on the record.

The main point for me is that those who took our business in the House seriously—those who read the treaty and referred to its substantive clauses—were doing the job that they were sent here to do. To say that that work should be done in a referendum is to abrogate our responsibilities as politicians.

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): I have six minutes to respond to what has been a fascinating and often humorous debate. As one of the few Members who has spoken who was not here for the debates on the Maastricht treaty, it has been very interesting for me to hear the speeches for the first time.

We heard an excellent speech from the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), who reminded us of his personal history as a Euro rebel turned party leader. That joint history is part of the reason why his party denied him the opportunity to be defeated at a general election.

As I think everyone accepts, the shadow Foreign Secretary comes to the House in the middle of the afternoon and treats us to a series of excellent after-dinner speeches.

We also heard from the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who is now in his place again. He made an excellent and telling contribution, which is why the former Prime Minister, John Major, was absolutely wrong when he said that the hon. Gentleman was

That was of course entirely unfair.

Mr. Cash: I regard that statement, from that particular gentleman, as a tribute.

Mr. Murphy: When Conservative Members decry their former Prime Minister, who did so much, where he could, to keep the Conservative party in the European mainstream, that, more than anything else, reflects just how much the party has changed in recent years.

The Lisbon treaty is, as we know, the conclusion of the collapse of communism—a freeing of the human spirit that we all celebrated—and the decision of the countries concerned to join the European Union, so that we now have 27 member states and we need to reform our structures.

There are big questions before us this evening that the Opposition have as yet been unable to answer. For example, which specific line-by-line proposals in the Lisbon treaty make it more significant than the Maastricht treaty?

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6.30 pm

Mr. Clappison: The Minister’s point would have more force if we had had the opportunity that we were promised to scrutinise the provisions on borders, immigration and defence.

Mr. Murphy: I take that answer to mean “none”. The hon. Gentleman has had the opportunity—as have all hon. Members here this evening—to state which specific proposals in the Lisbon treaty he thinks make it more significant than the Maastricht treaty, on which the Conservatives refused to have a referendum.

Mr. Shepherd: I am glad that we are able to get in obliquely like this. It is the accumulation of five or six treaties that has led us here— [ Interruption. ] No one in this country under the age of 57 has ever had the opportunity to express a view on this business.

Mr. Murphy: The Conservatives are judged by their words. The hon. Gentleman cannot identify a specific proposal in the Lisbon treaty that makes it more significant than the Maastricht treaty. He is a supporter and member of the Better Off Out campaign. He has the honesty of holding that view and commitment, and that is a growing trend among Back Benchers in the Conservative party, which continues to gallop ever closer towards Eurosceptic isolationism. The Conservatives also refuse to acknowledge the consequences of their isolationism, which has captured most—although, of course, not all—of today’s Conservative party. No previous Conservative Government ever offered a referendum on a European amending treaty. No conservative Government anywhere in the European Union are even considering holding a referendum on this treaty. No conservative Opposition in any country of the European Union are demanding a referendum as our Conservative Opposition are doing.

We have heard today from my hon. Friends the Members for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) and for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), the Chairs of the relevant Select Committees. The Foreign Affairs Committee voted against a referendum not once but twice, and the European Scrutiny Committee voted against a referendum not once, not twice, but on nine separate occasions.

The hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) will have the opportunity in a moment to tell the House which other conservative parties or Governments in the European Union are opposing the treaty and demanding a referendum as his party is doing. It is clear that his once influential party—which was the party of Europe for 30 years, in a tradition set by Macmillan and Heath—has, in the main, been reduced to an isolationist, anti-European rabble. That is a policy set and dictated by the hon. Member for Stone. It represents a victory of ideology over national interest, and this Parliament should not give such a policy its consent this evening.

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