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I think the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that that is not what I was saying. Indeed, I have consistently argued that it is part of the unique
position and weight that our country has in the world that we simultaneously are a leading member of the European Union, play a huge role within the British Commonwealth, and have an important and close relationship with the United States of America.
Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): Like my right hon. Friend, I remember that period. What Conservative Members are not telling us is that another alternative to the Commonwealth was being considered at that timethe Scandinavian dimension. Furthermore, what is being missed in all these debates is the fact that everybody knew, when they signed up to the treaty of Rome, that all things would flow from that. We cannot turn the clock back. If we should ever have had a referendum, it was on the single market, because everythingthe Bank and the whole lotflowed from that, and that is not being faced up to in these debates.
I want to make a further point about the Conservative party. In those days, when I was forming my own, very strongly pro-European views, the Conservatives were the party of Britain in Europe, and proud to be soled of course by Ted Heath, who negotiated Britains entry into the Common Marketand the party that two decades later negotiated and agreed the Maastricht treaty and took that Bill through this House, with no referendum at all. We have heard many right hon. and hon. Members who have served in this House for far longer than I have say that these debates have often felt like a Groundhog Day-style re-run of the Maastricht debates nearly 16 years ago.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): I am reluctant to interrupt this fascinating journey through the right hon. Ladys CV. Nevertheless, if she wants a straightforward debate on these matters, it would benefit the House if she would be straightforward about whether she sees the European Union as an intergovernmental organisation or supports the supranational elements in this treaty, which for many of us fly in the face of the intergovernmental approach that she says she admires, for example in the Commonwealth.
Ms Hewitt: I strongly support the treaty, in all its aspects. I strongly support the European Union as an organisationI have argued this point beforein which Governments share sovereignty on issues where they believe that by pooling sovereignty we can do better together than we can do alone. The Union is quite different in its nature from the British Commonwealth, which has its own strengths but is a completely different kind of association. Although many of the arguments and, I suspect, the speeches that we have heard in the past few weeks are similarperhaps identicalto those that the House heard during the Maastricht debates, the hon. Gentleman confirms that the position of the Conservative party as a whole is very different from what it was 16 years ago.
The motion before us is about the treaty agreed at Maastricht, but the substance is about Britains priorities in Europe, and the essential question there is quite simple: in this country, are we or are we not to play a central role in Europes future development? I believe that the answer that this House gives to that question is fundamental to our future well-beingboth economic and political. I have no doubt about the answer to that question. The answer, in our own national self-interest, must be yeswe will play a central part in the future of the European Community.[ Official Report, 4 November 1992; Vol. 213, c. 284.]
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): Does the right hon. Lady not accept that the reason the Conservative party has shifted its position is that the European Union has shifted its position? The British people have found out that the pooling of sovereignty to which she refers has proceeded to such an extent that we, the elected representatives of the people of this country, are no longer able to decide on a whole raft of issues on their behalf because powers have been progressively handed over to Brussels. That is why this party is changing. At least this party is standing up for the people of this country, which is more than she has ever done.
Ms Hewitt: We have heard arguments along those lines from the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members during these debates, and he refers to Brussels and to Europe as if they were a foreign occupying powersome alien force imposing its laws upon usinstead of an association of which we are willing and leading members. One reason I support the treaty, and wish that he did, is that far from advancing us inexorably to a united states of Europe or an imagined federalist superstate nightmare, it strengthens the role of member states, national Governments and, specifically, the voting power of the United Kingdom.
Rob Marris: Does my right hon. Friend agree that part of the difficulty with the position of many Conservative MPs is that they think power is a zero-sum game? They think that either we have got it, Brussels has got it, the UN has it, or the Commonwealth has it, rather than acknowledging the concept of leverage, through which on occasion, by sharing power, the United Kingdom increases our power.
Mr. Chaytor: Pursuing the point about the Conservatives reaction, does my right hon. Friend agree that there is almost a collective sense of denial in their party, given that a Conservative Government made the three key decisions that took Britain into the European Union, and strengthened our relationship with it? Are they not trying to conceal their responsibility for the very policies that they now oppose?
Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend is right and psychologists would doubtless have an interesting time analysing the reasons. His point is confirmed by the fact, that 16 years ago, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), who have all spoken eloquently in our debates, were members of the Government who argued for Britains place in Europe and for a treaty that deepened and strengthened our relationship in Europe. Today, they are part of the small handful of pro-Europeans left on the Conservative Benches. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Esher and Walton said, rather ruefully, during the speech from the Conservative Front Bench, they have been so depressed by what they have heard from their party that they have given up the ghost this afternoon.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): Treaties have a cumulative effect. During the debates on Maastricht, the Government of the time argued for a Europe des patries, which was emphasised by the pillar arrangement. That was then. We now face the collapse of the pillars and not a Europe des patries but a European Union. That is why the argument progresses and the essential flame of our concept of liberty will not be extinguished by all the Foreign Secretarys patronising.
Ms Hewitt: The treaty does not extinguish the great British flame of liberty. With respect, we have heard that sort of nonsense from Eurosceptics since before the United Kingdom joined the Common Market. The hon. Gentleman and other Conservative Members should recall that, on the eve of Britains entry into the Common Market, Ted Heath signed not a secret piece of paper but a public declaration that members of the Common Market intended to move progressively towards a deeper political and economic union.
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): The right hon. Lady has given us the history of her journey to becoming a pro-European and taken us back to the 1970s. May we take her back to 1983? Did she share the platform of wanting to get out of Europe, which was no doubt then a manifesto commitment of the current Prime Minister?
Ms Hewitt: I did indeed. I stood for the constituency that is now represented so ably by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), and did so on the manifesto on which we all fought that election. I learned an enormous amount from the voters to whom I listened during the campaign. I learned that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) was correct to describe our manifesto as
the longest suicide note in history.
It was not a manifesto that any party that was serious about forming a Government should have written. The British people formed their judgment on us, and after that election I went to work for Neil Kinnock when he became leader of the Labour party and began the long march back to reconnecting us with the British people and enabling us to form a Government again.
Mr. Lilley: Having revealed the way in which she turned her coat, will the right hon. Lady now show a little respect for some of us who were elected in 1983 in the belief that we should be part of the European Community, who retain that belief but do not want to hand over further powers, and who would like to regain some powers for this country? Will she show some respect for that position, even though I do not have much respect for her constant abandonment of pledgesshe has abandoned anotherthat she makes to the electors?
Ms Hewitt: My difficulty with the right hon. Gentlemans position is that he and many Conservative Members persistently refuse to recognise that the treaty secures so many of the objectives that they claim to support. As was concluded by the senior expert group, of which Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, who I understand advises the right hon. Gentlemans Front-Bench team on national security, is a member, the Lisbon treaty strengthens the position of member states in a number of respects including the fact that the president of the European Council will serve more than six months, so that it is more than a rotating position.
To make a further point, 16 years ago the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), with whom I have had so many happy exchanges in these debates and who has spoken so eloquently on the matter, was one of only 22 rebels on his partys Back BenchesI think that I am right in recalling that John Major had a rather less flattering name for him and the other rebels. Now, however, the hon. Gentleman is tabling amendments that are virtually identical to the amendment tabled by those on his Front Bench. The debate over the past three weeks has confirmed that the centre of gravity in the Conservative party has fundamentally moved against Britains membership of the European Union.
The Leader of the Opposition has promisedand not changed his promiseto take his MEPs out of the European Peoples party, isolating himself from centre-right Governments in the European Union and leaving his party with barely a single ally among the Governments or mainstream political parties of the enlarged Union. Indeed, Daniel Hannan, one of the Conservative MEPs, likened the European Parliaments presidenta German Christian Democratto Adolf Hitler, causing immense offence to conservative colleagues [ Interruption. ]
The point I am seeking to make is that the argument that we have heard throughout the debates in Committee, and which we have begun to hear from the Opposition in this debate, confirms a profound shift towards Euroscepticism and views that were regarded as minority and extremist views less than two decades ago. It is no wonder that Caroline Jackson, also a Conservative MEP, has described her partys position on Europe as
a very nasty patch of poisonous fungus.
Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): The right hon. Lady has told us that she U-turned on her position of 25 years. Has she U-turned on her position of three years ago, and is she for or against a referendum now?
Ms Hewitt: That issue was dealt with fully in our debate last week. Although I supported a referendum on the constitutional treaty, for all the reasons that have been given in the House and outside, I do not support a referendum on the treaty. Nor would I support for a moment the position that the Opposition have taken of threatening to renegotiate the treaty after it has been ratified by Parliament and by each of the 26 other members of the European Union. Rather like with the Labour party manifesto of 1983, that policy position simply could not be advanced by any party that was serious about forming a Government.
Mr. Hendrick: Does not my right hon. Friends point about the Conservatives leaving the EPP in 2009 show why the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) could not say who they would negotiate with? There would be nobody to negotiate with, because the Conservatives have no friends in the European Union.
Mr. Cash: In her perambulation through the U-turns of the Labour party, would the right hon. Lady be kind enough to remind us what happened in the referendum in 1975? I think she said that nobody in their right mind would go down the route of a referendum, but it was Harold Wilsons Government who introduced the Referendum Act 1975.
Ms Hewitt: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is wrong; I did not say that. I said that I had supported a referendum on the constitution, but that, for all the reasons given both inside and outside the House, I do not support a referendum on this treaty. I believe that the hon. Gentleman recently said that the campaign in favour of a referendum, in which he was so prominent,
failed to rouse anything more than a minor public interest in the impact that this treaty will have...The effective opposition to this treaty does not look good.
If the hon. Gentleman did say that, he was certainly right. Despite his efforts and those of the rest of the Conservative party, including its Front Benchers, and despite the concerted day-in, day-out efforts of Telegraph Group newspapers and others, the number of signatories to the petition calling for a referendum on the treaty has been woefully lowconsiderably lower than the number on the petition for a referendum on the Maastricht treaty, in which the hon. Gentleman was also involved.
Mr. Cash: We got more than 500,000 signatures on the petition for a Maastricht referendum. A great deal of the problem with this petition has been that these debates and the arguments have not been fully reported by the media, including the BBC [Interruption.] That is absolutely true. There has been a lot of talk in here, but very little of it has been reported outside.
Ms Hewitt: That is a pretty desperate argument, given that for months on end Telegraph Group newspapers have misreported what has been going on in the European Union; that is also true of many other newspapers. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the fact that when The Sun published pages of anti-European diatribe during last years Labour party conference, its readership fell dramatically.
Mr. Chaytor: Is not the real issue the fact that after 12 days of debate on the treaty, the official Opposition have not been able to explain how the reduction in the number of Commissioners, the changes to the rotating presidency or any other of the organisational changes are in any way constitutional issues more important than the decision to promote the single currency, establish the single market or join the European Union in the first place? That is why there are so few signatures on the petition; that is why the Conservative party has lost the argument.
Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I listened to the concluding remarks of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, I felt that they were the comments of someone who knows that he has lost not only the vote in this House but the argument as well. The reality is that the British Conservative party is now more isolated and isolationist than it has ever been. That is not what the British people want.
The majority who believe that membership of the European Union is good for Britain is even largersignificantly largerthan seven years ago. That is true among young people in particular. Three quarters of them support Britains membership of the EU. They take our membership increasingly for granted, just as they take for granted all the benefits that flow from membershipparticularly the fact that, as European citizens, we can all travel, study, work, live or retire in any part of the European Union.
As the Bill goes to another place, wethe majority of the House who so strongly support itcan look beyond the ratification of this treaty and look forward to a different kind of debate on Europe. I am thinking of a debate dominated not by questions of institutional reform, but by the real challenges that face our world. As we have heard so often in these debates, those can be tackled effectively only if we work with our partners in the EU.
The challenges include climate change, international terrorism and international crime. They include our global competitiveness on the one hand and how we end global poverty on the other. The immense challenge is how different nations, tribes and faiths can live together safely and sustainably on our planet. Those are the issues that our constituents care about; they expect us to deal with themin this Parliament, internationally and through our membership of the European Union.
Mr. Sheerman: Is my right hon. Friend aware of how many letters I, as Chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, have received from leading members of major childrens charities, saying that it is only our membership of the European Union and the changes in the Lisbon treaty that will enable them to fight child poverty across Europe?
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