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the role of the referendum, which offers one of the few possibilities to remedy a fundamental weakness in our constitution. We have no written constitution and no procedures to protect and entrench features of our national and constitutional life. Everything can be changed by a simple majority. Many other countries, as we know, have quite elaborate procedures requiring a majority of two thirds for changes in constitutional matters and arrangements, often backed up with public referendums.
We have no such defence. Indeed, previously we did not need them, because only this generation of British parliamentary representatives has contemplated handing to others the great prizes of national independence, self-government and the rule of law under our own elected representatives. It would not have occurred to a previous generation to hand to others that which we prize most greatly and have given to other countries throughout the world in the past 50 years. That is the novelty of the proposition, against which, because we did not think it conceivable, we have no defences.[ Official Report, 21 February 1992; Vol. 204, c. 590.]
That is the truth of why we are here and what has gone so badly wrong. A simple majority can impose on the House of Commons a guillotine so stringent that we cannot even discuss the contents of a major treaty properly. That is the first thing.
Secondly, the Government claim that they have the authority of the British people because they are elected. We are all elected. All of us, in our own way, try muddlingly to identify that which best suits the national interest and those who send us here. But the people knowor rather knewthat, at the end of the day, if we got it wrong, they got rid of us; and they have, as they will again. We have had certain things quoted enoughwe have heard Mr. Blairs latest thought, his previous thought, his middle thought and his last thought. We have also had the Prime Ministers attestation that we would have a line-by-line consideration of the treaty and his understandinghe said thisthat this treaty would be not the constitutional treaty, but the Lisbon treaty.
We danced over how many hours we would get and however many days. On clause 2the heart of the Billthe debate amounted to 19 hours, which is less time than many of our Bills take in Committee upstairs. Yet we are talking about a constitutional measure for which the Government seek the authority of a vote in the House. It is a shallow vote. They have hollowed out the House and they have hollowed out the British peoples ability to hold to account.
That is what I meant when I mentioned the rule of law. What do we mean by the rule of law? We mean that we expect every citizen of this country to obey the law. They obey the law because they know that it is made by their representatives and they stand behind that; and if the law is wrong, they change it. Now we have heard the former Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Member for Leicester, West, suggest that we do not understand the world, that somehow it has moved on and that the people out there are better served by, effectively, decisions made by a grand bureaucracy centred in Brussels. The people there are not accountable to us.
Peter Shore went on to sayand it is truethat even if the European Parliament were democratic, it could not represent the British people as the basis of authority for making law. Why not? Because the people there represent other polities, other nations and other states. The European Parliament is only a congress, in that sense. That we should bear decisions that are made by a majority of others who are not accountable to the people we are sent here to represent is an argument in itself, and a defence of a constitutional arrangement.
That is what this debate has been about for many of us in the House. That is why for the Government and, I must say, the Liberal Democrats to treat people out there as if they have no say in such matters is the most shockingindeed, I shall say profoundly shockingfeature of this managed, staged debate. It was not the Government who called an end to the discussion on clause 2; it was the Deputy Speaker, who was mindful to put the Question that all the matters had been debated. The first that I ever saw of it was in the selection of amendments.
Those are ways in which we reduce ourselves. It is very difficult to make a case in the House now. Everything is guillotined, but that does not matter; we will look at the essence of the treaty. It is very difficult for many outside this place not to see, as I see, that there has been a progressive withdrawal of powers from
people and their ability to change them to institutions that are not accountable to them as a peoplethat is what I mean by polity.
When I say that this is a land of liberty, I think of the declaration of Arbroath, our Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights and those marches as part of a great constitutional settlement. We went out, once upon a time, proud to be associated. Those were the people who made a constitution. I go to America now and what do I hear? Therebut not in this country anymoreI hear of the Magna Carta and the great common law. That is one of the things that distinguishes the view of the European Unionthe common law versus the civil legal tradition, the Napoleonic code tradition or whatever one wants to call it. I do not knock that tradition; I just observe that it looks at the moon from a different angle from us.
The common law tradition gives our courts a subordinate positionI should like to remind the, I think, shadow Liberal Democrat Attorney-General that the judges can be dismissed by Parliament, the representatives of the people. That does not happen, because by and large we have confidence in the processes that have been established, not on the back of a treaty written half an hour ago or over 20 months in Europe, but over the practised evolution of our institutions.
The Minister for Europe, who has giggled his way through these debates in an amiable fashion, has let those great issues go slipping under the carpet. When it came to the very sovereignty of Parliament, what did he say? He said that Dicey was the classic expression of that. If the Minister does not know, the Clerks will tell him: in the third edition, and because of the Irish problems in the 19th century, Dicey came to the conclusion that a referendum might be a device by which to secure something in which we believe, or someone such as me believesthat is, the sovereignty of Parliament, which is the sovereignty of the people. That is why I shall vote against the treaty.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I am pleased that the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) went into his philosophical mode. Sadly, the bitterness of some of his contributions has been overpowering, and it often overpowered him more than anyone else.
The great problem is that the definition of a constitutional settlement can be grounded either in history or in the future. I used to teach A-level government and political systems and I studied the British constitution as a subject. I taught the subject when Lady Thatcher was in power. The conclusion of all who wrote then about the constitution was that a Prime Minister with a large majority was more powerful than an American President with a large majority from his or her own election because such a Prime Minister ran the Government like a presidency. Sadly, that process continued into the first phase of the Labour Government, when things were clearly run from the centre.
The attractions of the British constitution, unwritten though it is, are not to me so glowing and wonderful; that moon that shines down may have blinded some
Members to the fact that a powerful Prime Minister with a large majority and a strong whipping system is practically unstoppable and can make or break, destroy or change, a country for ever. At different times, people will judge that Lady Thatchers and Mr. Tony Blairs terms of office had a measure of both tendencies, given what they did to the country that they led.
It was interesting that the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) was squirming when there was talk of the British constitution, how wonderful it was and how we all had to represent one thing. Many people think that when people come here there is a unity of several countries as well as of several individual UK peoplesso we are, in a sense, a collective, just as the European Union is.
Given its struggles, it appears that the Scottish National party is not too happy with the collective of which it is a member. At one time, that partys slogan was Independence in Europe, which is interesting. I understand why individual things in the treaty might not be attractive to that party, but the fact is that it cannot see itself saying that it would support the essence of the treaty, whether there were a referendum or not.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): For the record, I have stated already that the Scottish National party has welcomed more than 95 per cent. of the treaty. The single, red-line, outstanding issue for us has been the incorporation of fishing as an exclusive competence, its entrenchment in the treaty and the fact that no referendum is being held. We are standing by the principle. We are opposing Third Reading because we are sticking to our manifesto pledge.
Michael Connarty: From a sedentary position, my right hon. Friend mentioned the word Tories, although I do not recognise that in the Scottish National party. That party has responded to the wishes of the Scottish people not to be represented by any party that takes the same political line and social balance in its policies as the Conservative party. Perhaps the Scottish National party has not yet realised that even aligning itself with the Conservative party to get its policies through in Scotland may come back to haunt it, as happened to many councils that relied on Conservative support.
I should like to put on the record my thanks to the Foreign Secretary, the Minister for Europe and their shadow counterparts for how they have led this debate. I have no negative comments about the humour introduced, intellectually and pointedly, by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). He quoted Valéry Giscard dEstaing a little too much for me; I was getting a little bored by that. He forgot to quote the Dutch Council of State, which considered the new treaty and said that it was not a constitution. The right hon. Gentleman did not quote the French either; furthermore, even the Danish could not raise a party to campaign for a referendum in their Parliament.
Mrs. Villiers: The hon. Gentleman says that no one else agrees that the treaty is in fact the constitution, but the author of the constitution has said plainly that he believes that the treaty is the constitution in all but name. Surely Mr. Giscard dEstaing counted as someone significant when he made it plain that what we are debating is the constitution.
Michael Connarty: That is probably the weakest argument that I have ever heard. If someone is proud of something that they put before the people, but that was defeated in two referendums and then altered in negotiations between countries that want something useful and if those countries come up with something that is not what that person put forward, of course the person will claim that it is the same thing. They will not want to be told that their idea was basically dumped, but that ideato have a constitution for Europewas dumped.
Michael Connarty: No, I will not. I have taken on board Mr. Deputy Speakers caution about other people wanting to speak. I may have more to say than he is pleased with. Due to the fact that I have been chairing European Scrutiny Committee sittings, I have often had only four or five minutes to speak at the end of a debate in which I would like to have participated more. I have a number of things to say.
The point is that some people did want a constitution. If they had got away with it, there would have been one treaty, a president of Europe and a Foreign Secretary of Europe, but all those things have been taken out of the treaty. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks referred to a turf war because of the president of the Council, to whom people still refer as the president of the EU. If there was going to be a turf war, it would be between the president of the Councila Council, not Commission, memberand the president of the Commission. That is what happens at the moment. The Council goes into discussions about something that the Commission proposes, and there is a turf war.
The great thing is that someone will be representing and carrying on the work of the Council in two-and-a-half-year terms, with a Council secretariat. Hopefully, that person will apply more leverage against the Commission so that the Commission does not have things all its own way, which happens at the moment.
The shadow Foreign Secretary also asked why there was not primary legislation in respect of common foreign security policy and defence. That suggestion was also put forward by the Foreign Affairs Committee. All we have on the record is the Prime Ministers declaration that any time we move from having a veto to qualified majority votingusing the passerelles, as they are calledthat will be decided on the Floor of the House. Why should there not be primary legislation? Given my analysis of the treaty and all the logic that applies to my,
and many peoples, concern about the sovereignty of the House, why should there not be primary legislation for such far-reaching decisions? That is something for the Government to think about; they have not yet answered our questions about the process that involves this Parliament in the moves that we make in respect of the opt-outs and protocols.
I was impressed by the many contributions of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who unfortunately is no longer in his place. It is amazing that a man of his statureI knew him when he was a junior Minister in the Scottish Office when I was a council leader fighting against the Thatcher proposals for local governmentwhose logic, honesty and integrity I have always respected should be sidelined not because of age or lack of talent, but simply because the Eurosceptics have what they tell me is a blocking minority on the Conservative party in opposition. If that is the case, it is a very sad day for the Conservative party and for the people in Britain that it claims to representthe businesses, the civil society and the constituents whose interests and concerns are helped along by Europe as much as by anything else we can do in this House. I wonder why the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been sidelined.
In respect of Schengen, the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to an Ã la carte menu for justice and home affairs. That is one way of looking at it, but not how the UKs approach is regarded by everyone else I meetin the Conference of Community and European Affairs Committees and in European Parliaments, for example. They respect us, but, in terms of the EU arrangements, they view us as the most detached member. We have no euro and we have no Schengen borders. Contrary to the mythology we heard earlier about Schengen borders, we do not have the same border controls. We made a virtueI believe it was the wrong thing to doin our proposals for the 2001 election of our intention not to sign Schengen and not to come within the Schengen borders, but to have our own immigration system. I think that that weakened the Schengen system, just as our non-participation in the euro weakened the euro system.
That decision bounced back on us and we became a target for illegal immigration. After all, if someone gets into a Schengen country, they will want out of it because they have been given a transit visa, so where do those immigrants head? They go to the nearest non-Schengen country, which is the UK. That is what has happened. We took a terrible decision and if we ever get the necessary opt-ins, it will take us a long time to get the Schengen arrangements working properly.
Mr. Lilley: Why does the hon. Gentleman think that the head of Germanys police union said that the lifting of border controls on Germanys borders with Poland and the Czech Republic, when those countries joined Schengen, was an invitation to criminals and that European citizens will
suffer a considerable loss in terms of security?
The right hon. Gentleman would have to ask the German police that, and he would also need to ask the German Government why they decided not to allow people to come immediately to work in
their country when the European Union was enlarged. If the right hon. Gentleman went to Poland, as I did with a former Conservative Agriculture Minister, he would find that the people of Poland believe that the problem of an enlarging Europe is that the Germans and Dutch are coming back to buy up all their land. The Poles do not make much money off their own land and are being pushed off what land they have. There have been tensions along that border for many years, which was probably being expressed in those comments from that German police officer. There is no evidence to suggest that Germany is facing the sort of problem that the right hon. Gentleman has described.
Angus Robertson: During the 1990s, when I reported for the BBC in central Europe, I remember interviewing an Austrian general on the border with Hungary who was concerned, as were the Austrian Government, about the potential for criminality from the Hungarian side, as from the Czech and Slovak side, yet within two years, it was clear that there were no such problems whatever. There may need to be transitional arrangements, but as the economies of central and eastern Europe improve in the longer term, the problem of criminality as a result of different standards of living becomes progressively ameliorated.
Michael Connarty: I take that point and hope that everyone else will. I believe that any form of xenophobia is a very bad thing for the project and, indeed, for the world we live in. We now live in a global village, as Marshall McLuhan predicted back in the 1960s. We have to get used to it and come to understand that what seems to some to be a threat may be our saving grace.
The truth is that people are not really talking against the Lisbon treaty, but against the process of the European Unionwhat I as a member and Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee recognise as clear Commission creep. There is such Commission creep because that plutocracy was given power to try to put together arrangements for the advancement of a closer and closer Europe in order to prevent Europe from being run by politicians who would go to war when they could not solve problems. We have moved on from that, however, as the process is now about economic development, social development, enlargement and making the European Union a place of safety, security and, hopefully, human rights for people who did not have them under the previous Soviet communist arrangements.
Many everyday things will not change when the treaty goes through and the various directives, regulations and framework decisions come into forcethe process under which the European Commission can get rules, regulations and laws on to the statute book. There will be green papers, white papers and even the non-papers. The EU is the only organisation in the world I know that presents non-papers. I predict that they will eventually become green, then white papers and eventually directives. That is how the EU gets things on the agenda. We are used to dealing with that process every week. I hope that people will read our reports, which are printed every week, and see exactly how our business is done.
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