|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Let me take another example, which was given by the Foreign Secretary. On the environment, he said that a scare story was going around that the EU, at a time of
crisis, would redirect gas and so on from the UK to other parts of the EU. New article 122 states:
Without prejudice to any other procedures provided for in the Treaties, the Council, on a proposal from the Commission, may decide, in a spirit of solidarity between Member States, upon the measures appropriate to the economic situation, in particular if severe difficulties arise in the supply of certain products, notably in the area of energy.
Where a Member State is in difficulties or is seriously threatened with severe difficulties caused by natural disasters or exceptional occurrences beyond its control, the Council, on a proposal from the Commission, may grant, under certain conditions, Union financial assistance to the Member State concerned. The President of the Council shall inform the European Parliament of the decision taken.
One of the first times that I was politically involved in something was around the time of the referendum on entering the EU and the renegotiations. At that time, people were accused of scaremongering when they said that when we gave fishing policy over to the EU, it could devastate the local fishing industry. We were told that the ambiguous wording in the treaty was being misinterpreted. We now have a devastated fishing industry.
Angus Robertson: The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case about fishing. Will he confirm that there are communities in Northern Irelandas there are in Scotland and in Englandwhose fishing industries have been devastated by the common fisheries policy, in contrast to those in Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, which are not subject to the common fisheries policy? For those who care about the future of Northern Ireland and Scotland, that should be reason enough to vote against the treaty tonight.
Sammy Wilson: I do not mind why the hon. Gentleman votes against the treaty. I know that parts of it find favour with him, but if that is the reason compelling the Scottish Nationalists to vote against it, I agree with him.
When membership of the EU was being negotiated, we were told that we were misreading the terms of the treaty, and that what we feared could not possibly happen. Now we have seas that are plundered, villages that are destroyed and industry that is wrecked. What we were told could not come true has come true. As for what are now being described as scaremongering stories, I believe that at some point in the future we will look back and regret that we did not listen to the voice of reason in the House.
The hon. Gentleman will recallalthough he must have been very young then, because he seems very young nowthat it was the Conservative
party that sold that line. The Labour partys official position at the time was to oppose the treaty, although I voted for it in 1975. Does the hon. Gentlemans party oppose membership of the European Union? His argument suggests that it does.
Sammy Wilson: I do not really care which party tried to sell that line. It was the wrong line, and one that we have come to regret. What is so sad is that subsequent Governments have not sought to do anything about it. As other Members have pointed out, once we enter into arrangements such as this they are almost impossible to reverse. It is no use arguing that they were wrong at the outset and would prove devastating, because it is not possible to change them. That is why I find it sad that we have not given this Bill proper scrutiny. We are walking into something that will be irreversible.
Conservative Front Benchers have been told, If you dont go along with this, no one will negotiate a different treaty with you. No one will talk to you. Indeed, I think that one argument was, There will be no one to talk to. We have had some experience of that in Northern Ireland. We opposed an agreement between the Irish Government, the British Government, the American Government, all the parties in the Irish Republic, all the parties in the House of Commons and all the parties in Northern Ireland. We had been told Dont even think of opposing it; no one will talk to you, let alone renegotiate the agreement. We did not believe that, and the agreement was renegotiated. Safeguards that had not been inserted in the first place were inserted. The people who had said that it would never be possible to persuade Sinn Fein to accept the police and give up their guns were proved wrong. Now I say to Conservative Front Benchers, Dont listen to that kind of nonsense.
It should not be forgotten that we are valuable members of the European Union. The other members of the EU benefit from us as much as we benefit from them, and sometimes more when it comes to trade, the transfer of money and a host of other matters. If there is a change of Governmentas I hope there soon will beand the British people speak, saying that they do not like the terms of this treaty, there will be a chance of renegotiation. I do not think that Members should go limply through the Lobby to vote for the treaty simply because they have been told there is no alternative.
The votes that have taken place so far have brought great sadness. Some powerful speeches have been made tonight about the erosion of the powers of this Parliament, about the increasing influence of Europe that will result from the treaty, and about the impact that that is likely to have on the lives of ordinary people here in the United Kingdom. I hope that Members will see the light between now and a quarter to 10, although I doubt it. Of course, it is not always a case of seeing the light; sometimes it is simply a case of Members managing to remove the Whips arms from their throats. If that does not happen, however, at least those of us who stood on the basis of a manifesto commitment to put this to the British people in a referendumto give them the right to have their saycan walk through the Lobbies tonight with our heads held high, and oppose the Third Reading of this Bill.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I rise with some trepidation. Many Members here are veterans of this important debate, having been present for every day of it, and passions run very high. I hope that I shall resist the urge to become too passionateor, indeed, as discourteous as some speakers on both sides of the House have been, although I understand that that is because they feel so strongly about the issue.
I am speaking tonight because I experienced a sense of guilt. I have been in the House for a long time. I arrived at the same time as my old friend the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who was at the London School of Economics with me. We have always disagreed about Europe, but one day recently he chided me: You have been in this place for a long time, but you are not even going to speak on the European issue. He also teased me because I had popped into the Chamber and made a couple of interventions, which he said did not constitute a serious contribution.
Last week I sat through six and a half hours of debate in the hope of being called. The Bill was in Committee, and as you will remember, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you were in the Chair. I was not called, but I must say that it was a great educational experience, although it was a bit like entering a rather exclusive cluba club that not many people can join because its members have been together for so long, are familiar with each others nuances and know who will say what, and bounce off each other in a very interesting way. It took me back to the days when I was, I suppose, something of an academic sociologist
I shall vote for the Bill tonight. I must confessthis is a confessional, is it not, for Members who have been around as long as I have?that I originally voted against Europe in that referendum when we had a choice. It was a long time ago, when I was a callow youth, a young university teacher, and I got it wrong. The more experience I have had of politics, of being a politician and of being in this place, the more embarrassed I have felt about the fact that I got it wrong on that occasion. However, I have never liked referendums. I know that they have been described as a creature of Napoleon, but I believe that if we refer to antiquity we will find that certain Roman emperors used a form of referendum to get their own way, and I know that the Italians used them under Mussolini.
In the Labour party, I blame Tony Benn. I had the room next to him in the House at one stage and I got on with him extremely well personally, but I never liked his politics, and his recounting of history through his diaries showed a world that I did not recognise and do not remember. I think that one of the great disservices that he did the Labour party was when he persuaded Harold Wilson, at a time when Harold Wilson was vulnerable to what was happening on the left of the party, into thinking that a referendum was the answer.
During these debates I have heard many people say that it is all about expediency, but we, as parliamentarians, are politicians, and there have been times when I have
seen all parties acting in a politically expedient way. The official Opposition might be doing that at present. I listened intently to the speeches on Second Reading and I was impressed by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). He is the best entertainer and performer in the House at present; he is an outstanding debater. However, when I subsequently read the Second Reading speeches, and thought about them and took out the humour, I found that there was not much substance to tell me what his position was on Europe.
From listening to or reading the contributions of the hon. Members for Stone (Mr. Cash) and for Aldridge-Brownhills and their group, I know precisely where they are coming from and what they believe; they articulate it passionately, although not always politely. I also know the position of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and that little group around him that represent that strong and remarkable tradition in his party of being both liberal-minded Conservatives and pro-European. I do not say this to make a political point, but I share some of their concerns that something is going on in the modern Conservative party and that prospective members who hold similar views to those of the right hon. and learned Gentleman are being screened out from standing for winnable constituencies. I do not know whether that is because of the influence of some noble Lord, or whether there has been a worrying shift in Conservative party politics, but that sort of Conservative is being eliminated from the parliamentary party. As has been mentioned, very few of the younger generation of Members have made pro-European speeches.
Let me get to the nub of why I shall support the Bill. I must confess that I get fed up with Europe. I get irritated by the messiness and clumsiness of it, and I hate some of the effects of the former treaties. For instance, I do not like the fact that we have a voting system under which we do not really know who our MEPs are. Under the old system, we knew exactly
Mr. Sheerman: I was merely seeking to prove my credentials for voting for Third Reading by showing that I am not a pushover in any way. I was trying to say that, as areasonablyobjective person, I do not like many aspects of drift in Europe and also some elements of this treaty. In political life we must judge things in the round, however. There are things we agree with, and other things we disagree with, and overall this treaty recommends itself to me and to my colleagues, and I believe that there will be a majority in favour of Third Reading in the House tonight.
That does not mean that there are not elements of the treaty that could be forensically studied and on which I would have misgivings. I think that all Members would agree with that, if we were honest. We do not agree with 100 per cent. of anything; I certainly do not. As I have said, I also thought that way about Maastricht, and certainly about the new voting
arrangements under which we do not know who our regional MEPs are because they do not have a defined constituency. I have never liked that. Looking to the future, I do not unreservedly welcome the possibility of Turkey joining the EU. That makes my position slightly different from that of those who say that the entire treaty is right; I think that the majority of it is right.
I have not been present for all the debates, but although I understand their position I am not convinced by the arguments that I have heard from articulate Members from both sides of the Housewho have voted against the Bill in Committeethat the treaty is the same as the constitution. One reason I shall be voting in favour of Third reading is that the treaty is fundamentally different from the constitution. I share the view on why Valéry Giscard dEstaing said what he said; it made me very angry when during a long debate that I attended yet another speaker stood up to quote Valéry Giscard dEstaing.
One reason I like the treatyand prefer it to the constitutionis that it builds incrementally on other treaties. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills talked about English common law being built up over centuries. Europe is new, and we are building its measures up in a way that is parallel to the building up of English common law. We have had a series of treaties, and I like that process; one of the reasons I shall vote in favour of Third Reading is that the treaty builds incrementally.
I was a Member of this House at the time of debate on the Maastricht treaty, and I voted on it, as you did, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I remember all the arguments then, saying how wicked and iniquitous it was to have a guillotine. Members used to say that Mrs.now BaronessThatcher was wicked to introduce guillotines on such important matters and that that was the end of parliamentary democracy as we knew it; and we have heard the same arguments again over the past weeks. However, we must see such steps in the context of Governments having to get their business through. They will get their business done; I am afraid that that is the nature of this place. However, it must be said that Lisbon is a much less significant treaty than Maastricht; that was the big hurdle.
The Lisbon treaty is better than the original constitution. The constitution would have wiped out all the previous treaties and started again. I did not like that; I did not think it was necessary. As a politician, I preferred an accretion of effortbuilding on the last thing that we had constructed and modifying it and changing the bits that have not worked or that we did not like. I do not like the common agricultural policy and what it has done to our agriculture, and I do not like aspects of the common fisheries policy, but I do like other bits of the treaties.
Let me explain why I shall go home tonight content about voting for Third Reading. My generation was born during the dark period when this House was being bombed by German aircraft. We can remember the second world war; I was born towards the end of it, but I can remember what Europe did to itself then. I think what a wonderful life I have had and what a wonderful life my children and grandchildren will have bearing in mind certain ghastly things in English history. There are wonderful things about English history, but for goodness sake there have been wars
after wars. The Napoleonic wars were followed by more wars and then by the first world war. The war that brought more of my generation into politics than any other was the first world war, because we thought that it should never happen again. One can read about the history of the first world war and the disgraceful decisions taken by politicians of every party across Europe that made that war happen and made millions of young men die in the trenches. Like many people of my generation, I came into politics to build a country and a Europe where that would never happen again.
I have gone on about this in my interventions, but I believe that this treaty builds on the things that we have secured over the years since we became part of the European Uniona European group of nations. This treaty will help to secure the maintenance of peace and prosperity. Let us not underestimate this countrys enormous prosperity. Although it brings all sorts of problems, it also brings something that one finds in the American constitution, but not in oursthe pursuit of happiness. I believe that we come into politics so that the peoplethe people in Huddersfield whom I represent and the people whom we all representcan have the freedom that they want to pursue the good life and happiness.
People have said that we do not have a written constitution. We do not have it in one document, but we have lots of bits of our written constitution and they are all important. They are not tidy or joined up, but they exist and I do not believe that this treaty contravenes them. It becomes part of this great synthesis as we progressand not just as an old-fashioned nation state that thought it could do anything
I hope that when people talk about the nation state they look back at what the nation state brought usthe horrific periods of our experience as a nationand what it meant, perhaps not for the ruling classes that run the country but for the poor bloody infantry that fought the wars, dug the ditches and did all the ghastly things that happened [Interruption] They should also look back on slavery and the dreadful things done in the name of the nation state.
This exclusive club and company has been discussing the treaty for so many days and I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to put some things on the record. I am not passionate enough to condemn people for their positionsI understand where they come from and my position comes slightly from the outside. This Third Reading and this treaty deserve my support and that of all sensible, good-thinking Members of this House.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|