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We have always had a fraught relationship with Europe, not least because Britain is so framed by the development of its constitutional arrangements into the United Kingdom and Parliament. If someone wanted to show a cinema audience a five-second film that was a shorthand representation of us, they would probably show an
image of Parliament and Big Ben. Whether it was a James Bond film or an Alexander Korda film in London, it would pan up the Thames and the world would know where it was, because that is how we define ourselves.
If you wanted to define an Italian in five seconds, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you might show the Colosseum or a plate of spaghetti, but Italy is really about language and family, not necessarily its constitutional arrangements. Would anybody know what the French Parliament, the French National Assembly, looks like? If you wanted to show what Parisians are, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would pan across the Eiffel tower. Indeed, if you watched for what CNN correspondents sit in front of to show where they are, you would see the Eiffel tower, not the French constitutional arrangements. That is why it is so important that that element is included in the Bill. If you were to define the Dutch, you would probably choose the canals. Germans are much more difficultyou could go for Berlin or a Volkswagen factory.
Britain is unique, however, in that we are very defined by our constitutional situation. That is why we take the arguments to heart so much and become so uncomfortable with lots of constitutions being written. After all, there are people alive today in the eastern part of Germany who were born in the Weimar Republic, spent some time under Nazis, then lived in the German Democratic Republic and are now elderly pensioners in the German Federal Republic. They will have seen different capitals, different boundaries, different constitutions and different systems, whereas people in Dorset are rather rooted in things going on in the same way. The constitutional situation is clearly difficult for us in relation to Europeit is not impossible, but there are different problems.
Then we come to assess the economic benefits. Our pattern of trade has been changed over the past 20 or 30 years, and many jobs are dependent on the European Union. The European Union is still a very rich part of the world and there is a still a potentially big market. As I said in my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, a lot of the supply side changes made under Baroness Thatcher have made us a much more competitive economy, enabling us to be successful and to sell to people round the world. We have also been a major recipient of inward investment.
All those things would have to be taken into account. I am glad that the terms of reference are drawn quite widely, because any inquiry would have to consider immigration and the movement of peoples. In recent years we have all seen many citizens from Poland come to work in our country. Many of them work hard and benefit the economy, but there are pluses and minuses when people move, and they also need housing, the national health service and all the other things that this country must provide in the longer term.
All those things would need to be considered. If the committee chose a model, took evidence and produced a report, which I suspect would make some quite wide-ranging proposals, it would not need to do the whole job every five years. All it would have to do would be review what had changed since its previous report. I do not see the process as being quite as bureaucratic or as having to be repeated again. Once the committee had established a model to assess the impact, it would simply have to update its views and values.
When I first came to the House 10 years ago, there was a lot of debate about the potential benefits and disbenefits of the euro. Many people were saying that the City of London would disappear if we did not join, yet we now have a robust, successful City that has created many jobs, including jobs for Europeans. Anyone who goes to Hyde park on a Sunday will hear lots of foreign voices, and many of those people work for banks in the City of London, which is very successful. Clearly, currency and trade arrangements would have to be considered as part of the terms of reference of the Bill.
This is a topical subject. Many of my constituents said, Three cheers for the Irish! because of what the Irish people have done. It is sometimes inconvenient for politicians when the public speak, but the Irish have clearly set out their concerns about the treaty, as other countries did at an earlier stage. The arrogance of the European elite was mentioned earlier. If we ask people to vote yes or no, and they vote no, how much analysis does that need? That seems to be a clear decision. The public view of politicians is undermined when we get an inconvenient answer and try to ignore it or get round it. There is now greater scepticism among the peoples of Europe about the direction in which Europe is going. In my view, if there were an in-out vote today, I would still vote to be in, because I think that on balance there are still benefits to be had. However, public debate in the UK would be much better informed if we had some learned people looking at the pluses and minuses of the organisation, to give us a factual basis for remaining in it and, more importantly, to enable us to improve the situation.
There is some unfinished business involved in this, and we might well have to go down the route of renegotiating certain termsI hope that we would still maintain our membershipas that would be beneficial for Europe as a whole. There are now so many measures on the statute book, and the costs to industry and to many EU citizens are such that I cannot see the present model lasting over the next 40 or 50 years, unless Governments start to kick up a fuss and throw their weight around.
One of the first votes that I ever took part in was in the referendum on whether we should join the common market in the middle 1970s. I voted yesjust. That was the only vote in my life in which I could put my hand on my heart and say that I could never be sure that I had done the right thing
Mr. Syms: Indeed. In every vote in Parliament, I have always thought that I was, broadly speaking, right, for good or bad, although with varying degrees of enthusiasm for the various leaders of my party. I voted yes in that referendum and I think that I would vote yes again today. However, there is now a great gulf between what happens in Brussels and what people on the streets see. There is a lot of false information around, and we need someone to do a decent job of work in providing a proper analysis of the costs and benefits and of the facts. That would help public policy debate.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): It is always a delight to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms), who has made a thoughtful speech. I did not agree with all of it, particularly the last bit, but that is the way we are. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) on winning the ballot and bringing this issue to the House. I am delighted to support his Bill and I look forward to hearing whether the Minister is minded to allow it to go through to its Committee stage. Such deliberations would be useful for fleshing out many of the issues that the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) raised in his speech.
Like the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Poole, I raised three cheers for the Irish. Indeed, that night, I went into my local pub, the Swan with Two Necks, and had a pint of Guinness to celebrate. Guinness is not my usual tipple; I am a bitter man, as will become apparent as I continue my speech. I like a pint of Copper Dragon, but I deviated in order to show my support for the Irish. Having said that, after the Danes voted, I remember having a pint of Carlsberg, but that did not help us much.
What the Irish result demonstrates more than anything else is that there is a disconnect. The only countries that have said yeswe have to be very careful about our use of words hereare those that have gone through their parliamentary systems; and the only countries that have said no have been the ones where they asked the people. That just shows how out of touch parliamentarians and politicians have become with their own peoples. It is not just the MEPs who are remotemost people accept that they are; many do not even know their namesas so many Members of Parliament are getting it wrong by not listening to their own peoples. That makes the Bill more essential than ever.
When the French had the opportunity to vote in 2005, they voted no, and the Dutch did exactly the same. The issue was then re-mashed a bit, but as I understand it, it was 96 per cent. the same when it came before us again. Many European politicians said that the treaty was basically the same as the old constitution. Only in this country were we told that it was notand that was only to get the Government off the hook because they did not want to hold a referendum. When I asked the Foreign Secretary earlier this week whether he felt that if the British had voted on the same day as the Irish, they would have voted any differently, he sort of smiled and said that he only wished as many British people thought as positively about the EU as the Irish did. Many of us accept that it was not an anti-EU vote per se: the Irish were saying not that they wished to pull out of the EU, but that they did not like the constitutional treaty. They wanted a referendum, and their voice was heard.
Let me demonstrate how dangerous the disconnect is getting. Todays Daily Express says, Brown joins EU plot to make Irish hold another treaty vote. If that is the case, we are going into very dangerous territory. The former French President, Valéry Giscard dEstaing said yesterday that the Irish should hold another referendum:
A country that represents 0.7 per cent. of the European population cannot decide for the others.
an appalling number of rumours on which peoples prejudices and fears were built... All those fears should have been addressed, all those misrepresentations should have been corrected. The untruths that were put out by some of the propagandists should have been rebutted at the beginning of the campaign.
All I have to say to Peter Mandelson is that what goes around, comes around. I just love itthe cheek, the brass neck of it. Mandelson is reported as saying that he did not believe that the Irish people were rejecting Europe, which I agree with, but he went on to say that he saw the treaty as absolutely essential. He cannot have it both ways. That is what leaves people cold. What is he actually saying? Are the Irish to have another referendum on exactly the same treaty? That is what would have to happen, because if it were changed in any way, shape or form, it would have to come back to all the other Parliaments as well.
This issue is not just about the Irish. I believe that if the British people had had their say, they would have said no by an even larger majority. For another example, the Czech Prime Minister is now on record as saying that he was not going to put the brakes on to halt ratification, but that he
would not bet 100 crowns
Mr. Chope: Is not the attitude of the Czechs particularly significant? This is a country that knows what it is like to be lacking in independence and under the control of the Soviet Union. Now that the Czechs have won their freedom from the Soviet Union, they want to continue to have freedom without European bureaucracy.
Mr. Evans: My hon. Friend the Member for Poole put his finger on it when he described how a countrys history moulds how it thinks and causes it to think in a different way, a more distinct way than the way in which some other countries think. He mentioned Germany in particular, and also France. Given the Czechs history, they want to protect the hard-fought freedoms that have cost the lives of many of their citizens. They do not take lightly the fact that some peoples, however small they happen to be, have rejected a constitution. If that is the system under which we operate, it is the system under which we should all operate.
Mr. Syms: My hon. Friend should bear it in mind that the Czechs were part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, which was a multicultural, multinational state under the Habsburgs. They spent a long time breaking away from that, after which they came under the influence of the communists. They have a considerable history of trying to ensure their own independence.
That is why the Bill is so important. It can at least start to put into some form of context the costs, which clearly exist, and the benefits, which clearly exist as well. It informs the debate. It does not necessarily
mean that when we receive the commissions account, even if there is a net cost to the United Kingdomwhich I understand that there iswe will all say Lets pull out. I think that what many of the peoples throughout the European Union want is reform. They want the European institutions to become more accountable and more representative of themselves. I suspect that we are not alone in wanting the sovereign Parliaments of member states to be properly recognised and respected, and in wanting to be allowed to do our job rather than having our powers siphoned awaynot just by this treaty, but by successive treatiesin a way that dilutes our ability fully and properly to represent the people who send us here.
That could not be demonstrated better than by José Manuel Barroso. Whenever I mention his name in a pub, I add, If he walked in here now, how many people would recognise him? The chances are that not many would. If he walked into the Swan with Two Necks, I would buy him a pint of Guinness, but I think I would be the only one to recognise himyet this man is incredibly powerful.
When José Manuel Barroso met the Prime Minister yesterday, he said that he wished to thank the British Government for the fact that the constitutional treaty was being ratified. I thought That is absolutely right: dont thank the British people, because the British people havent been consulted, and every poll shows that had they been consulted, they would have voted no. I felt that Barroso was absolutely right to thank the Prime Minister for ensuring that the British people were not consulted. I also find it slightly ironic that two days after the Irish people voted no, the unelected Chamber at Westminster decided not to reflect on the Irish decision but to give its endorsement.
Mr. Francois: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friends speech, but I have just been notified that Lord Justice Richards, who sits in the High Court, issued a statement a few minutes ago, saying that he was very surprised that the Government were proceeding with ratification of the Lisbon treaty when the case brought by Mr. Stuart Wheeler before him demanding the referendum that the Government promised in their manifesto had not yet been determined by the court. Moreover, he has asked that the Government stay their hand voluntarily until he has been given an opportunity to deliver judgment on this extremely important matter. As we have a Foreign Office Minister in the House this morning, may I ask whether you have received any indication, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the Foreign Office intends to make a statement to the House replying to an important announcement made by a judge in the High Court that affects the future of this country?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think it vital for the Government to make it clear that they will not deposit the instrument of ratification of articles in the treaty in Rome until they have heard the outcome of the Stuart Wheeler case. To do otherwise would seem to me to be going against due process and flouting the courts. I speak, as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as someone who supports the Lisbon treaty, but we must uphold the rules of the gamethe rules of
lawand it would be wrong to see the instrument of ratification in Rome before we have heard the outcome of that case.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am sure that the House appreciates that I have had no notification of this whateverI did not even know of the information that the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) has just imparted to the House. It is very new, and I have had no indication that any Minister intends to make a statement on it. It is not, strictly speaking, a matter for the Chair, but the hon. Gentleman has made his points and they are on the recordalthough they do not, of course, directly relate to the business before the House.
Mr. Evans: That is an historic intervention into todays proceedings, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) for bringing the matter to the attention of the House, and to the Liberal Democrats for making their position absolutely clear. The Government have another couple of hours, and I hope that a Minister can come to the Dispatch Box today to make a statement on what they intend to do. As I understand it, the Queen gave the legislation Royal Assent yesterday in order that it should become British law, but the fact is that if it has yet to be deposited in Rome, it is not properly ratified. Therefore, the procedure of not doing that until we have the outcome of that case is vital.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I fear that we are now embarking on a different debate, and I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman resisted the overtures that he is getting from other Members and continued with the Bill before the House.
Mr. Evans: Of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we will obey your guidance, but I suspect that it is the dislocation that is relevant to the Bill under discussion. When Ministers act outside of the law in order to progress a matter that they think vital, as clearly they think the European project is, this Bill is more necessary than ever. It is pointless
Mr. Davey: The audit would have to take account of all aspects of different treaties that govern the European Union. Whether the Lisbon treaty comes into effect because the proper ratification process occurs and an instrument of ratification is, in due course, after the Wheeler case, deposited in Rome, or whether it does not come into effect, this auditthis Billwill have to judge the scenario that emerges. Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that the ratification processes, as we have always argued, require this final step of the depositing of the instrument of ratification?
Mr. Evans: This is why we need a Minister heresomebody who is clearly expert in the matter. If the Minister present intervened on me to clarify the position on this issue, which is relevant and pertinent to what we are discussing today, we would be absolutely gripped and I should be delighted to listen to what she has to say on whether the Government do now intend not to place the Act in Rome, so that it is not properly ratified until after the court case. [ Interruption. ] All rightwe will just have to wait until she feels it appropriate to do that, or until the Government bring somebody here to answer those questions.
Mr. Chope: Does my hon. Friend accept that this episode falls four-square within the provisions of clause 2(c), which refers to the need for the commission that the Bill would set up to take into account
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