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13 Jan 2010 : Column 817

which, as he put it, "is now leased out"-and, I say, with this latest treaty in mind,

As he continued:

with the betrayal of our people by this Government over the Lisbon treaty. That is why we must reaffirm and reassert our parliamentary sovereignty and successfully defend ourselves yet again, as we have so often over centuries past.

7.57 pm

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): It is always a great delight to hear the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). I heard him referred to the other day as a pillar of the community and a pillar of Parliament, but I am afraid that his speech this evening has shown that he is rather more an ornamental than a load-bearing pillar. As to his lengthy reference to John of Gaunt, the hon. Gentleman seemed to think that these were the words of John of Gaunt himself, but they were written by William Shakespeare in "Richard II". Richard II, of course, was removed by Parliament on the instruction of Henry Bolingbroke; and Richard II paid for the refurbishing of Westminster Hall so that the hammer-beam ceiling could be inserted.

Notwithstanding all that, the hon. Gentleman has advanced his argument many times, and I find that trying to grasp his argument is rather like trying to grasp hold of a lizard, as all we end up with is a little bit of the lizard's tail. The hon. Gentleman has nevertheless done us-certainly the Government-a very great favour today because he has shown us how distrustful he is of his own Front-Bench team. He has shown us precisely that he does not trust a word that the "smokescreen master general" who leads his party has said about a sovereignty Bill. He does not believe that the parliamentary sovereignty Bill his leader has suggested should be brought forward will meet what the hon. Gentleman believes is the problem. [Interruption.] I see that the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) agrees with the hon. Gentleman, so he does not trust the leader of the Conservative party either.

Mr. Bone: The Minister is making this up. It is pure tosh and fiction.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Member for Stone has just exemplified, yet again, from his naughty boy corner at the back of the Chamber, precisely what the situation would be like if there were a Conservative Government-a Conservative Government who were completely and utterly in hock to the ludicrous naughty boys at the back of the Chamber, who have been arguing for many years-

Mr. Cash: Will the Minister give way?

Chris Bryant: If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I shall not give way, because I have- [ Interruption. ] The hon. Gentleman- [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. At the moment it is very clear that the Minister is not giving way.

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Chris Bryant rose-

Mr. Cash rose-

Chris Bryant: And I am still not giving way, because I want to answer some of the hon. Gentleman's points. He referred to his Bill, which he titles the United Kingdom Parliamentary Sovereignty Bill, but he fundamentally misunderstands the history of this House and our constitutional settlement. He is simply wrong: Parliament is sovereign; there is absolutely no need to assert its sovereignty. We agreed, when we voted through the European Communities Act in 1972, that we wanted to join the Community and, eventually, the European Union. If this House chose to do so, it could decide to repeal the 1972 Act; the hon. Gentleman is fully aware of that. For that matter, the Lisbon treaty allows member states to withdraw from the EU. We have absolute sovereignty. Indeed, the then Solicitor-General made it absolutely clear by saying:

That is not a quotation from the Solicitor-General today; it is from the Solicitor-General of 1972, the Conservative Lord Howe of Aberavon, who made an extremely good point. The hon. Member for Stone says that he has to bring forward his own parliamentary sovereignty Bill, and I suggest that that is because he does not trust the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron).

Mr. Cash: May I just say, very quickly, that I have given three examples whereby my right hon. Friend has supported my supremacy or sovereignty of Parliament amendments? That is the proof of the pudding.

Chris Bryant: I think that the pudding has yet to be eaten-or, indeed, presented, because the truth is that the right hon. Gentleman said that he would

He went on to say that his idea

But that is precisely the opposite of what the hon. Gentleman has called for this evening. He does want the UK to be able to strike down individual EU laws, does he not? [ Interruption. ] Yes, he does. Of course he does.

Mr. Cash: I want to make sure that the European Court of Justice and our Supreme Court do not, as in the Factortame case, strike down Acts that are passed by the democratic wish of the voters of this country.

Chris Bryant: And if the courts do not, he wants us to be able to strike down European laws. That is precisely my point. Consequently, the argument that he makes is completely fallacious, and, for that matter, so is the argument that his party leader makes. It is made not deliberately but inadvertently to mislead the country. It
13 Jan 2010 : Column 819
is a smokescreen, because it tries to pretend that, by some kind of assertion, there will be no danger to Britain. However, I should argue that if what the hon. Gentleman says-that he wants to be able to strike down European laws and prevent the European Court of Justice from determining whether we have stood by our treaty requirements-is true, he is effectively saying that it would be okay for the UK to step out of the European Union. That is the ineluctable direction in which he is pushing- [ Interruption. ] Yes, of course: now he does agree that that is what he is arguing for.

Mr. Cash: I said, "I never said it."

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman has made it clear on many occasions that he would like a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, and that he would vote for us not to remain a member of the EU. Is that not the case?

Mr. Cash: It is perfectly clear that I believe that we should have a referendum. It is also perfectly true that, given the functions of the European Union as currently constructed, I would vote no to ensure that the British people got what they really required.

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Chris Bryant: I am very grateful: the hon. Gentleman has made it absolutely clear that he would vote for us to leave the European Union.

Mr. Cash: I did not say that.

Chris Bryant: But the hon. Gentleman just clarified his position! He made it absolutely clear.

Mr. Cash: The Minister is really confused; it is all over again. The plain fact is that a referendum would give the British people the opportunity to decide what kind of Europe they wanted to be a part of.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He either wants to be in the European Union or he does not. He seems to have made it absolutely clear: he wants a referendum so that he can vote for us to leave the European Union, unless he has some clever plan completely to change-

8.5 pm

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).

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