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19 Jan 2010 : Column 242

What we heard from the Conservative Front Bench tonight was the authentic voice of those deep south Senators who rejected the treaty of Versailles and of those who have rejected the proposals for an effective, binding Kyoto and then second Kyoto treaty. What the Conservatives propose is to stop dead in its tracks any future advance that would allow Britain to exercise some say over the destiny of our common continent through the mechanism of limited shared sovereignty.

I hope that our friends in Croatia hear this debate, because the Conservatives are saying that there would have to be a referendum on any accession treaty for Croatia. They are certainly saying that if Turkey can meet the criteria for joining the EU, as I hope, there would have to be a referendum on that accession treaty. That is another debate, but I put it to the Conservative party, which I believe is sincere on the Turkish question at any rate, that I would not wish to unleash in Britain a plebiscite about a majority Muslim country joining the EU.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Why not?

Mr. MacShane: Because I am afraid the one iron law of all referendums is that whatever the question on the ballot paper, people answer a different one. That is what we have seen since plebiscites were introduced into constitutional theory by Napoleon III. They were advanced under the Third Reich and have been used again and again principally to promote reactionary nationalist and populist politics.

Mr. Shepherd: In the right hon. Gentleman's defence of the sovereignty of Parliament, does he not recognise that if Parliament becomes so disconnected from those who send us here, its sovereignty, which has been a bastion of our liberal interpretation of our liberty, in fact becomes the greatest tyranny, and that what this House imposes without reference to the public disconnects it from the public, and undermines the very constitutional search that we have undergone to become a free and democratic people?

Mr. MacShane: The point that the hon. Gentleman makes with restrained passion-we have all sat metaphorically at his feet in many debates on this issue-is precisely that this House is a cockpit of checks and balances. This House is tested every four or five years in a general election, and the public can throw us out. That is the connection. The notion that we should replace the sovereignty of the British people acting through elected representatives with plebiscite or referendums is false. In the one country that frequently uses that device-Switzerland-we see the lowest turnout for parliamentary, cantonal and local elections of any country in Europe, and a very low turnout in referendums.

Mr. Cash rose-

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con) rose-

Mr. MacShane: I will give way to a freshman, as it were, in this debate.

Mr. Tyrie: A moment ago, the right hon. Gentleman appeared to say that it was not worth holding referendums because people would answer a question other than the one on the ballot paper. In that case, why has he served
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in a Government who have had four referendums in the past 13 years? What support could he possibly offer them?

Mr. MacShane: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. Frankly, I found that most of those four referendums-they set up the Welsh, Scottish, Irish and London assemblies-were probably, in truth, not necessary. I would give way to hon. Gentlemen from Scotland and Northern Ireland if they wanted to answer this question: would the Scottish Parliament and what we have in Northern Ireland have less legitimacy if this Parliament had created them? I invite them to comment, but my point remains.

I was not comfortable with those referendums. I profoundly believe that Parliament is where we should settle the matters that determine our nation's future, and then the people can change the Parliament under the laws of this land.

Mr. Cash rose-

Mr. MacShane: I will give way for a final time, because I really must conclude my speech.

Mr. Cash: First, did the right hon. Gentleman reject the idea of a referendum in his election manifesto in 2005, when referendums were being discussed in relation to the constitutional treaty? Secondly, I remind him that we cannot have a referendum except by using the sovereignty of Parliament. Parliament decides-genuinely and with humility-that some questions need to be dealt with by the people at large, simply because, as in 1975, there is a genuine reason for doing so. The Lisbon treaty and the current state of affairs are of that order.

Mr. MacShane: The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly fair point. Of course, Parliament can decide to have referendums on everything. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton adequately demolished the redrafted Conservative proposal that would open the way for anybody to go to court to demand a referendum, as the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) suggested.

I have sat in this House while the Conservatives opposed the European arrest warrant with a great deal of vigour and energy. Doubtless they would have liked a referendum on that, and it might not have been implemented, in which case some of our terrorist gentlemen would have escaped being shipped back fast to face justice in our courts. Certainly, the Conservatives vehemently opposed the bits of the European Union-they were in a treaty but given effect by European Council decisions-that deal with European defence. I am sure that they would have loved a referendum on those matters, as would The Sun, the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph, and they might well have been defeated. Talk to any partner or ally-such as the State department in the US or their army generals-and they all think that the development of strategic thinking and policy at the European level is a very positive step.

8.30 pm

I politely ask that we uphold the sovereignty of Parliament. Hon. Members should wean themselves off the notion that plebiscites are somehow an adequate replacement for Parliament. Tonight we vote to reject the obsessive anti-European tone emanating from all
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those on the Conservative Front Bench, even if it does not go as far as the hon. Members for Stone (Mr. Cash) and for Shipley (Philip Davies), and the Better Off Out Group and the rest of them. We should say no to these ill thought out amendments, no to the amendment to the amendment, and no to the contempt that the Leader of the Opposition has shown by withdrawing his pledge for a referendum. We should say yes-as I have argued in my party with my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East, who is no longer in his place-to restoring the power and sovereignty of this House and begin to bring politics back to life in this country.

Michael Fabricant: On a point of order, Mrs. Heal. The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) may have inadvertently misled the House earlier, and I am sure that he would wish to retract that. As the word "referendum" means "things to be referred", according to the "Oxford English Dictionary", it is indeed a gerundive and therefore the plural should be "referenda". "Referendums" is acceptable in modern usage, though wrong.

Hon. Members: Withdraw!

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. That is certainly not a point of order for the Chair, although it may well be a point of grammar.

Mr. Cash: There is an expression-I hope that I do not offend the proprieties of the House by giving it in Latin-that says, "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes," and means, "I fear the Greeks and those who bear gifts." I am extremely gladdened by any faltering steps towards re-establishing the position on the referendum. I do not wish to undo the idea of having a referendum on any matter relating to the European Union. But as I have already indicated-and because I will not look a gift horse in the mouth-I understand the position of my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois). I repeat, simply and quickly, that we should have had a referendum on the Lisbon treaty.

For all the reasons that I have explained publicly for some months now, I do not buy the argument that the treaties have disappeared. As we all know, we have been discussing treaties for the last few hours. The fact is that the treaties remain part of the schedules and annexes to the European Communities Act 1972, and the position in law-and politically-is that we implement those treaties. It is the law as implemented by this House that represents those treaties, word for word. One of my problems with that is that the world moves on, and world and domestic politics evolve, but we are locked in to legislation that cannot be changed except by the unanimous agreement of 27 member states-and that is a form of political and economic suicide. It is a ridiculous position for us to be in, and I therefore agree that we should have a referendum on any future extensions of competence, but we should also have a referendum on the consolidating Lisbon treaty.

In parallel to that, however, runs another point, on which it is surprising that the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) and I should agree-although I am not sure whether he would agree with the content of my private Member's Bill relating to the principle of United Kingdom parliamentary sovereignty. As I have just said, however, if we are to have a referendum, it
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must be endorsed by Parliament in the first place. I do not see any problem or irreconcilability, therefore, between a referendum on the one hand and the sovereignty of the people on the other.

I would go further. I have the honour of being a member of what I believe to be a very distinguished group of radical reformers-although we might prefer more radicalism than we are being offered under the guise of the Wright Committee-entitled Parliament First. I have suggested-I hope that one day we will take this up-that we be called People and Parliament First. That touches on the essence of what I have to say today. The Labour party held a referendum in 1975. It is no good saying, "Well, that was a long time ago." In reality, of the present population, including those not yet able to vote, about two thirds have effectively been denied a referendum since 1975. I concede that that was an in-or-out referendum. However, it would make sense to hold another one, as a step towards injecting some rational argument into this subject, and the question should be, "Should the United Kingdom renegotiate its relationship with the European Union, within the European Union?"

The bottom line is that we are a member of a club. I happen to believe in an association of nation states, so I am extremely glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has recently been referring to such an association of member states. In essence, each country has to preserve its own sovereignty, and ours must do so in line with the White Paper way back in 1970-71, which said that we must retain the veto not only to maintain our vital national interests, but to preserve the fabric of the Community itself.

We speak about maintaining the fabric of the European Community, which is now the European Union, but I remind the Minister for Europe and the right hon. Member for Rotherham that if we do not maintain the democratic safety valve of enabling people to express their views, with the ever deepening critical mass of integration and the consequent black hole, I fear that, given the levels of unemployment-I said this in the early 1990s-this country, and Europe, will see, under the stresses of financial crisis and high unemployment, what I predicted in those days would be the rise of the far right.

Next to my constituency, on the other side of the A34 in Trentham, the British National party is now on the march. Indeed, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello) was on local radio only last week talking about it. I am simply saying that the rise of the far right is associated with the failure of the democratic deficit. That comes from the critical mass created by European integration without the safety valve either of a referendum or the kind of freedoms that the people of this country want. The net result has been the creation of serious social and immigration problems, which I shall talk about in a moment.

Mr. Hogg: I would like to hear my hon. Friend's view on one thing. It is plain that he is resting his argument at least in part on the fact that a generation of citizens has grown up that has not had an opportunity to express a view on the European Union. The question in my mind is this: is he suggesting that after every 25 years or so,
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each generation should readdress the issue of our membership, or would he be content to accept a verdict expressed next year?

Mr. Cash: If it was the right question, I could be prepared to accept an answer to it, certainly for my lifetime-that is as much as I can offer, I am afraid. However, that is not something that has ever been on offer. Let us look at, for instance, the progression from 1972 to the Single European Act.

I admit that I voted for that Act-I have regretted it since, for a number of essentially practical reasons, not because I did not want to remove a logjam in European commercial affairs, because I agreed with that-but when it was going through I tabled an amendment that said, "Nothing in this Act shall derogate from the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament". As I mentioned in a debate last week, I was refused the opportunity to debate that amendment. However, in the past three or four years, the House authorities and the Speaker have taken a different view. My supremacy or sovereignty of Parliament amendments to three or four Bills have been adopted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney. I have tabled and moved them, and many of my hon. Friends have supported me. Furthermore, my right hon. Friend has not only endorsed those amendments, but whipped them and asked me to put in Tellers on behalf of our Front Bench.

I regard that as extremely important, particularly with regard to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, because my amendments would have meant the removal of burdens on small businesses, which, if we repatriate sensibly, is the means whereby we will be able to ensure the growth in this country that we desperately need to fill the monstrous gap in the public finances from which we are now suffering, with a net debt, in my judgment and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) and others, of £3.5 trillion.

Mr. Bone: Is my hon. Friend not making the case that we on the Conservative Benches are absolutely united on that issue, compared with the divisions on the Labour Benches, and that we are ready for government?

Mr. Cash: I could not agree more. The proposals for my sovereignty Bill follow on from the extremely sensible judgments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney on my sovereignty amendments. As I will explain, I believe that we will have to ensure that we have a sovereignty Bill that really works-and, furthermore, not half a cup of sovereignty. Under all the provisions of constitutional law in this country-they are very clear, and they include the judgments of Lord Denning, Lord Diplock, Lord Justice Laws and Lord Bridge; the jurists of this country, including the House of Lords as it was, have all said this too-we have the right in this House, on behalf of the people and for the sovereignty of this country and of this Parliament, to pass legislation inconsistent with the European Communities Act 1972 or any laws implemented under it. We have the right to override those laws, providing that any such legislation is crystal clear, and expressly inconsistent with them.

That is the law of this country. As I mentioned in an intervention on the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), the problem with the Lisbon treaty and the annex to it is that, with regard to the case law of
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the European Union-and therefore the European Court of Justice-the primacy set out in declaration 17, which is quite explicit, constitutes guidance to our courts, including the Supreme Court, that we should apply the Handelsgesellschaft, the Costa v. ENEL and the Van Gend en Loos cases, which assert that all the laws that are made in Europe must apply to us, and also to our law-making processes and our constitution, including Parliament.

8.45 pm

For all those reasons-to go back to the reference in clause 24-this is a critical moment at which to examine not only the transfer of further competences but the competences that have already been passed, and that do not work. For they do not work; that is the problem. Had my sovereignty amendment to the Single European Act been accepted, when we had a full majority in 1986, we would not have had the working time directive or the recent financial services debacle, which is threatening the City of London. I have spoken on that in the past and do not need to repeat my argument. I believe that we are seriously at risk of losing 15 to 20 per cent. of our gross domestic product as a result of handing over the running of the City of London to the banking supervisory authorities and the new financial services arrangements in Europe. That could have been prevented if we had retained the veto by passing the amendment that I proposed in 1986.

There are issues to do with immigration, over-regulation, energy and the common agricultural policy. According to TaxPayers' Alliance, £2,000 for every man, woman and child is paid over every year to the European Union. We have to pay out a rebate of £6 billion per annum. There are defence questions, too. Yesterday I was debating Afghanistan and Europol, and the fact is that Europol does not work. We had a very interesting debate on the subject in a European Committee. As well as all those reasons, there is the fact that we need to restore growth in this country.

The right hon. Member for Rotherham is completely wrong in suggesting that only 10 per cent. of legislation comes from Europe. The bottom line is that it is at least 70 per cent. President Herzog of Germany said that it was 80 per cent. in Germany.

For all those reasons, plus the passerelle provisions-again, that is an issue into which I do not need to go into detail-we are losing, and have lost, so much control that we have to go back into the legislative process and rebuild our abilities through a sovereignty of Parliament Bill. That way, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney has said, we can reverse those competences-that is, future and present competences; we have to reverse both. We have to ensure that the courts of the United Kingdom will do that, notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972; that is what my Bill will provide for.


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