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This debate is about trust-the trust that the British people for centuries have granted to their elected representatives to do what is right by them and uphold the democracy for which people fought and died. The Bill betrays that trust by doing nothing to unwind the effects of failed European integration and its impact on
us, and does little or nothing to provide security for the future as Europe flounders around in ever-decreasing circles and chaos.
The Bill is an opportunity missed to stop the acquiescence in the failed European integration at every turn, as I put it to the Prime Minister a few days ago. It is also a missed opportunity to reaffirm our parliamentary sovereignty with a proper sovereignty clause. The Bill is a missed opportunity and I shall not vote for it.
Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) referred to clause 18 as a judicial Trojan horse. I would like to refer to the Bill as a whole as a pantomime horse. It is clear from what the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) said that there must have been some very interesting discussions within the coalition about exactly what would be put into the Bill and quite how it would be justified. I do not know what discussions went into the explanatory notes, but it would have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall, particularly looking through the references to the justifications for the list of items in schedule 1. The notes state:
"provides that any proposal to remove the UK's veto over the use of any of the Treaty Articles listed in Schedule 1 would require a referendum."
The reality is that many of the issues that are being proposed as requiring a referendum are not massively significant. As the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) pointed out, the real issue for many Back Benchers, mostly on the Conservative Benches, but I accept that there are one or two on the Labour Benches too, but not myself, is a referendum on the issue of in or out of the European Union.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), I have also been very much an opponent of the idea of referendums. I would agree with former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher, when she quoted the former Deputy Prime Minister and then Prime Minister Clement Attlee as saying that referendums were the devices of demagogues and dictators. There is a large element of truth in that. We must be careful if we get into a situation where we start to move away from parliamentary sovereignty and democracy towards a referendum-based society. If we are not careful we could end up like Italy, and the way in which Italian politics have developed over recent decades is not a model that we should follow.
I want to say clearly that there is a range of reasons why the Bill should be opposed, but one of the most important is that it does not address the real issues that face the European Union. We should be having a debate about the rise of Asia. We should be having a debate about how the EU is effective globally; how the External Action Service can get the resources and the competent people to be able to play a role in avoiding conflicts and tensions and building peace around the world, as well as having its diplomatic role. But we are not doing that.
We will not have, as has been pointed out from the Front Bench, the pre-European Council debate that we have always had on the Floor of the House, because the Government, for their own internal reasons, have deemed it something that they do not wish to have, and today becomes a very poor substitute.
The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): May I remind the hon. Gentleman that since the adoption of the proposals in the Wright report, responsibility for arranging those debates on the European Union has passed from the Government to the Backbench Business Committee? It is for that Committee to make that provision from the 31 days available to it.
Mike Gapes: The Government are hiding behind the words in the Wright Committee's report. The reality is that if the Government wished to, and they thought that it was sufficiently important, we could have a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House, as we have always done, on the matters to be discussed in 10 days' time at the European Council meeting, which comes at a crucial time for the future of this country and the EU. The issues range from the crises in Greece and Ireland, to climate change and the Cancun meeting, and what is happening with regard to China and its role in the world. Not least is what will happen over the coming decades with regard to migration policy and the impact that global changes will have on the people of north Africa and elsewhere who might wish to migrate to the EU. Those are the issues that we should be discussing.
We have had a lot of comments recently about Russia, although I will not depart from the subject of debate today. Frankly, the relationship between the EU and Russia is a complete shambles. There is no agreed approach on energy policy or on how we deal with human rights abuses and the suppression of democratic opposition in Russia. Why do we not have a debate about the role of the EU there? These are the vital questions, but instead of discussing them we are hiding behind the minutiae of a proposal, which if it is implemented will, as the hon. Member for Stone pointed out, put power not in the hands of a sovereign Parliament and Members of Parliament-elected representatives-but more and more in the hands of the judges and the judicial authorities, who will increasingly interfere in a political way. They will make the decisions about what matters are to be decided, not the elected people who represent the people of this country.
That is a fundamental matter, yet the Government are slipping this measure through, so that, with all the proposals in schedule 1, clause 18 and elsewhere, we will end up with the judicial system, not the political system, determining how this country is run. That is a fundamental decision-a fundamental matter-yet it has been slipped into the Bill as though it were a safeguard against the European Union taking away sovereignty. Actually, the proposal gives more power to the judges and to the legal system to take away parliamentary sovereignty. That is nothing to do with the European Union; Ministers themselves have determined those matters.
Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): Listening to the debate so far, I think that we might need a referendum to decide whether we need a referendum. As we are looking at the role of the judiciary and its capacity to make decisions, however, does that not underline the sovereignty of this country? Our judiciary makes those decisions.
I am not so sure that I want our judges making political decisions. Political decisions should be made by elected politicians, because after all we can be
removed and our electors can throw us out. The judges cannot be elected, unless the hon. Gentleman wants us to adopt-God help us-the American system, and we should not do that.
"The common law is already clear...Parliament is sovereign."-[ Official Report, 11 October 2010; Vol. 516, c. 4WS.]
He went on to say that the Bill's provisions do not alter the existing relationship of EU law and UK law. In which case, why do we need the Bill? If Parliament is sovereign, as he states, why have the Government come up with the proposals before us? The Bill is a fig leaf. It is a political tactic to give the impression that the Government are fulfilling the Conservatives' obligation, in their manifesto commitment, to their Eurosceptics on a possible referendum-but not on the issue on which the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex wishes to have a referendum; it is to be on other issues.
The Bill is an absurdity. It is a bad Bill, which leaves open the potential for legal challenges and judicial reviews, takes away power from Parliament and gives it to the judiciary, and does not change the relationship, as the Minister says, between existing UK law and the European Union. Therefore, why do we need it? It is a disgrace, and it should be rejected.
Mr Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con): I do not always agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), but when he describes this as a mouse of a Bill he is rather closer to the truth than the rhetoric of the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), who slightly overstates the dangers that are attached to it.
I speak in support of the Bill. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), I am a pro-European, although, when I listen to the enthusiasts make the case for our membership of the European Union, I quite often conclude that the case is made in rather more apocalyptic terms than those that I would choose. We heard a good example of that from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who seemed to claim credit for the European Union in the collapse of the Soviet bloc and in the outbreak of democracy in Spain, Portugal and Greece. No doubt he would attribute to it the green revolution in Ukraine-
Mr Dorrell: Orange. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. We regard all those developments as steps in the right direction, but, although there is a chain of causality back to the European Union, it is a relatively modest one.
I shall try to make the case for the Bill, which should be supported, in considerably more modest-one might even say, more sceptical-terms, because people who claim for themselves the title of sceptic in the European debate often desert the basic principle of scepticism, which is to stand back from the argument and seek to assess it more coolly than sometimes is the case.
I have drawn attention to the argument from the hon. Member for Rhondda in support of the EU and our membership of it, but those who argue the case against
it, and increasingly explicitly argue that we should leave it, tend to express the argument in terms of irreversible shifts of power and use the word "permanent".
I again am a sceptic, however, because history teaches us that no human institution is permanent and there are no irreversible shifts of power. There is only a tide of human events, and the case for the European Union, which I am happy and, indeed, keen to make, is the pragmatic case whereby, in the world of 2010, the European Union, which is a dramatically different institution from that set up by the treaty of Rome in 1958, should be supported not because it is perfect, when it plainly is not, but because it serves a purpose. Imperfect as the EU is, it is part of the arrangements for the governance of Europe, and on balance it contributes more good than it inflicts harm. In human affairs, that seems to me justification enough for the institution to continue to exist.
It is often said of the European Union that there is no European demos. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary used to make that case when he argued for a more sceptical approach to the development of European institutions. It has become increasingly obvious that there is no such thing as a European demos, but the EU, as it has evolved since 1958 and partly because it now has so many more members, is increasingly obviously an intergovernmental organisation, something that most people in the House and, indeed, among our constituents accept as a fact of life, not something that should be particularly resisted.
Mr Jenkin: Where is the evidence that the European Commission or the European Court of Justice accept that the EU is an increasingly intergovernmental organisation? I put it to my right hon. Friend that, actually, they insist on quite the reverse.
Mr Dorrell: They may have ambitions, and people within those organisations plainly do have ambitions, but that is exactly what the Bill seeks to address. It introduces not an irreversible, immovable, permanent safeguard that can never be overcome, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) said, a further inhibition on the development of competence within the European Union, which I would have thought my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) welcomed. Again, it is a modest step. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone dismissed it as a mouse of a Bill, but even if it is a mouse it can be a mouse on the right side of the scales, and that seems to be the case for it.
The Bill is right in principle and in practice. It is right in principle, because I do not agree with the arguments against referendums in principle when the question at stake is how the country is run. I agree with one of the points that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) made, when he said that part of the problem in terms of public acceptance of the European case is the perception-indeed, the reality-that competence has passed to the EU without the scrutiny that our constituents want to see. That is a correct statement of historical fact, so, in order to rebalance the argument, it is a step in the right direction and a correct principle that any further accretion of power to the European institutions should be subject to a referendum block, the terms of which are set out in
the Bill. The hon. Member for Ilford South argued that a Bill introduces the opportunity for judges to interpret it-well, yes; that is the nature of an Act of Parliament. If we pass an Act of Parliament, that creates a statute, which is interpreted in the courts. There are no Acts of Parliament of which that is not true.
Against the background of what has happened in the European argument over 40 years, the Bill introduces the correct principle that further accretion of competence to the European institutions should be subject to a referendum. That is right in principle. I also think that it is right in practice, for the important reason that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary set out in his speech and which was impliedly accepted in the speeches made by both the shadow Foreign Secretary and, ironically, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham. What matters in the European argument now is the use of these competences and how this increasingly intergovernmental organisation reacts to the pressures of events.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham pressed the point that there are some fundamental threats to our economic development, tied up in particular in the current pressures on the euro. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend about the dangers that arise as a result of those developments. The case that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was making for the Bill is that it is a modest step to disarm the constitutional argument about how we are run, in order to focus the debate on where it properly needs to be-on how those competences are used by the European institutions and how that impacts on our way of life.
Mr Clappison: My right hon. Friend is making an eloquent speech. May I take him to the question of intergovernmentalism? Is that not precisely what we were told was happening at the time of the Maastricht treaty, with the construction of the pillars, which were supposed to reserve certain competences and areas of responsibility for the intergovernmental method? Since then, has not the European Union deliberately knocked down the pillars and brought those areas of intergovernmentalism into the main European treaty, which relates to the functioning of the European Union, and that in no way can be described as an intergovernmental body?
Mr Dorrell: My hon. Friend is entirely right. Like him, I would have much preferred it if the Lisbon treaty had not been introduced, so that the pillars of intergovernmentalism in the Maastricht treaty were protected. But that does not alter the fact that if we attend a Council of Ministers meeting in Europe to exercise the competences of the European Union, the process of discussion about how the power is used by the Council of Ministers, particularly in a world of 27 member states, has the feel of a negotiation between member states of an organisation. It is a negotiation between member states.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex is right to say that there is a strong power of initiative in the European institutions. Like him, I do not want any further competence to be passed to them. My case for the Bill is that it reduces the risk of that process happening again; it does not make it impossible, but it reduces the risk. I hope that it will make a modest step towards rebuilding public trust in the framework of
the European argument and therefore refocus that argument on where it properly needs to be-on how those competences are used, rather than on yet more discussion about the further extension of "the European project".
Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): We have had a menagerie-type debate: Pandora's boxes have been opening, Trojan horses have been jumping out of them and there have been mice of different sizes to contemplate. But there is a broad division-between Labour Members, along with the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), and most of the speakers on the Government Benches. They have a rather Hobbesian view of Europe, in which there is an undeclared war of all against all.
I take the view that Immanuel Kant-or, as it should be pronounced properly in German, "Immanuel Kunt"-put forward in his perpetual peace argument. He argued that Europe needs a construct of rule of law, a Lockean Europe, in which we can live together in perpetual peace, as he thought. It has taken perhaps 200 years to get that far, but that is my version of Europe rather than the permanently negative one where it is Britain contra mundum, about which we hear so much from the Government Benches.
We have also seen again today what surely must be an iron law of British politics-people can campaign in opposition as Eurosceptics, but they have to govern as Euro-realists. The outbreak of Euro-realism in the coalition Government was not brought about simply by the presence of the Liberal Democrats; it has happened because no Government of Britain could remotely sustain themselves in a relationship-not just to their European partners, but to partners around the world-on the basis of the hyped-up rhetoric that we heard from the Foreign Secretary when he was shadow Foreign Secretary. From that most powerful and amusing orator of the current Commons, we heard a very workaday speech. My right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary made a powerful and witty speech that reminded me of the late John Smith. But there we are-I have described what happens when people become Foreign Secretary. Realism has to break in.
Mr MacShane: I do not want to enter into a duologue with my hon. Friend about the euro, although I expect that it will be around a little longer than its gravediggers may imagine or hope. If we are to revert to that Hobbesian world in which every currency fights against every other, devaluing and insisting that products be traded on a different basis every month or every week, there will be no swifter invitation to the setting up of protectionist barriers such as existed before the Common Market, the European Community and the European Union.
The Foreign Secretary's speech was to please the party faithful, as will be the one we hear during the wind-ups. The fact that it so singularly failed to do so was reflected in the speeches made by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) and the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash); perhaps we will hear that from other speakers, too, if they catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. One cannot please the Daily Mail and represent Britain faithfully and effectively.
I read through the Bill fairly carefully, as I hope we all have. It is not so much a mouse, as a mouse without definition. The key adjective-and I am nervous of legislation that is built around an adjective rather than a substantive-appears in clause 5, under which a Minister has to come to the House and say, "I think there should be a referendum because in my judgment there is a 'significant' transfer of powers." But "significant" is not defined; it will be in the eye of the beholder.
I am not sure whether that will lead to references to the courts. I hope not. I see before my eyes the gradual atrophying of Parliament, as judges decide bitterly fought election campaigns. Libellous and defamatory remarks have certainly been made about me in election campaigns that I would not dream for one second of taking to the judges, who can now set aside the sovereignty of the British people and say that an election is null and void. More generally, judges want to have a much greater say in our parliamentary democracy. I will not use the Pandora's box metaphor, but the Bill opens the door to a lot more of that.
The extraordinary shopping list in the Bill also worries me. The Library document refers to 57 items that must trigger a referendum, but I think that the list contains 56 items. Schedule 1 states that any change that involves an
"approximation of national laws affecting internal market"
must trigger a referendum. As Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher did nothing of greater service to this nation than to bring in the Single European Act, which led to the greatest approximation of national laws affecting a market of many different nation states in the history of humankind. I utterly welcome that. We need more approximation and more open markets.
It would be good to have a single patent system, but if 26 other European countries followed our route, any approximation of the internal market, such as a single patent system, could involve a referendum in Estonia, Poland or Hungary, which would begin to role back that single market. What is sauce for the British gander will be sauce for 26 other member states' geese. Those member states will take the message from the Government and from this House of Commons today-sorry, I am about to use the animal metaphors that I decried at the beginning of my speech-that because this wretched little dormouse or shrew of a Bill will be passed tonight, Britain is turning its back on them.
Oddly enough, the Government are not completely doing that. I was always told the adage that money is power and power is money. We are blithely giving away £7 billion of taxpayers' money to help Ireland out of its hole without having any serious debate or discussion. This is a profoundly important point. It is not good
enough for the Leader of the House on Thursday mornings or the Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), who I like and respect, to say it is up to the Backbench Business Committee to decide whether to have a debate on Europe. It is of profound importance to the House of Commons that we have a thorough debate on Europe twice a year.
Tomorrow, there will be an EU-Russia summit. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) raised profound points about Khodorkovsky, human rights, Sergei Magnitsky and other appalling cases of the treatment of people inside Russia. In addition, we have huge worries about relations with Turkey. I am a supporter of Turkish accession. What a preposterous notion it is that the accession of Turkey, which is comprised of 80 million people from completely different backgrounds, should not be submitted to a referendum, but the question of whether there will be an extra advocate general or judge advocate should be. This is absolutely ridiculous and the British people-and I am afraid the people who hate democracy, such as those in the British National party and the UK Independence party-will mock us because of the issue of Turkish accession. Yes, the Foreign Secretary may say that it is some way off, but it will dismay a great number of people that we are legislating for eternal referendums on minor issues, but not on Turkish accession.
I will put my cards on the table. The Foreign Secretary said wrongly that Germany has similar provisions in its law. It does not. The German constitution was devised not by us but by the German people and it expressly forbids plebiscites for good, clear, historic reasons. Yes, there is a German constitutional court, but that is because it has a written constitution. Perhaps that is a road we need to walk down.
I hope that the Bill is opposed, because it weakens Parliament and Europe. It sends a message that, under this Government, the commitment, concern and leadership that Europe is so desperately lacking will not come from the present crop of Ministers. That is a shame. Europe needs leadership because it is going through a crisis, and the absence of that leadership from this Government is to be deplored.
Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): How interesting that the poor old mouse has taken such a lot of stick tonight. Several hon. Members have used the expression "mouse of a Bill." It is a mouse that the EU cat will play with, mutilate and consume. I have heard the words, "judicial reviews," "written constitution," "competences," "vetoes," "referendums," "advocate-generals," and "ratchets." That is the language of the bureaucrat. The bureaucrat loves this. Such legislation employs the bureaucrat and gives them lots of money on the gravy train in Europe.
We want our country back. That is what we want. We do not want to say goodbye to Europe; we want to trade with Europe. I like Europe. I like the French, the Germans, the Italians; they have so much to offer us. However, we should not be ruled and regulated by Europe, particularly by the unelected Commission. If we want to be more committed to Europe in the sense that Labour Members wish-to be in Europe, to trade with Europe-it needs to become more democratically accountable. That is why, at first glance, the Bill ticks all the boxes. What
could be more democratic than to ask our nation to vote on new EU initiatives? As my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Mr Carswell) pointed out-his expression has been used twice tonight-the problem is that the legislation is all smoke and mirrors.
As we have heard, we are being asked to approve a Bill that includes a referendum lock and that sets out to ensure that no future transfer of power to Brussels will take place without the approval of people in this country. That is an admirable aim that we promised in our manifesto, when we undertook to repatriate powers from the EU. The Bill does not do that. Labour-most of you-betrayed this country. You promised us a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. You promised us-
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. The hon. Gentleman must not place burdens on the Chair that do not exist. Will he desist from using the word "you" when making accusations about other people's behaviour?
To our Government's credit, they have attempted to prevent the ratchet clauses with the referendum lock. That is a seemingly elegant solution that, as I said, will give power back to the people. However, if we look at the Bill more closely, we will see that there is plenty of wriggle room. I, for one-there are obviously many others-am unhappy with that. The lock is entirely bogus. A referendum will be triggered only if Ministers believe what their civil servants tell them and agree that the subject is significant. If they do not consider it to be significant, there will be no referendum and the matter will become law.
In areas where primary legislation is required but that are not considered significant enough to put to the people, we are asked to take the matter on trust. We are asked to trust that our masters will ensure that no further powers are transferred away from the UK during the next Parliament. This would be easier to swallow had we not already allowed the EU to roll us on our backs on five occasions in the past six months. We have had the European External Action Service. What action-to take our money? We have had the European arrest warrant. I have a constituent, Michael Turner, who has been in jail in Hungary for 115 days with no charge. His crime, allegedly, is that he left creditors owing about £18,000 when his business closed in 2002. There has been an endless pursuit by the Hungarian authorities to find an offence with which to charge him and a colleague. The investigation was dropped because they could not find enough evidence to get him, and now they are mounting another one-but there is still no charge. Then we had EU regulation over the City, EU oversight over our national budgets agreed to, and finally, our contribution to the EU budget increased despite our objections. May I ask what happens when we really do roll over?
The truth is that not a single one of those transfers of power would have been halted as a result of the referendum lock proposed today. Nor are the accession agreements affected, so new countries joining can do so, as the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) said, without the EU asking our citizens. I can see why they would not be asked. We already have 27 countries in the
EU and hundreds of thousands of people are able to move freely within it. That was practicable when the EU was a smaller organisation, but it is not practicable any more.
There are constitutional questions hanging over this legislation that have tested far greater legal minds than mine. Suffice it to say that one five-line passage-clause 18-does not enshrine our sovereignty adequately. Professor Adam Tomkins has said that the Bill
"goes out of its way to invite litigation".
His main concern is that it does not establish which of the two competing legal systems now operating in this country has supremacy: English law or EU law. He says that taken to its conclusion, ministerial decisions could be challenged in the courts. We have seen enough of that already, with our courts and judges overruled by European judges.
Our independence was hard-won over hundreds of years, yet we are seeing it trickle away as we are increasingly subjugated by unaccountable, unelected bureaucrats. A torrent of legislation threatens to submerge our identity. No fewer than 3,000 new laws passed in this Parliament last year were related in some way to the EU, and you can bet that none of them would have triggered a referendum. We have been giving away our right to govern ourselves, and we must take it back. Toothless legislation that gives the impression of protecting our sovereignty while doing nothing of the sort will simply hide the rot a little longer.
When I was elected, many of my constituents made it clear that the power-grabbing EU was one of their primary concerns. I would be serving them badly if I were to pretend that this Bill would do anything concrete to protect the country they love. I will not be supporting the Bill.
Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): I am enthusiastic about speaking on this Bill, because I would not want the views of Labour Members to be taken to be the extrusion of Euro-cant that has poured in from Rotherham and the Rhondda. The views of some Labour Members are much more in tune with what our voters think. My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) has given us a clear indication of those views.
The problem is whether the Bill is worth supporting. It is a sad little Bill that should really be called the "Closing of the stable doors after every horse has bolted across the countryside" Bill. I am sure that the nation wants a referendum on this issue. It wants to be consulted and wants its say on Europe, but it has not been allowed it since 1975, when it was consulted on something totally different called the Common Market-a harmless, fun place that was going to make the weather better and make everybody happy. That is the last time that people were consulted, and they now want to be consulted on the shape of the current monster that is taking more and more powers.
This Bill does not provide for that consultation. The Conservatives told us in opposition, and I think in their manifesto too, although I do not have it here to check, that they were going to repatriate criminal justice and the laws on social and employment issues, but that has all gone. The stable is empty, for practical purposes, and I see the pathetic spectacle of the Foreign Secretary
stood at the stable door after he has closed it singing "Will Ye No Come Back Again?" to the horses from Europe galloping all over the United Kingdom's countryside.
The Liberal Democrats' approach was even more comic. They promised us a referendum on the treaty and then suddenly became aware of the fact that it would be defeated if it were put to a referendum. They therefore changed what they were asking for from a referendum on the treaty, which they said was no longer a treaty, to a referendum on "in or out", with which they thought they might stand a better chance. However, they knew that nobody would give them such a referendum; they were trying to get a referendum that was an impossibility.
I cannot be over-critical because my own party's position was, at best, ambiguous. We said, "Yes, we shall have a referendum", and then we said, "Well, this isn't really a treaty-it's something else." Perhaps it was a German sausage or something; I am not quite sure what it was supposed to be. Anyway, we said, "It's not a treaty worth having a referendum on; it's something else, and therefore we won't give you a referendum."
This is a history of betrayal by all three parties, and we have to make good to the people, who want a referendum. There is a need for a referendum, but this Bill does not provide for it. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) said, it will be a lawyer's charter, and one that ignores much of what is going on in Europe. What is going on is the steady process of accretion of power, money and control over this country.
We should look at the increasing costs of Europe. The annual budget contribution is now £7 billion, and rising because of devaluation-it will rise to £10 billion fairly shortly. There is £2 billion for projects such as Galileo, which will build, at enormous expense, a satellite guidance system that the Americans already provide for free. There is £8 billion for the costs of the common agricultural policy, which comes from buying food on a dearer market when it is available more cheaply elsewhere. There is £2.8 billion for the costs of the common fisheries policy, with our fish being caught by foreign vessels and taken to Europe to provide jobs there. There is the cost of regulation, which has been calculated at £20 billion. Then we can add the cost of the monstrous machinery of the new foreign service, the European External Action Service, which will be more expensive than our own Foreign Office. All its ambassadors will have, at enormous cost that we are paying for, bullet-proof cars and bomb-proof embassies. If we add that lot together, we get to £40 billion-perhaps more. If we were not paying this Eurogeld every year, across the exchanges, we would not need the diet of cuts that the Chancellor and the Liberal Democrats are proposing for us.
My hon. Friend has omitted to mention-I know that he knows this to be true-that we have had slower growth in the European Union than we would have had had it not existed. We had faster growth when we had stable but separate currencies, and that led to the prosperity that we knew in the post-war era. Slower growth in the European Union, which has
been compounded over many years, means that we are now less well-off than we would have been had there not been a European arrangement.
Austin Mitchell: My hon. Friend is exactly right. We have suffered from slower growth, and now we have a 25% devaluation. We cannot generate the exports that we want because of the deflation in Europe that is necessary to heal the problems of the euro.
That brings me to the second problem that I want to deal with. Not only have the horses bolted from the stable, but it is on fire as the crisis of the euro continues. We warned Europe that it would not work and it has not worked. One exchange rate and one interest rate cannot cover the varied circumstances of Europe. A central Government is needed to redistribute to areas that suffer from the single currency and the single interest rate. Countries all have different rates of inflation. It is impossible for the weaker economies to get down to Germany's low rate of inflation. The result is that their trade suffers, because they cannot get export prices down to a competitive level. Gaps have therefore emerged and those gaps have led to a crisis, and Europe's way of dealing with that is to dole out more funds from a big bucket-a bucket to which we have contributed in the case of Ireland.
Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend is a critic of the European Union, and he is listing many differences that he would like to see in the European arrangements. Does he not think that changes that the British Government want and that are in the national interest might be harder to achieve if this legislation is passed here and is copied across the EU?
Austin Mitchell: My argument is that the Bill does not help us to deal with, or give us a veto over, the problems of Europe as they are. Those problems are the real threat to this country. Let us say that we are doling out £100 billion to Greece and £100 billion to Ireland and if Spain is the next to collapse, the figure could be about £400 billion, so the whole fund of £750 billion could be gone in one fell swoop. Germany will not let that go on. At some point, the system must collapse.
The Bill has nothing to say on that process and the Government will not tell us what they are doing in the European negotiations. What is our point of view? Are we prepared to support that process and to commit money? The Bill will not give us a veto over any such commitments and the Government will not even tell us what those commitments are. That is a disastrous situation. There will have to be a big bail-out. This situation cannot be dealt with by Elastoplast, with a bit here and a bit there. It must be dealt with by a fundamental reorganisation of the euro. In my view, a default is the only way in which to save the situation.
The Bill does nothing about that issue and nothing about one of the other major issues facing Europe-the entry of Turkey. The Foreign Secretary said that that matter is excluded from the Bill, but it would be a fundamental change to Europe. We should think of the immigration problems-to say the least-that would occur if Turkey, which has a much bigger population than most existing member states, were allowed into the European Union.
Thomas Docherty: I struggle to understand what makes Turkey so different from Romania, Hungary or any other eastern European nation. Is there not a danger that we will be perceived, wrongly, to be singling it out because of its Muslim nature?
Austin Mitchell: That may be true, but the British Government want Turkey in. I am not unfavourable; I am just saying that its admission will be a fundamental change in Europe and that the Bill will not give the British people a say over any of these matters. [ Interruption. ] I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) is making a Gallic gesture or whether it is a sign for me to sit down and shut up.
Mr MacShane: On the contrary, I am completely in agreement with my hon. Friend, which is rare in a European debate. It is a preposterous Bill that does not include the question of Turkish accession. That is the fundamental change that will come about in the nature of the EU and in our relationship with it. I support Turkish accession, but not to put it in the Bill just shows what a-what is smaller than a shrew?-worm of a Bill we are debating tonight.
Austin Mitchell: The mountains will labour and a ridiculous mouse has been born. That is certainly true. I am sorry that I mistook my right hon. Friend's gesture-he is so European that I thought he was going, "Je m'en fous." I gather that he was not.
I agree with my right hon. Friend's point. The Bill does not give the British people a say; it gives them a tiny squeak, and on things in which they are not particularly interested. To give them a squeak is better than to give them nothing at all. I have to consider whether I shall support the Bill on that basis, which frankly I am loth to do. Is it worth the effort? I am certainly not enthusiastic about the Opposition amendment, which really says nothing at all. Faced with that dilemma and being somewhat jetlagged, the best solution that I can think of for tonight's vote is to go home and read a little Keynes-I wish that the Chancellor had done the same.
Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): I want to start simply by saying that I love Europe. I have countless brothers and sisters-I have lost track of how many-dotted throughout Europe, and probably many whom I have not yet met, for whom English is a second language. I therefore have to love Europe. There are even aspects of the European Union that in my view are very important. Without a doubt, some issues and problems are best addressed through co-operation, not least climate change and other environmental concerns, which ignore national borders. Addressing those problems has never required and does not require the creation of a pan-European superstate. There is no doubt that that is where we are heading. To take just one example, 80% of the business of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is now determined at EU level.
There are two key problems with that extraordinary shift. The first is that the EU has too many conflicting styles of government for it to work effectively. An exasperated former Environment Minister complained:
"In one Member State, everything is permitted unless it's forbidden. In another Member State everything is forbidden unless it's permitted. And in some Member States everything is permitted-especially if it's forbidden".
There is a much bigger problem. Of all the major changes that have occurred in Britain's history, the EU project is surely among the most significant. We have seen major steps towards the formation of a single European Government, who now have more powers than our own. That has happened with virtually no consultation. I ask passionate supporters of the EU, those who are absolutely wedded to continued integration, what they will do if ever the EU moves in a direction that they no longer approve of. The answer is that because EU decision makers are, on the whole, thoroughly insulated from proper democratic pressure, there is very little that they will be able to do. That point is fundamental. The ability to rid ourselves of unpopular politicians and regimes is the single most important ingredient in any democracy. On that basis, the EU is simply not democratic. How many people in this country genuinely believe that the vote they cast in a European election will make the slightest bit of difference to how Europe is governed?
We have a brilliant new fisheries Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), who is determined to reform the common fisheries policy. Like any normal person, he is appalled that nearly half the fish that we catch in the North sea are thrown back dead or dying as a result of nonsensical laws on quotas. How many hon. Members believe that he will be able to change those laws, even with the support of this House, when he negotiates them later this month?
It is no wonder that the percentage of British people who believe that our membership of the EU is a good thing has, according to recent surveys, fallen to just 31%. It is no wonder that we have seen the rejection of treaties by the French, the Dutch, the Danes and the Irish, all of whom were ignored disgracefully by their Governments and the European Union. It is no wonder that we have seen a continent-wide decline in turnout in the European parliamentary elections from 62% in 1979 to 43% last year.
It is not only time for a referendum lock on the further loss of sovereignty, but for a national debate about the repatriation of key powers to this country, followed by a referendum to legitimise those reforms. I believe that without radical reform of the European Union, that institution will not survive. Passionate supporters of the EU should embrace the need for reform, for without it, the institution that they support will not exist in the future. A referendum lock alone is not enough, and if we are honest, it is not even on the cards. The judgment as to whether a treaty or treaty change meets the criteria for triggering a referendum will rely on the subjective opinion of a Minister and it will be for the Government to adjudicate whether a change represents a transfer of power and a loss of sovereignty. Is that really an adequate safeguard?
Almost every successful candidate in the 2005 election was elected on a manifesto that promised a referendum on the EU constitution, but there never was such a referendum, as we have heard from a number of hon. Members. We were denied one because, when the
constitution was re-edited, repackaged and re-presented following popular rejection, it was cynically declared by a Minister to be merely an anodyne tidying-up exercise. That was a ridiculous claim that was denied even by the authors of the constitution.
Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a very powerful speech, and I agree with an awful lot of what he has said. As a Member who was elected in 2005, it is that concept of anodyne tidying-up that worries the hell out of me in this Bill. It says that if something is only tidying-up, it does not need to come before Parliament. It was the tidying-up in the last treaty that the Conservative party objected to so much. I do not feel that I can support the Bill tonight. I hope that it will come back in a much better state on Third Reading, but I am not hopeful.
"In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily."
By that logic no one can ever accuse Britain of being a flirt, because we have yielded at every single opportunity, as my hon. Friend has just reminded the House. I have just one question for the Minister. What guarantee-not assurance-can he provide that this Bill will prevent such a thing from ever happening again?
Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): I have been quite dismayed by some of the contributions to the debate, from both Government Members and Opposition Members. It is well known that the Bill is supposed to be red meat for some of the Eurosceptics on the Conservative Benches, many of whom have wanted referendums in the past. I remember them asking for a referendum on the Nice treaty, then on the constitution and then on Lisbon.
The modern Conservative party has become a surrogate for the old Referendum party. It is quite fortuitous that my speech was preceded by that of the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), the son of Sir James Goldsmith, who served with me in the European Parliament. I remember the damage that the Referendum party did to the Conservative party up and down the country, and it is interesting to see that Sir James's son now sits on the Conservative Benches.
Zac Goldsmith: The Conservative party did a lot of damage to itself in the 1997 election, because it lost the trust and confidence of the people. The Referendum party was merely trying to fill that gap, and I am very proud to be the son of the man who launched it.
Mark Hendrick: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is very proud, and I am sure that Opposition Members are very proud to have him in their ranks, but unfortunately for them, the UK Independence party has taken the Referendum party's place and is pushing the agenda even further to the right. It is even more vehemently anti-European than the Referendum party.
Kate Hoey: Why do my hon. Friend and other Members keep referring to Euro-realists and Eurosceptics who want to see a real debate and a referendum as somehow being on the right? Does he not accept that many members of the Labour party, many Labour MPs and many Labour-supporting people in the country think that what is going on in Europe is wrong?
Mark Hendrick: I thank my hon. Friend, but in my opening remarks I referred to the opinions of some Members on my side of the House, and of course she is among them. I do not think that the mainstream of the Labour party is particularly against referendums. We offered a referendum on the euro should the five tests for entry into the single European currency have been met, and we offered a referendum on the European constitution, which, as Members know, was dropped because of the referendums in France and Holland. A new treaty came forward, for which we had committed to no referendum, which was why there was no referendum on the Lisbon treaty.
The Bill is not about democracy or a referendum. For many Conservative Members it is not about any future competences of the European Union; it is about getting out of the European Union altogether. I am sure that it was introduced to try to satisfy some of the Conservative Eurosceptics, but as we have seen from today's debate, it goes nowhere near far enough to do that.
Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman consider that one of the main reasons why the Bill is before the House is that his party failed to deliver on its promise to provide a referendum on the Lisbon treaty?
Mark Hendrick: No, we failed to provide a referendum on the European constitution. As Members know, the constitution fell because of referendums in France and Holland. What came afterwards was a constitutional treaty, namely the Lisbon treaty, on which no referendum was ever promised.
Mark Hendrick: No, I do not. The party view was that there should have been one had the constitution been put to the House, but it was not the constitution that came to the House, it was the Lisbon treaty. That is quite clear.
The referendums provided for in the Bill are not about voting on any specific competences that might go to the EU, they are cover for showing general dissatisfaction with the EU per se. They are the thin end of a very thick wedge, moving us towards withdrawal from the EU. The Bill is a sop to the Eurosceptics, in the same way as bringing the Conservatives out of the European People's party in the European Parliament was a sop to them. The Government promised a Bill to protect sovereignty, but it does not do that. It does not change the position between this country and the EU at all.
Problems arise from the fact that this is a coalition Bill and the Liberal Democrats cannot be seen to have had no influence on it. It is noticeable that there are no Liberal Democrats in their places as I speak, whereas the Conservative and Labour Benches are quite well populated. They say that they are a more pro-European party, yet for some reason they are in with the Conservatives on this Bill and are looking more like a referendum party than a pro-European party. In Cheltenham last year, the Foreign Secretary talked about the Liberal Democrats being on a road to a united states of Europe, but it is clear from the Bill that they are on no such road.
The Conservatives do not want a sovereignty Bill, which is why the Bill has become a joke. Clause 18 does not protect sovereignty in the way that the Conservatives promised at the general election. All it does is protect the status quo, which I will discuss in more detail later. For what it is worth, the Bill is aimed at Ministers, although not Ministers of this Government, or presumably of a possible future Conservative Government. It is aimed at tying the hands of a future Government of some other political hue who may wish to accept that decisions made by an EU of at least 27 member states may be of benefit to the UK.
Irrespective of the merits of the changes to a treaty, a future Government would be forced to get legislation through both Houses of Parliament before putting it to the country as a whole in a referendum. The clear intention is that any further movement of powers to the EU is stamped on.
We already know that there are referendums to elect mayors, and that processes are being introduced for electing police commissioners. All that is happening while this country is undergoing an age of austerity and billions of pounds of cuts are to be introduced in the coming years. Incurring extra expenditure in the future on the useless referendums set out in the Bill would be ludicrous. A treaty change may make perfect sense even to a Conservative Government, but they would be forced to get legislation through both Houses and put the matter to the country.
In a fast-changing world, we need the EU to take coherent, decisive action, but the Bill will act as an impediment to, and create inertia in, decision making. The Bill should have been called the "EU Inertia Bill" or the "EU Foot-dragging Bill"-it is for Conservatives who have not forgiven the previous Conservative Government for the Maastricht treaty and those who still blame Ted Heath for Britain joining the European venture in the first place.
"If I become PM a Conservative government will hold a referendum on any EU treaty that emerges from these negotiations",
"sacrifice parliamentary sovereignty to political expediency".
Let me get to the nub of the issue. Traditionally, the Conservative party is not just economically and socially conservative; it also seeks to conserve existing British institutions-the monarchy, the House of Lords, the rule of law, parliamentary sovereignty, MPs as representatives rather than delegates, and no written constitution. While in government, the party of Churchill, Thatcher, Macmillan and Baldwin has never offered the public a referendum. Given this Bill and the proposed alternative vote referendum, the Conservatives seem to offer referendums only on proposals that they want the public to reject.
Instead of simply stating general principles on offering referendums, the coalition has gone through the treaties line by line and set out a mish-mash of issues on which a referendum will be called, and gives a shorter list of issues on which one will not be called. That approach is not only unnecessarily complicated, but it gives the impression that the Government cannot be trusted to exercise their judgment on whether there should be a referendum on individual decisions and treaty changes.
Under the Bill, the extension of the ordinary procedure on environment policy will require a referendum, but as other hon. Members have said, the accession of Turkey to the EU will not. Which will have the greater impact on the UK? Angela Merkel's proposals on the eurozone would not be subject to a referendum because the provisions do not apply to the UK. That assumes that because the UK is outside the eurozone, events within it do not affect the UK. We may not be signatories to the stability and growth pact, but the pact and the stability of the eurozone doubtless have an influence on the stability of the UK economy.
The Bill is bad law and dubious politics. It is an act of posturing by the coalition. The Government are trying to satisfy Eurosceptic Tory Back Benchers, but achieve neither of the objectives that they set out to achieve. The Lib Dems are a fig leaf to hide the Conservative's embarrassment at Britain's membership of the EU.
Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): I disagree with most of what the hon. Member for Preston (Mark Hendrick) said. We have today heard a wide critique of the EU and of how we got to this situation, and I agree with most of it, including much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) said. I feel strongly that had we discussed referendums-or had we had passed such a Bill six, seven or eight years ago-we would not face the level of distrust in the country that we are facing because of the Lisbon treaty.
I very much support the Bill because it represents why I went to the people of South Thanet in May. I want to turn the tide away from rules and treaties being made on our behalf, and to ensure that the people have a say on what powers we concede to the EU. Like many Conservatives, I would have liked a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, but we were denied one. Many urged this Government to hold a referendum in any event, but that was impossible, because the deed had already been done with no reference to the British people.
The Lisbon treaty was a real break in trust. Big constitutional changes need to go to the public. I used to be chairman of openDemocracy. I believe that we should trust the people and that we need to ensure that the people are part of the big, fundamental decisions. I disagree with many Opposition Members-
Laura Sandys: Absolutely. There are hardly any Opposition Members in the Chamber, but I disagree with those who do not agree with referendums- [ Interruption. ] Is the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) still speaking? Shall I sit down?
Laura Sandys: The distrust over the Lisbon treaty has created a total and utter determination to put the people and Parliament back in control of our sovereignty, and to ensure that the public and the various views in both Houses are listened to and considered.
The Bill sets three clear triggers that will create sovereignty locks that will introduce a clear mechanism for referendums, the need for legislation or parliamentary approval. My constituency has one of the largest UKIP votes in the country-2,500 voted to get out of Europe-so I am very conscious that we need to be robust on Europe and that any further transfer of powers needs to be questioned. The Bill convinces me of our control over transfers of power, which is important.
Let us consider what will happen under the Bill. If any Government decide to propose any further power or competency transfer to Brussels, they will have to hold a referendum. If a Government decide on a transfer of responsibility to Brussels, and if they state that that is not a transfer of power or competency, they will have to justify their decision to Parliament. They will need to show that there is no change in sovereignty, and that there is no diminishment of our domestic laws. If they prove that no power or competency is transferred, they will come up against the second lock-they will require an Act of Parliament. Many hon. Members have very strong views on the EU and sovereignty, but that lock gives all of us the opportunity to vote against the proposals or to amend them, including to put them to a referendum. We therefore have the ability to call Ministers to account, and to vote on or amend legislation.
That is crucial, but I am not sure that many hon. Members see the opportunities that the Bill gives us to question the judgment of the great Ministers of State. For me that is a significant statement that makes it clear how power will be used and our relationship with the EU forged. It is important in terms of both substance and message. Unlike some of my hon. Friends, I believe that the substance is that the people will be able to sanction the transfer of power. The message is that Brussels now knows that the brakes have been put on any further power grab.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I was unable to be in the Chamber for the first part of the debate because I was detained on House business elsewhere. I came in to listen to some fine speeches-and I have certainly heard some-but I did not plan to speak myself. However, I have been provoked once again into saying a few words.
As I have said time and again in the Chamber, the European Union is not Europe. They are two separate concepts, one of which is a continent of countries that I love very much. I would wish to go nowhere else. Europe is my home-it is where my history is and where my ancestors came from. We are a group of splendid nations with wonderful histories, and we have made great contributions to the world. In contrast, the EU is a recent invention, a political construct imposed on the peoples of Europe, and not always with their consent. In recent years, there has been a drift towards a majority opposing the EU-the regular Eurobarometer test shows sinking support for the EU. The EU is not Europe; it is a political construct with which I have always had strong disagreements.
The Labour party makes the point time and again that those who oppose or are critical of the EU are of the right, and those who support it are of the left. That is strange, because it was actually the Conservatives who led us into the EU and the majority of the Labour party who opposed it in the 1975 referendum. I was the agent for the no vote in Bedfordshire, and a Conservative Member for a Bedfordshire constituency was the agent for the yes vote. I reminded him of that when I met him recently-he has passed away now-and he was horribly embarrassed because he had changed his view. I have not changed mine.
The referendums held recently in European nations have been won by my standards-lost by the standards of the Euro-enthusiasts-by people of the left, including trade unionists and working class people who did not feel that this machine would be to their benefit. That was true in France despite the leadership of the French Socialist party balloting its membership to get a yes vote. In Holland, again, it was trade unionists and people of the left who voted no; it was people who thought that some of the rights they had achieved in the post-war democratic world might be taken away by the EU. In Sweden, too, there was a referendum on the euro, and again it was the left who opposed it, because they could see that being bolted to a single currency would remove the flexibility that all economies need from time to time to be able to adjust.
I am broadly in favour of stable currency regimes, although not a complete floating currency rate. We had one after the second world war, between 1945 and 1970-ish,
and it worked: we had full employment, growth, rising prosperity and greater equality than we had ever seen, and welfare states developed all over Europe. Somehow, however, we gave it all away, and now we have gone for a neo-liberal, free market view of the world with which I completely disagree and which has brought us close to disaster in recent years. I think that the social democratic world of Europe after the second world war was a good world and one that worked. That is why I so strongly oppose most of what the EU is doing. It is trying consistently to take all that away and to create a world of competition and free markets with which I do not agree. It has brought us close to disaster.
My record on opposing the single currency goes back a long way. In 1979, I worked as a research officer for a then trade union called NALGO. I wrote a brief on the "snake". Hon. Members with long memories will remember the "snake"-the European monetary system-and whether we should join it under Denis Healey. I wrote a brief to our general secretary saying, "This will be a disaster. It's the first step on the way to a single currency and will do us no good." Geoffrey Drain, our then general secretary, went to the TUC, taking my brief with him, and he argued strongly against joining the "snake".
The TUC then went to Denis Healey and again argued strongly against joining the "snake", and he agreed not to join it. I am not sure whether it was just down to me, but we all agreed anyway. Subsequently, however, we made the great mistake of joining the exchange rate mechanism, which did the Conservative party no good, I fear. Had it not joined it and had we not suffered the depression, the negative equity, the housing market collapse and the rise in interest rates in 1992, or had it not been ejected from or left the ERM, it might not have lost the 1997 general election. That was the cause of its loss, and many Conservatives rue the day they were persuaded to support joining the ERM.
I opposed the ERM before we joined. I wrote a paper saying what would happen, and I was proved right-I said that the money markets would speculate against it and that it would break. That proved to be correct. Since then, I have opposed a European single currency. I was a founder member, with several good comrades on the Labour Benches, of a group called first "Labour against the euro" and now "Labour for a European referendum". They consisted of the same people, including my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell), who made a fine speech today.
We now have the single currency, and the elephant in the room is the crisis in the eurozone. Members only have to read the Financial Times leader every day. I am not saying that the Financial Times is all-knowing and all-wise, but it is not yet convinced that the euro will survive. Indeed, sensible people are suggesting that we should be trying to find an orderly way to deconstruct the euro using these vast funds to do it in the most pain-free way possible. It might not be very pain free, but at least it would be better than ploughing on into a massive crisis when things get out of control. Perhaps we need a controlled deconstruction of the euro for those countries that cannot sustain membership, and a new eurozone consisting of a smaller group of member states based around Germany, or indeed two or three different currencies for countries that can afford to work with each other.
Our former Prime Minister and Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), had the great wisdom to stay out of the euro in the late 1990s. I cheered him then because he was absolutely right, and has been proved to be right. Had we not been able to depreciate by 25% or so, we would now be in the same state as Ireland-but probably worse. Single currencies are essential shock absorbers. They should not be used lightly. I do not agree with volatile exchange rates, but we need stable ones, as we had after the war, with the possibility of depreciation from time to time, and indeed appreciation if a currency is undervalued. Germany's currency, for example, was under-valued for a long time, which gave it a tremendous competitive advantage. The eurozone is the elephant in the room.
Sovereignty is important. I would like a stronger Bill than this one in which we can re-establish support for the democratic state and our own national sovereignty, not in a nationalistic way but because that is the basis of our democracy. I want the same degree of sovereignty for other nation states as well. I think that the nation state is the natural order of things, and trying to impose arrangements that bind nation states rigidly together will be fraught with problems and lead to disaster. I use this example time and again: Argentina effectively tried to join the dollar zone, and it almost destroyed its economy. In the end, it had to recreate the peso and devalue massively. Having been the strongest economy in south America, Argentina went through terrible times and still has not quite recovered. Single currencies imposed on different economies are always mistakes, and that is what has happened in the eurozone.
Edward Heath, when in opposition, sat where I sit in the Chamber. He argued strongly against enlargement-I am not suggesting I agreed or disagreed with him-because he thought that countries that were too different would not be able co-operate within the EU.He wanted to stay in a smaller group of richer, western European nations. That is what Edward Heath was in favour of; he was not in favour of the much larger organisation that is now developing, involving countries with very different economies and, indeed, different traditions. He will perhaps be looking down with interest from wherever he is now and saying, "Well, I was right after all, wasn't I?" It does not work if we try to impose things on very different economies.
Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins). The sentiments that he expressed-a feeling of disconnection with the European Union, concerns about its lack of accountability, and even a feeling of crisis in the European Union-are ones that we have heard throughout this debate. That is not something that has been invented by parts of my party or got up by the press; it is a deep-seated feeling across parties and among voters of all parties.
To be fair to those of my party on the Front Bench, they tried to respond to that in the general election. It was no doubt with concern about Europe in mind that
they made the following promise, which they were right to make, in the manifesto, on which I was proud to stand, just as every other Member of my party did:
"We will be positive members of the European Union but we are clear that there should be no further extension of the EU's power over the UK without the British people's consent...We will work to bring back key powers over legal rights, criminal justice and social and employment legislation to the UK."
That was described in the Conservative manifesto as a liberal Conservative policy, and it is indeed in accordance with the tenets of classical liberalism. However, since then we have actually had a Liberal-Conservative policy.
I understand that, and I understand the reasons why it has come about. However, I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will understand when I say to them that although I appreciate the fact of the coalition and the way in which it is working, I still hold to what was said in the manifesto, which I supported, and that I wish to accomplish the ends of that manifesto, particularly in respect of not allowing the extension of any further power to the EU, as well as repatriating existing powers-I thought that that would be a tall order, but it was worth trying. It is certainly still in order to seek to prevent any further extension of EU power. However, I am afraid that the Bill as it stands does not fully accomplish that end, and my hon. Friends would be testing my credulity if they claimed that it did.
Indeed, clause 18 does not even seek to do that. This is a matter of academic debate, but clause 18 is a restatement of the existing position-there are different academic views on that-and it certainly does not set out to stop any further transfer of power to the European Union. Nor, I would suggest, do the other parts of the Bill fully accomplish the end of preventing a transfer of power to the European Union, however many referendum locks they contain, particularly in so far as they concern transfers of any further competences to the European Union. If one studies the list of competences that are already possessed by the European Union, as set out in the treaty of Lisbon, one can see that virtually every field of policy-indeed, every type of human activity-is covered by a competence of one type or another. Even where those competences do not give the European Union a law-making power-and in many cases they do-the European Union can still use the competences that it holds in other fields to make law and policy in those fields where it does not have a formal competence, and the European Commission, backed up by the European Court, has not been slow to do that.
The problem that we are faced with is that which the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) described earlier: the drip, drip, drip of power to the European Union, through European directives, European regulations, all the soft law that comes from the European Union, and the new objectives that are set for the European Union, which influence policy makers. All that goes on as before. As far as the European Union is concerned, it is just business as usual. Those are the problems that we need to address, and although it is difficult to take them on, I would urge Ministers to do so.
Already in the lifetime of this Government we have seen transfers of power to the European Union that-I think I am right in saying-would not have been captured by the Bill's referendum provisions. Most people would
understand a transfer of power in any ordinary sense to include giving the European Union power to set policy, or giving the European Commission the power to take initiatives or, most particularly, to make law. I am thinking in particular of the advent of the External Action Service, which has attracted so much bad publicity in this country. However, the External Action Service is bad for this country not just because it is extravagant-although it clearly is-but because it will act in such a way as to supplant British power and the exercise of independent British representations. I suspect that this is something that we will see more and more of in times to come.
We have also seen the Van Rompuy report on economic governance, which most people would see as a prospective transfer of power, in any ordinary sense of the word, to the European Union, framing, as it does, the criteria by which our economic policies are made and the guidelines that Governments must observe in their fiscal policies. The report also gives the European Union the power to impose sanctions on this country, in the form of placing it under certain procedures-not financial sanctions, but sanctions of other forms, which could be influential with policy makers. The report is certainly intended by the European Union to be an instrument of economic governance over this country, even though it is not a member of the eurozone.
We have also seen a significant transfer of power into the European so-called area of freedom, security and justice, caused by opting in to directives of the European Union in that area, even though this country had an opt-out from those policies-something that the previous Government said was the key difference between the constitutional treaty and the treaty of Lisbon. Now we are seeking to opt in. We have already opted in to six directives-two are very significant directives indeed-that give the European Union legislative authority over this country and, more importantly, give the European Court of Justice jurisdiction over our criminal procedure and criminal law. Those are all matters that are not covered by the Bill as it stands.
Mr Cash: Does my hon. Friend agree that this road map contains an almost continuous tsunami of arrangements of the kind that he has described, and that the net result is that we are going further and deeper into Europe the whole time, instead of the other way round?
What to do about all this? There is one improvement that can be made to the Bill-an improvement that I put to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. It would be a great improvement on the Bill, and would be in keeping with what we have been saying about parliamentary democracy, if we made the exercise of the opt-ins subject to a vote in this House-something that does not take place at the moment, however heroic and detailed our efforts at European scrutiny are, as we cannot cause this House of Commons to have a vote on something of that nature. That would be easy for Ministers to agree to, and I cannot think of a good reason against it. My right hon. Friend said, "Well, there might be too many of these things," which rather bears out the point
that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) just made about the extent of the penetration of the European Union's jurisdiction. However, the fact that things might take up too much of the House's time is not a sufficient reason not to have a vote-perish the thought!-on such matters. I remind my right hon. and hon. Friends that we specifically promised in our manifesto to allow Parliament more time to scrutinise legislation. My proposal would be in keeping with that, which would be a good thing.
It would also be appropriate for Ministers to consider amendments to the provisions dealing with the question of significance, because at the moment, whether we have a referendum under the circumstances detailed in the Bill depends on whether Ministers think they are significant enough. What a thing! Ministers are to decide whether something is significant enough, and the explanatory notes to the Bill then tell us that anyone who is aggrieved by such a decision should go off to the courts to seek a judicial review. What on earth is Parliament for? Are we not allowed to hold Ministers to account as well? Are we now going to have to subcontract that to the courts?
Kelvin Hopkins: This reminds me of when, late in the progress of the Freedom of Information Bill, a clause was suddenly introduced that stated that there could be freedom of information unless a Minister said no. It was to be left to the discretion of a Minister whether something could be covered by freedom of information legislation.
Mr Clappison: This is a test for my right hon. and hon. Friends, and I hope that they will listen to the case for certain amendments. I hope that, rather than seeking to drive the Bill through unamended, they will try to improve it. I believe that we can do that by building on what is already in it and, in so doing, restore the authority of this House. That is what this is really all about. We need to restore the authority of the House, because our right to self-governance and our parliamentary sovereignty have been systematically stripped away by the European Union over the years. So far, everything that has been described as a safeguard to prevent that from happening and a solution to the problem has turned out to be false.
First, there was the promise that we would have voting only by unanimity. That was the original promise in the literature delivered to every household when we originally went into the European Union. Then we had the pillar structure, which has long since crumbled to dust and become part of the main European structure. We then had the pledge of subsidiarity, but we do not hear so much about that these days. I remember being told, during the passage of previous Bills 10 to 15 years ago, that subsidiarity was going to be the solution to the problem, but nobody talks about it now. The only example of the exercise of subsidiarity by the European Commission has been in relation to the zoos directive, so I am pleased that at least some of our fellow creatures have benefited from the doctrine of subsidiarity.
I hope that this Bill does not go the same way as all those other failed attempts to solve the problem, in which Ministers have gone around saying, "This is the solution. We do not need to worry any more about Europe. There is no problem about the constant transfer of powers to the European Union-we have put a stop
to it." Rather than simply seeking to drive the Bill through the House of Commons, I hope that Ministers will listen to the case for improving the Bill with properly tabled amendments. We could make this a better Bill but, as things stand, we have the continuing problem of parliamentary self-governance being stripped away by the European Union. I do not want to say that we have hung up a sign that says "Business as usual" to the European Union; I hope that we can do a bit better than that. Certainly, as far as the transfer of new powers is concerned, we should put up the "Closed" sign to the European Union.
Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): As far as the term "business as usual" is concerned, I must ruefully reflect that it is business as usual in this House, as we are again discussing this interminable topic. It has occupied many thousands of hours of discussion since I was elected in 1992, and many thousands more before that. It is perhaps amusing and depressing to see how little some things change while the pace of European integration seems uninterrupted by whatever votes take place, whatever arguments occur and whatever crises erupt. The present crisis over the governance of the euro is a case in point. The architects of the Maastricht treaty, far from accepting that they have been proved wrong by events, are seizing on the chaos to strengthen the hold of the centre over the rest of Europe, accelerating the pace of integration as a result.
I am bound to ask, as should we all, whether the scene that we observe in the Chamber today was really what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary envisaged when he came up with the brilliant idea of a referendum lock at the Conservative conference in 2009. At that time, I think what he saw looming was the imminence of the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, and the difficulty of holding a referendum on a treaty that had already been ratified. He was looking for something to throw to the crowd, and his idea got a wonderful round of applause at the conference. Little can he have imagined, however, that that simple promise would give rise to a Bill of such byzantine complexity. It has not been universally welcomed in the Chamber, although, knowing the way in which this place works, I suspect that it will find its way into Committee. No one, with the exception of a few aficionados, can have imagined what a mess the future Government were getting themselves into by making such an apparently simple pledge. As recently as 1 November, the Prime Minister told the House:
"I would grant a referendum if there were any proposed transfer of powers from Westminster to Brussels."-[ Official Report, 1 November 2010; Vol. 517, c. 625.]
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) made an illuminating speech, pointing out that certain transfers of power are not included in the Bill. The reason why they are not included is either that the Government have already made those transfers and do not want to admit that they should have been made more accountable to this House, or that they intend to make further transfers and do not want to get caught up in the potential for litigation. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe made it clear in his summing-up speech when he expects the provisions to come into force. My understanding is that whatever is in this Bill is not intended to apply to
this Parliament, but to the next one. I see the Minister nodding. It would be a bit embarrassing to legislate for the next Parliament and create a trap for a future Government that the current Government would not accept for their own behaviour. I guess that that is why these lacunas exist.
The crunch is that it all depends on what is meant by power. A child can have power over its parent, even though it does not have any sovereign or legislative authority. Power has a fluid quality to it: it cannot be held; it travels to people with influence. Power is clearly leeching away from our kingdom and this House, even though I believe that this House remains absolutely sovereign. The fact of power, where it is exercised, and the constraints that it makes people feel when it is exercised, is clearly having an effect.
Two simple tests can be applied to the Bill. The Foreign Secretary himself says that the Lisbon settlement lacks democratic legitimacy, so we should ask ourselves whether this Bill adds to the democratic legitimacy of the settlement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. The answer is that it does not affect it. It affects what might happen in future-we can argue about that, and some argue that it might have a greater effect than expected and that the courts might have to decide how much effect it will have-but it does not constitute a lock, as my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Mr Carswell) pointed out, because no Parliament can bind its successor. Whatever is in the Bill can be amended or repealed by a future Parliament. It is not really a lock, but it does not affect anything that has gone before.
The sovereignty clause provides another case in point. In fact, despite the Government's repeated reference to it as such, it is not a sovereignty cause. It does not contain the word "sovereignty" or "sovereign" and it does not use the words "supremacy" or "primacy". It merely provides an historical account of what happened-that there was an Act of Parliament, which is how the European Union's laws apply in this kingdom. It has no effect whatever.
"Neither clause 18 nor any other provision in the Bill safeguards the United Kingdom from the further development of EU law by the ECJ."
Now the ECJ, that really is power! How is this House going to regulate the power of the European Court to expand competence and reinterpret the competences of the European Union as it has done down the ages? Well, of course, it cannot. I was touched by the faith in the Bill expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell), but as Professor Tomkins also said on the limitations of clause 18:
"If this is the attempt by the UK Parliament to reassert or reclaim some kind of sovereignty in the face of the European competence creep, it 'don't do what it says on the tin.'"
In my last minute or two, let me move on to the second test of the Bill. Is it really in the national interest; does it address the national interest? I would
regard the Bill as almost wholly irrelevant to the national interest. The hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) pointed out that we should be talking about the rise of China and how we are going to do business with India. We really are contemplating our navels as we discuss this Bill. As the recent Public Administration Committee report says, what we need is a reassessment of our national interest with regard to our membership of the European Union. I do not advocate an "in or out" referendum, but I think that we need to start reassessing whether our current terms of membership are in our national interest and then to start working out how we should alter them to reflect our national interest.
The problem with this Bill is that it neither addresses the democratic legitimacy-or the lack of it-in the current settlement, nor stops the flow of power to the European Union. As we are talking about democratic legitimacy, I should say that that flow takes power away from democracies and gives it to something else, because whatever the European Union is, it ain't a democracy. The Bill fails to address our national interests and it reflects the muddle that the Government have got themselves into because, as we have heard, the prime purpose of this Bill is political; it was designed to appease sentiment in the absence of a referendum on all the treaties where we should have had referendums: the Maastricht, Nice and Amsterdam treaties, as well as the Lisbon treaty. The Bill will fail to reassure people and will fail to address the increasing disconnect that people feel, not from the European Union, but from the governance of their own country by their own democratically elected representatives. Dealing with that is the real challenge that we face, because that is about despair about us in this place.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Before I call the next speaker, may I say that I am trying to get 11 Members in and I presume that the Front-Bench spokespeople will want 15 minutes each? We can work the sums out for ourselves, but I ask for a little haste and for hon. Members not to take as much time.
Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): I shall be as brief as possible, Mr Deputy Speaker. You will be pleased to learn that I have already crossed off my list a few points that other hon. Members have made. A short while ago, I heard a speech given by my own Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell). He and I have shared common cause in our fights against the EU over the years, and only a few weeks ago we marched through the Lobby together saying, "North-east Lincolnshire against Europe." He opposes this Bill because he says that it does not go far enough, but I am going to support it because it goes some of the way towards what I would like to see. I am no friend of the EU.
We were given a bit of a history lesson by the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) a short while ago. He was reminiscing about his part in the 1975 referendum and I, too, am sadly old enough to have participated in that campaign. Hon. Members will recall that my party was very pro-European at that time, and I must tell the House that I was a rebellious young Conservative who drove around with "No to the Common
Market"-as it was then-on my battered Austin 1100. For many years I would have described myself as "anti-European", but I would now say that I am "a Eurosceptic". One can go on fighting the same battles for only so long. I concluded some time ago that the only Governments likely to be elected were going to be Conservative, Labour or some combination involving one of those two and the Liberal Democrats. Being realistic, none of those were going to achieve what I would like to see, which is withdrawal from the EU. That may change and I hope it does, because I agree with the earlier comments that the nation state is the natural unit of government-long may that continue.
However, we are where we are. I speak for my constituents when I say that, in general, they are very much opposed to EU membership. Grimsby and Cleethorpes are geographically one town, although they have their own identities. The scars from the fishing negotiations run deep, and we recognise that Mr Heath's Government sacrificed the deep-sea fishing industry in those negotiations in the early 1970s. On membership, an instant reaction among my constituents would almost certainly be, "We want out." Perhaps the more reflective view might be, "We might just about get a majority to stay in."
The big failing of successive Governments has been their reluctance to secure popular support-preferably, in a referendum-for the various treaties and moves towards more integration. We would probably still be in exactly the same position, although a week or two ago I discussed this matter with my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) and he pointed out that we might have got a "no" result in a referendum on Maastricht. We need to correct the mistakes of the past and repatriate more of our powers, and I hope we will make some moves towards that in the not-too-distant future.
The Bill talks about "significant changes", so I acknowledge that we shall have endless dancing on a pinhead and legal decisions about what is "significant". In an ideal world, I would go further than the Bill, but the important thing is that if in future, if Governments wriggle, duck and dive in their interpretation in order to avoid a referendum, they will suffer the same fate as the previous Government, who argued that a constitution was not a constitution and were discredited in the eyes of the public.
We should accept the fact that the EU is a political project. There is nothing wrong with that, but I do not happen to agree with the destination of the project. Ultimately, irrespective of any court decision, a decision about whether we remain in or leave the EU will be a political one.
Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I, too, will support the Bill at this stage, although I was deeply concerned by what my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) said about its not being introduced, for the main part, until after this Parliament has been completed. If that is correct-I hope the Minister will give us some comfort on that point-the whole of this exercise is entirely pointless.
The Bill is important and broadly good. Let us be absolutely clear that there are many of us on the Government Benches, and on the Opposition Benches, who want powers to be brought back from the European Union. The European Union is a state in decay. It is rotten at its very core. It is corrupt. It is dishonest. It is bullying. It has a currency that is failing as I speak, a currency that is bankrupting several of its nations and putting ruinous conditions on Ireland, Portugal and Greece-and the Spanish and the Italians will follow.
The European Union has not been in British interests. It is not the common market that people expected it to be and we need root-and-branch reform. I know that we are in a coalition and that we have made concessions to our coalition partners, as they have made concessions to us. They have not yet realised how dreadful the European Union is, but as one hon. Member said to me earlier, "The more they get to know about it the worse they will know that it is."
Let us look in detail at this Bill and at why it is welcome as far as it goes. The element on the referendum is very important and I was delighted that Vernon Bogdanor, the extremely distinguished constitutional historian, quoted John Locke in his evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee. My delight is all the greater because John Locke grew up in Belluton, which, as right hon. and hon. Members know, is a village in North East Somerset. John Locke said in his "Second Treatise of Government":
"The Legislative cannot transfer the power of making laws to any other hands. For it being but a delegated power from the People, they who have it cannot pass it to others".
People talk learnedly about the sovereignty of Parliament, but what do they really mean and where does it come from? I think this was all settled in the 17th century. There were two choices: one was that sovereignty came from God and was given to the King, and the other was that it came from the people and moved upwards and that it was borrowed by Parliament for a period. The sovereignty of Parliament is a great thing. We should bear in mind that the Supreme Court is established by Parliament, as are the very monarchy and the laws of succession. That precious sovereignty is ours not because we are the great and good of the land, or because we sit on green Benches in a fine Palace, but because the British people have given it to us for a period, and we may not bind it or give it away. We may not give it to Europe or the United Nations; only the British people can do that, and they must have a referendum lock on it.
We heard a characteristically well-phrased speech from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). He was concerned that the Bill would not provide a lock because it could be repealed by subsequent Parliaments.
That is true, of course, but a lock can be unlocked if one has the right key, and the key will be the considerable political capital that would be expended by any Government who wished to remove, dilute or give away the power of the sovereign British people. So, the lock is worth while. There has been an interesting development in law about constitutional Acts having a higher standing than ordinary Acts, and the European Communities Act 1972 is considered to be such an Act, as Lord Laws mentioned in the Thoburn case. If that is right, I hope we will get some guidance from Her Majesty's Government on whether the Bill would be a constitutional Act that could not be subject simply to implied repeal but would have to be repealed directly. The referendum lock is important and beneficial even though it is not enough in terms of our relationship with the EU.
Clause 18 affirms the sovereignty of Parliament and provides that we allow European law to take effect only because of the 1972 European Communities Act. I welcome the clause, but it was a matter of great dispute among much more learned people than me during the European Scrutiny Committee's deliberations. I welcome it because of the nature of our constitution, which evolves without things necessarily being written down. We discussed this issue during Committee deliberations on the Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill. There are things that the sovereign could do by royal prerogative that are so unlikely and improbable, because they have not been done for so long, that they have fallen into disuse and effective decay. My worry is that without this clause, the 1972 Act might be viewed as one that cannot be amended or repealed and that we might get to a stage, perhaps in 50 years' time, when the courts hold that it is so important that it is of a different order of magnitude than any other statute.
Clause 18 turns the clock back, which is rather gratifying because we are told that the Tories never turn the clock back. Evelyn Waugh said that he voted Tory all his life expecting them to turn the clock back but that they did not put it back 10 minutes. On this occasion, we are putting it back by 38 years; we are resetting the constitutional position to where everyone would have known it was in 1972. I think that is important, even though I thoroughly accept the point made by many right hon. and hon. Members that it is not a complete statement of the whole theory of the sovereignty of Parliament. I hope that would be unnecessary because the sovereignty of Parliament comes from the British people and cannot be taken away, however much one says so.
Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): I am privileged to follow my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who does justice to the House, as he does justice to the sentiments that he expressed and the cause to which he spoke. That makes it harder for me to follow him. I realise that that is usually a challenge for Members, but I will do my best.
I echo my hon. Friend's sentiment and I will support the Bill because I regard it as the first serious attempt to stop the erosion of power from Westminster to Brussels. I say "serious" because it is legislation before the House, and I say "attempt" because I recognise that it does not
go as far as I and other Members might like. EU interference has dogged us for many years. We as a sovereign nation have been bled dry of powers, which has increased the frustration of the public with an institution that is so remote yet so influential on their lives.
I support the attempt to introduce a referendum lock. For too long, the people have been sidelined as dodgy deals are done and negotiated across Europe, stealing our sovereignty. How? It has been done through treaties such as Lisbon, Amsterdam and Nice. The previous Government handed over so many of our powers during the past 13 years. When the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said that he wanted to be at the heart of Europe, he was not kidding. He effected one of the most powerful transplants ever of so much power to Europe from Britain. We all sensed the betrayal that the British people felt as a result of the Lisbon treaty.
The Bill moves to give Parliament more say over Europe. The Government will have the opportunity to pass primary legislation before we have more self-amending clauses. There is good stuff in the Bill. As for sovereignty and clause 18, I know that there are many learned Members in the House and I dare not question their judgment, but when lawyers say to me that something is enshrined in common law, I am immediately concerned that common law and precedent mean that it could change over time. I have no problem with an attempt to establish clause 18, but I acknowledge, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) said, that it carries some risk with lawyers in the future.
My main concern is that the Bill may be seen as the end of a process, rather than as the beginning of a process to ensure that the present or any future Government cannot continue to transfer powers to the EU. My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) spoke eloquently of wiggle room. There is wiggle room in the Bill, and that is not good because we are attempting not just to pass a Bill, but to rebuild trust between the British people and the Government by challenging the transfer of powers in our relationship with Europe.
The existence of wiggle room raises the question of who decides what is material and what is not. Ministers clearly have the right to determine what constitutes a transfer of powers, and mechanisms spelled out in the Bill make it clear in many cases what constitutes a transfer of powers, but it is the little grey areas of wiggle room that are, in effect, a Trojan horse that can be exploited and undermine the genuine attempts of the Bill to protect any transfer of power.
I tried to apply a test. Had the Bill been in place when the European arrest warrant was introduced, would we have had a referendum on a significant directive from Europe? I attempted to find out. I am grateful to the Minister's staff, who spent some time briefing me on the Bill. I raised the question, but I have to say that I am still confused-not because of their lack of effort, but because of the potential greyness surrounding the issue.
What is more illustrative of our sovereignty than the fact that the courts in an individual's own land cannot protect him, but could lead him to be extradited merely by ticking boxes in a process and undermining the right of a British court to pass judgment on him?
The Minister knows that, until recently, one of my constituents, Andrew Symeou, languished in jail for many months after being subjected to a European arrest
warrant, and the Minister is kindly trying to make representations to the Greek Government to assist him. The family keenly await any outcome, and I thank him for that. But my constituent would believe that the sovereign power of his country had not served him well by agreeing to transfer those powers outside the jurisdiction of our courts and to Europe. I think he would say that his Government had not protected him.
Will the Minister look closely at the wiggle room in the Bill and see how we can reconcile the conflicts that no doubt will lead to other issues over transfer of power? Yes, of course, issues can come to Committee, to scrutiny and to Parliament, but ultimately a Government can get their way, and however much we may protest, a Government may get a motion through and the people will not have had their say in a referendum on a transfer of powers.
I sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Mr Carswell) when he suggests that we may be shutting the gate after the horse has bolted, but on balance that would not be a reason to oppose the Bill, because it marks a massive step forward for Britain and her relationship with Europe. It is a confidence-building measure for the British people in their relationship with what can only be described as an empire-building EU, and it is an important marker in the sand for this coalition Government to rebuild trust with the British people. We must not breach that trust.
Decisions have been remote from the British people. Yes, Parliament does have more say. I accept that the Bill only draws a line under the past, but it still leaves the future somewhat grey. It could be tightened further, and that is in the interests of constructive engagement, which I hope we will have the chance to debate at length in Committee, but I have no hesitation in supporting it, and I believe that my constituents will also seek to take advantage of engaging in future European debate if they have the opportunity to have their voice heard should the Bill be enacted.
Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): I rise as a sinner, because I would like a referendum on Britain's future relationship with our European partners. As a former member of the European Parliament that certainly makes me a sinner in the eyes of those out there. Many of the British people are sinners also. We all entered this European garden of Eden fully clothed, and now the British people feel that there clothes have been stolen by previous Governments of both colours, with their shirt finally having been stolen from their back by the last Labour Government when they gave away a huge part of our rebate. That is why we have the Bill.
It is fairly obvious to anyone who cares to ask our voters that they are really fed up with our relationship with the EU, and do not trust the European institutions. Equally, our voters have lost a huge amount of trust in the ability of British Governments trying, or even endeavouring to try, to stand up for our country.
Mr Swayne: This House voted not to have a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. If those of us who argued with the Minister, who continued to insist that it was merely an administrative tidying up, had only had the ability to go to judicial review, as this Bill allows, we would have been much better for it.
"Although there is therefore a basic rationale for the European Union bill, it seems to me that its provisions are inconsistent with the declaratory clause insisting that Parliament is sovereign. Indeed, the purpose of the bill is unclear to me. A government will not provide for a referendum unless it wishes to support a proposal for treaty amendment or transfer of powers. If it is opposed to such a proposal, it can use its veto, since all matters to be made subject to the referendum require unanimity. The present government has indicated that it will not support any amendment or transfer of powers in this parliament. Therefore, the purpose of the bill must be to prevent a future government from supporting such an amendment or transfer without a referendum. The bill seeks, in other words, to bind a future government. That seems to me inconsistent with the declaratory proposition that Parliament is sovereign."
"it delivers on what was in the coalition programme simply as an agreement to consider the case for a sovereignty Bill-that Bill is being introduced by the means of clause 18."
"Clause 18...is declaratory in intention and in substance."
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) made some salient points about justice and home affairs measures, which are a good example of what goes on in the European institutions. The Bill seemingly stops powers heading out to Europe in big chunks, but anyone experienced in such matters knows that European negotiators rarely try to swallow their prey whole. They would if they could, but to get past the public anger and angst that such huge transfers of power always cause they have long preferred to chop things up and to salami-slice: they chop away piece by piece, or sliver by sliver, until they reach their goal. Current justice and home affairs arrangements on the opt-in, opt-out basis receive little scrutiny, and the measure before us really put its finger on that.
The European public prosecutor, which is one of those proposals that triggers all the alarm bells in the Bill, simply cannot be introduced under this legislation without a referendum or the people having their say, but the European institutions desperately want it. As a member of the European Parliament, I was there at the start of the EPP debate in Brussels, and it evolved a little like this. Initially, the proposal was about introducing a common body of law in justice and home affairs, but it was not that important; it was just about protecting the Commission's raising of its own resources. The Commission raises money in many ways, one of which involves VAT, and one role of the anti-fraud office, OLAF, was to ensure that money did not disappear through theft, fraud or VAT avoidance. OLAF was meant to police the Commission's budget when the wise men set it up, but that story is for another day.
Let us say that OLAF did its job properly and got the authorities in Spain to arrest a British national for not paying VAT on smuggled cigarettes in Bulgaria. It is complicated to get all those authorities to investigate and co-ordinate arrests and prosecutions, so, the argument goes in Europe, we need a European arrest warrant, investigation orders and a whole lot more to make the process work. Before we know it, we have, through various justice and home affairs instruments, all the guts and the body of a European public prosecutor. Its creation would trigger a referendum under the Bill.
Can a current Minister, however, guarantee that a future Minister will not see that measure as a tidying-up exercise, or as just an insignificant power transfer with a European public prosecutor at the end? Can a current Minister guarantee what a future Minister will think is significant? Even if they are able to, will we get the British public to trust a Minister who says that? Not too long ago, a Minister for Europe suggested that the European charter on fundamental rights was of no more significance than T he Beano. The Bill is for future use-not much good if no Government can bind their successors. But we are told that we do not need to worry about this Government, as under them there will not be any transfer of power to Europe.
Yesterday, when giving evidence on the Bill, the Minister for Europe told the European Scrutiny Committee-this was confirmed today by answers to questions that my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere asked the Secretary of State-that up to 40 justice and home affairs measures might be passed through the channels of Government in any given year. That is an awful lot. The Secretary of State said that those could take time to investigate. Yesterday, the Minister told us that
"there is a strict time limit attached to our opt-in on these measures-that we have to take a decision within three months. It takes the Government, through interdepartmental consultation, some time to work out what their own assessment of a particular measure is once it is published."
What does the Bill do? It might not tickle the fancy of my fellow Eurosceptics, but I am sure that, when looking at the next area of policy from which to grab power, the Commission negotiators will have at the back of their minds a worry that at one point the British people might have a say about what they are trying to do. As has been described in so many books, they knew in the past that a friendly chat with close friends at the Foreign Office could mean a little less excitement down the line.
At the beginning of my remarks, I described how the British public and British politicians had entered the European garden of Eden fully clothed, only to find that over a period of years we had been stripped. Although I appreciate that the Bill is just a fig leaf, I will happily vote for it because it covers a tiny piece of our modesty.
Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con):
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's Bill. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry
(Chris Heaton-Harris), I spent 10 years in the European Parliament. [Interruption.] Yes, I sinned too; tonight is a night of confession.
Seriously, over those 10 years we saw powers being transferred from the House to Brussels. I saw Tony Blair negotiate an increase in the budget of the European Union and give away part of our rebate, worth billions of pounds-and what for? A so-called reform in the common agricultural policy further down the road. Of course, when we got further down the road, there was no reform of the CAP; by then, the European Union had the money and was moving forward.
It is absolutely right that we should have this sovereignty Bill to curb the powers of the European Union. The people of this country are absolutely fed up of seeing a one-way street going from Westminster to Brussels and not coming back. That is why the Bill is so important.
Yes, the Bill probably does not go as far as many of us would like it to go, but at least we are stopping the flow. It is no good for shadow Ministers to wind us up by saying that the Bill is just to placate the Eurosceptics. I suggest that if the Labour party had been a bit more Eurosceptic when it was in power, we would not be in this position now. The Lisbon treaty was basically the European constitution, but wrapped in different wrapping paper. However, because of that, the Labour party said that we would no longer have a referendum on it and the people of this country were denied one.
Now is the time to support the Bill and bring powers back. Provisions such as the social chapter, to which Tony Blair signed up, have brought all the working time directives and all the bureaucracy that ties up our businesses and stops us going forward as an economy. In time, after this, all those things will have to be pulled back to make sure that, in the end, this Parliament is sovereign and that we are not dictated to by Brussels.
Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): The significance of the Bill cannot be ignored. I say that following the disgraceful way in which the previous Government and Members on the now-empty Opposition Benches denied the British public a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. I desperately hope that this Bill will reassure my constituents and the rest of the British public that that will never happen again. I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on bringing forward the Bill in the Government's first year in office. It has been a long time coming, and it is a positive step in the right direction. However, a number areas in the Bill need to be strengthened to defend the interests of the British and truly guarantee the sovereignty of this nation. We have already heard some of the arguments on that this afternoon.
The Bill needs more clarity over exactly what transfer of powers would trigger a referendum. It needs to go further in guaranteeing our red lines and in demonstrating a full commitment to repatriating powers from Brussels. It also needs to enhance the transparency and accountability of anything that involves the EU. As it stands, there is considerable uncertainty about how the Bill will function in practice.
I would like greater clarity in the exemptions referred to in clause 2 and the significant condition mentioned in clause 3. Clearly those provisions offer a Minister what I call a get-out-of-referendum-free card. I do not
believe that any Conservative Minister in the current Government would seek to pull the wool over the eyes of this Parliament and the British public by abusing that clause. However, let us not forget that it was not so long ago that this country had a pro-European Government who were blinded so much by the taxpayer-funded propaganda of the European project that they neglected the British interest.
Under the previous Government, the rebate was sacrificed and power was scandalously surrendered under the Lisbon treaty. Even with the referendum lock outlined in the Bill, it remains possible for a future Government to hand more powers over to Brussels through the back door. Clause 3 states that an Act could be passed by Parliament-thereby bypassing the need for a referendum -by stating that the transfer of powers was "not significant" in its impact on the United Kingdom. That is a highly subjective test that would be based on the recommendation of Ministers.
Some of the EU's areas of exclusive competence and shared competence are so worryingly generic that it would be a legal minefield to asses which policies may require a referendum. We have already seen the controversy over the European investigation order. On justice and home affairs, we may be guaranteed a referendum on the establishment of the European public prosecutor, but there is no such commitment given on the actions that Eurojust could take.
What would happen if a future Government decided to give up the 12 and 6-mile fishery limits? Under the Lisbon treaty, the EU already has competence for fisheries and marine biological resources. If proposals come forward from the Commission to remove or amend the controls that Britain can currently exercise within those limits, that could be done without the British public having a vote. Our fishing communities would be left devastated if the regulation was revised to remove the limits. However, there is no guarantee that the limits would be protected by the referendum lock.
It is also possible that, over the course of a Parliament, a Government could transfer a number of powers that individually may not be perceived as being significant enough to warrant a referendum but that, taken as a whole, could be highly significant over a period of time.
Ms Louise Bagshawe (Corby) (Con): My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech and is raising a number of excellent points. I particularly agree with her on the issue of salami-slicing, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris). Does she agree that it is absolutely necessary for the language to be tightened up in Committee, given that the previous Labour Government were able to come to this House and state that the Lisbon treaty was not the same as the European constitution? How much easier would it have been for them to state that something was not significant when it was significant?
We should remember that it is not just a referendum or adverse, ignorant and reckless government that could further threaten the sovereignty and primacy of our Parliament. Despite the principles behind the Bill, the authority of this Parliament can still be undermined by
the bureaucrats and the judges in Brussels. As we have already heard, clause 13 may well confirm that the presence of EU law in this country is dependent upon an Act of Parliament. However, as we know from case law, the text of the Lisbon treaty and on the basis of treaties, EU law holds primacy over that of the laws of member states. In other words, where there is a conflict, EU law will always prevail.
That leads me to question what would happen if the EU decided to challenge the legitimacy of this country holding a referendum on an issue, or if the Commission disagreed with the view of the UK on the extent to which an EU decision affected this country. The judges in Brussels could look at the treaties and pass a judgment that denied the British people a referendum. That would be thoroughly undemocratic. We should guarantee the supremacy of this Parliament when it comes to making laws in this country.
This Bill is a welcome step, but it could have gone much further and contained stronger measures to bring democratic control back to Britain and to safeguard against what I would call competence creep. Many Members of this House know that Europe has already gone much too far in taking powers away from Britain without the consent of the British public, and we are now at a point in our history where the overwhelming consensus among the population is that we need less EU and more Britain. Under this legislation, I would like Ministers to go further to address the situation and come forward with a list of EU laws that should be revoked or disapplied to the UK to defend our national interests and our sovereignty. I do not believe that it is beyond the ability of the parliamentary draftsman to improve the Bill and empower Ministers in this Government to go to Brussels with a mandate to repatriate powers from the EU and return them to their rightful place in this country and to this sovereign House.
The sentiment behind the Bill is right, but it needs to be improved truly to reflect the sovereignty and primacy of this Parliament and the independence of our country, and, importantly, to put Britain's interests first.
Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): As my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) said, this Bill comes at a very interesting time in our history, particularly the history of our relations with what is now the European Union. I was very much taken with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), who described Britain's relations with the EU as being the opposite of a flirt. I beg to differ with him on that. My view of Britain's relations with the EU is quite simple: for years, we said no, then we said "Can we come in?", and then we said yes.
Frankly, in treaty negotiation after treaty negotiation, we have been the thorn in the side of other member states. I think particularly of the drawn-out negotiations that took place at Maastricht and, indeed, after Maastricht, where Britain secured some important opt-outs, notably on economic and monetary union, which then became the euro, and the social chapter, into which the last Labour Government wrongly brought us. It is interesting that the Labour Benches are largely empty. That is symbolic of Labour Members' attitude to the EU, which is a mixture of ignorance, indifference and their completely supine nature in negotiations on Europe.
I do not stand here as somebody who could be described as a dyed-in-the-wool Eurosceptic. In the tradition of my party, I would be described as pro-European Union. I make no apology for that whatsoever. It is because I am pro-European Union that I support this Bill, because I am also pro-democracy and transparency. The age in which the great and good could decide and determine the future of Europe in smoke-filled rooms-or air-conditioned rooms, as I should now call them-is, I hope, long gone. This Bill represents the beginning of the end of that sort of approach, because it brings transparency to proceedings.
I was interested in the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Witham, who spoke eloquently about clause 3. She was right to make the point about ministerial discretion, but the clause makes it a conjunctive condition that an Act of Parliament has to be passed by this House. That is important because it will bring fairly and squarely before this House the sort of details that all too often in the past would have been the subject of covert negotiation. That is no longer acceptable to the people of this country. They no longer want decisions to be imposed upon them; they want to have an active role in decisions and to ensure that their elected representatives or they themselves have a direct say in important transfers of power to Europe. I support that, because as a pro-European Conservative who has taken part in many debates within my party-I concede that I have lost more than I have won-I am a firm believer in democracy.
Any institution that seeks to impose its will on its people without consent deserves to fail and the European Union is no exception. The great divide in Europe is no longer between member states; it is between its leaders and its people. That is why the Bill represents an important step forward and I am happy to support it.
I welcome the European Union Bill and the concept of the referendum lock. After so many years of broken promises on Europe, the Bill is essential to regain the trust of the people and to give them faith that the EU will not continue to gain powers from this country. It has always been my opinion that the sovereignty of the country belongs to the people, and that they, not politicians, should make the decision on whether it is transferred to other bodies or countries.
Should justice and home affairs not be subject to the referendum lock? Many of my constituents find justice rulings the most frustrating aspect of our EU membership. The recent ruling that gave prisoners the right to vote, after a convicted murderer appealed successfully to the European Court of Human Rights, is just the latest example of the EU overruling the will of the British Parliament and its people.
Although I support the principle and aims of the Bill, one word that concerns me greatly is "significant". My concern can be summed up by adapting a famous Sir Humphrey Appleby statement: "Anything can be attacked as a loss of sovereignty, and almost anything
can be defended as not a significant loss of sovereignty, which seems to signify that one should appreciate the significance of significant." What impact does the term "significant" have in the Bill? It could be argued that a future Government would find it difficult to amend something that would not fall under the significance condition. They could claim that the referendum requirement was too rigid and disproportionate to a treaty change that was sought. I also believe that it would be politically courageous for a future Government to remove the referendum lock from the statute book. This should therefore be a permanent piece of legislation. What constitutes significance needs far more definition so that the Bill is not seen merely as a sop to Eurosceptic Back Benchers, of whom I count myself one, but as a genuine change in the way in which we view the sovereignty of our country.
It should not be the Executive who decide what is significant. At the very least, Parliament should dictate what is a significant transfer of power. I refer back to my maiden speech, in which I said that as MPs
"we must not consider ourselves to be the owners of sovereign powers. We are merely the custodians of power and sovereignty for future generations. Sovereignty is not ours to give away; it belongs to the people who elected us, and to their heirs and successors."-[ Official Report, 3 June 2010; Vol. 510, c. 654.]
I intend to support the Bill this evening, but I issue a warning to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench. I and many hon. Members will not stand idly by and witness the death of our country's sovereignty, bled away by a thousand cuts, however small, that some may think insignificant.
Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): It is a great pleasure to speak on Second Reading, and I will cut to the chase given that I know one more colleague wishes to speak before the Front Benchers.
There is a lot to commend in the Bill, and I will vote for it, but I wish to alert the Minister to some questions that I have posed previously. I hope that he can provide comfort, perhaps not tonight, but in Committee or by writing to me. After I had read the Bill, I thought it went further than I had expected from the coalition agreement. It does much of what we were told it would do by ensuring that ratchet clauses and passerelle clauses will be subject to a referendum. However, there seem to be a few exceptions, to which I wish to draw the House's attention.
Clause 9(2)(a) to (c) covers articles 81(3), relating to family law, 82(2)(d), relating to criminal procedure, and 83(1), relating to cross-border crime, of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. Subsection (2)(c) permits
"the identification of further areas of crime to which directives adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure may relate."
The word "further" indicates to me a transfer of competence or power on which we should have a say. I shall give one example. It could be that Europol is given powers to investigate more areas of crime, for instance in fishing, which might worry my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel). Such a change would not be covered by the need for a referendum. I believe that the Home Affairs Committee and the Select Committee on Justice are due to table several amendments, covering a
number of the passerelle clauses that are not currently guaranteed to cause a referendum, and I urge the Government to examine them carefully.
The Foreign Secretary said earlier that we are not giving up control of borders, but the accession treaties to which he referred automatically do that, because they extend the borders within which citizens of the European Union can circulate without hindrance.
As has been said, especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), it is really important that we are careful about the language that we use to describe the Bill and how we sell it. We certainly do not want to oversell it, as happened in the last Parliament when all three parties said that they would vote for a referendum on the European constitutional treaty but did not. The timing of the Bill is also relevant, and I believe that the Minister is going to talk about that.
There is one other key area in which no referendum is provided for, and it is set out in clause 7(2)(d). It refers to the third paragraph of article 311 of the treaty on the functioning of the EU, which is about own resources. That article states:
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