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Austin Mitchell: During the debate on the exchange rate mechanism, I remember the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) leading a huge Liberal crowd up and down Whitehall chanting, "Move to the narrower bands now! Move to the narrower bands now!" That was the Liberal party's contribution to that great debate. It is slavishly attached to European gestures such as the euro, as was our former Prime Minister. The previous Prime Minister, when Chancellor, kept us out. That was a great achievement. He kept us out and warned that the regime was unstable.
There cannot be a common currency without a common Government to back it and redistribute money to the regions that are damaged by the common currency and the higher interest rates imposed by it. The basic problem is that the euro cannot work, because it brings together regimes under one currency that vary enormously in their productivity and power. The southern economies are not only weaker, but insolvent to boot and certainly uncompetitive. Those uncompetitive economies cannot be united in a currency with the powerful German economy, which is extremely competitive. Inflation is kept very low in Germany by investment, the restructuring of the economy and the agreement with the unions to keep wages down. It is impossible for economies such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland to remain competitive in that situation. To be competitive, they face a constant diet of cuts and attempts to get their inflation rates down to the German level. That is difficult and it has to go on for years. By joining the euro, those countries effectively said that they would deflate their economies, punish their people and face riots in the streets for 20 or 30 years in a desperate attempt-which will not work-to get their levels of competitiveness down to the same as Germany's. That situation does not work.
Kelvin Hopkins: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend again. It is interesting that there has been friction recently between France and Germany because France wants to integrate the whole European economy more deeply and Germany is holding back. Germany can see that it will constantly have to shell out euros-or disguised Deutschmarks-to help the poorer countries in Europe, and it does not want to do that because it would become the paymaster of the whole of the European Union in perpetuity.
Austin Mitchell: That is true. Under the old system, the inflation rates in France and Italy were higher than that in Germany, so they were constantly getting out of kilter and becoming uncompetitive. They constantly resorted to devaluing, which brought them back to a competitive level because it reduced their costs of production in terms of foreign currencies. There is a history of France and Italy devaluing. They cannot do that when they are in the euro.
Mr Cash: Would the hon. Gentleman be interested to know that the Library has given me some figures showing that our balance of payments deficit with Germany was £12 billion in 2009? Heaven alone knows what it is now. Between 1999 and 2009 there was a deficit of £5 billion between the other 26 EU member states and ourselves, but we have a surplus of £11 billion with the rest of the world. His point is extremely sound-the EU is just not working.
Austin Mitchell: I am grateful for that point, which is absolutely true. We are earning a surplus in the rest of the world, which then goes as a tribute to finance our deficit in Europe. Before we entered the Common Market in 1972, we had a surplus in our trade with Europe. It then became a deficit, which has become ever heavier as the years have gone on because of our economy's uncompetitive nature compared with the German economy. All the other weaker European economies face the same problem, and there is no way for them to get around it without facing a diet of cuts, freezes and squeezes for decades, and having to depress the living standards of their own people to keep costs down. That strain is built into the system, which Germany dominates and swamps because of its competitiveness and low inflation. Good luck to it-it has worked for that and run its economy in a very sensible fashion, but a common currency cannot be maintained in that situation. There will therefore be crises.
Those inevitable crises have, under article 122 of the Lisbon treaty, now been portrayed as the results of a natural disaster. That means that we, who have wisely stayed out of the scheme and warned of the consequences of going ahead with that insane regime, must also contribute to cost of clearing up the mess that is implicit in the system. That is a monstrous imposition.
I take it that at his last Council of Ministers meeting on 9 May, our previous Chancellor was conned. He was told that article 122 would apply under qualified majority voting, so it was no use his opposing it because we would be bound by it in any case. That was just not true, because if it applies to mutual support in the event of natural disasters, it cannot apply to faults inherent in the structure of the euro itself. That is not a natural disaster; it is a folly of man.
Mr Cash: I add a point that I really ought to have made in my own contribution. When the European Council arrived at the new mechanism that it has just set up, which the Prime Minister announced the other day, it used the most extraordinary language. It used the expression that there was "no need" for the continuation of the mechanism that was set up last May. It is not anything to do with need, however; it is about the fact that they know perfectly well that it was unlawful.
Austin Mitchell: Absolutely right. We need to be intellectually devious in trying to read through European documents, because they are extremely cunningly written and always cover up the reality very well. The same is true of Government statements on matters European. The Government do not want the full horror to emerge, so statements are rewritten to make them safe, saleable and acceptable. Once again, the hon. Gentleman is correct, and he has done the Committee a great service today in warning us of the situation and pointing out the consequences if it is prolonged. I believe that the arrangement extends to March 2013, or is it May?
Right, and then it will lapse. Until then, we could be liable for enormous sums. Imagine what the British electorate would say. We have already extended a massive loan to Ireland, even though the
Chancellor tells that our country is over-borrowed and cannot borrow any more because world markets will cancel our credit cards and stop our credit on the bond markets. Suddenly, however, he can borrow huge sums-billions-to help Ireland. He says that it is a one-off and not a precedent, but if it is carried out under article 122 of the Lisbon treaty, it is a precedent for acceptance of a mechanism that is designed to deal with natural disasters.
The hon. Member for Stone hoped that the mechanism would be ruled illegal by the European Court, but I have given up faith in the European Court. It never rules how I want it to rule, whereas our courts do sometimes. It is probably composed of Liberal Democrat jurists, for all I know. It certainly gives that appearance.
Kelvin Hopkins: Again, I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The ECJ has shown itself to be a political organ, not a legal one, by taking the side of employers in the Viking Line dispute and other cases. It is a court of the business class and of big business, not a court for ordinary people.
Austin Mitchell: That is true. It gives any verdict one wants, provided that it supports and advances the EU. That is the nature of the European Court, so should we ask that body to rule on the legality of treating article 122 as an all-purpose rescue operation to which we have to contribute?
The Minister smiles-indulgently, I hope. I hope that he will explain the Government's view on the matter, because to my mind it is crucial that amendments 8 and 79 are accepted. I am glad to hear that the hon. Member for Stone will force a vote, because they are key amendments. We need to be sure that the British electorate will not be faced with a series of massive loans, such as the Irish loan, to support Portugal, for instance, or Spain if things go belly-up there. That is quite possible, and the costs there would be huge because Spain has a much bigger population than Ireland, Greece or Portugal. Why should an electorate who are facing a blitzkrieg of massive cuts and tax increases welcome with joy a decision to fork out more billions to help people whom we warned that they were entering into a disastrous situation by taking on the euro? That would be totally unacceptable, and the Government would be laughed out of court.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The hon. Gentleman will be aware that people from the UK are very generous people, and that they always like to help, but they do not have bottomless pockets and cannot keep on bailing out every country in the EU. Does he agree that a line has to be drawn in the sand somewhere, so that lending to other countries and subsidising them stops?
Austin Mitchell: I agree absolutely, and that line in the sand is here. Actually, it has to be a line in the concrete, because we cannot go on making contributions under article 122, which is meant for another purpose entirely.
Ben Gummer: Notwithstanding our treaty obligations, it seems to me that the hon. Gentleman is getting hung up on article 122. Is he really arguing that even if it were in our economic interest to support the bail-out of a country whose trade with us means that intervention is necessary, he would still oppose it?
Austin Mitchell: I have not actually said that, have I? I have said that the Chancellor treated the Irish case as a one-off, but it is not. It opens the door to giving aid to other countries that have put themselves in the same situation through a foolish adherence to a euro that is fated to collapse. I make no judgment about the Irish case, although it is a big bill to pay for a country that the Chancellor tells us is over-borrowed and has no credit on the world market. Why should that country start raising huge loads more money to pay other countries because of the failures of the euro?
Stephen Gilbert: I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but can he imagine a situation in which rather than being a giver, the UK is the receiver of aid under that arrangement? Is he really saying that rather than get the aid that our financial sector might hypothetically need in a quick and timely way, he would want a referendum lock to apply?
Austin Mitchell: I am afraid that that is ridiculous. I was leaping with joy when the hon. Gentleman, a Liberal Democrat, said he was taking a point that I had made. I thought that sense had at last dawned, but alas it turned out to be only stupidity. Nobody is suggesting that the UK would want Europe to be liable if our system failed. The crucial point is that we did not enter the euro. Having not entered it, we should be immune from the consequences imposed on those who did. That is all I am saying. I do not want European aid. The wisdom of former Chancellors in keeping us out of the euro allows us to adjust our exchange rate. Other nations have problems because they cannot do that. We have had a 25% devaluation, and the pound could-and should, in my view-go lower. That reduces the cost of our currency and makes us competitive once again. That is our adjustment. We do not need help or aid because we have the flexibility of being outside the euro. Does the hon. Gentleman want this economic education class to continue or will he keep quiet?
Stephen Gilbert: Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that we are both outside the euro and outside the effects of the euro? Is he saying that Portugal, Ireland, Italy or any country that needs European financial help in future can be allowed to collapse, and that that will have no effect whatever here in the UK?
Austin Mitchell: Oh it is difficult talking to Liberal Democrats! I did not actually say that we would be outside the effects of the euro. In fact, the foolish deflation that is going on all over Europe damages us, because half of our trade is with Europe and we want our exports to Europe to increase. With our ability to devalue, we have the ability to increase our exports, and they are increasing for the first time in many years-thanks to devaluation. I want markets in Europe to be healthy, but I do not want the British taxpayer to be asked to support Europe in its folly.
Kelvin Hopkins: I want to reinforce what my hon. Friend is saying. We have a massive trade deficit with the rest of the EU. Even if in some mad world we decided to have a trade block, that would be beneficial. We would have more money to spend on our own things and to generate our own economy, and more money to spend elsewhere in the world. The idea that we benefit massively in trade from the EU is complete nonsense. It benefits massively from having us next door.
Austin Mitchell: That is true-and then the EU forces us to eat its overpriced agricultural products. The EU gets it all ways. It steals about £3 billion-worth of our fish every year through the common fisheries policy, and costs us about £18 billion on the common agricultural policy, and then expects us to buy its overpriced exports.
Martin Horwood: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Iceland has just unilaterally increased its mackerel quotas, which if anything-I would not use the word "stealing"-is potentially damaging to Scottish fish stocks? That is quite a major diplomatic issue at the moment and it has occurred under precisely the regime that he is recommending.
Austin Mitchell: You are absolutely right, Mr Brady. By raising mackerel, the Liberal Democrats were seeking to bring a lot of red herrings dancing into my view. I hold no brief for the Scots who want the Icelanders to stop catching mackerel. They have a perfect right to do so. It is daft to talk about cutting quotas of imports for Icelandic fish, which we need, to punish Iceland for mackerel fishing.
That Liberal Democrat red herring has robbed and wasted the Committee's time and delayed my final peroration. The final word from me is this. The situation can be remedied by the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Stone, particularly amendments 8 and 79. It should be remedied, because it is potentially disastrous to accept that article 122 of the Lisbon treaty can be applied to extract support from the UK for the failures of the euro, when we are not members of the euro. I hope that the Government clarify that position, and that the amendments are made.
Stephen Gilbert: It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Anybody watching us must think that they have fallen through the looking glass. We are debating amendments to a Bill that prevents further transfer of power from the UK to the European level of government, in the context of a coalition that has said that it will allow no further significant transfers of power in the duration of its office, and yet Conservative and Labour Members are attacking the Bill while Liberal Democrat Members try to defend it.
Mr Cash: I cannot resist intervening. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the Minister for Europe has said that there is no chance or intention of holding a referendum under the proposals in this Bill until the next Parliament at the earliest-we are in dead parrot territory. The Minister will not deny that. The debate is about what is happening right now. Europe is in total chaos. Every country bar Germany is imploding, but the hon. Gentleman is carrying on as if everything is fine.
Stephen Gilbert: I feel like I am entering into my own version of "Back to the Future" in debating the EU with the hon. Gentleman. The Government's position is quite clear. There will be no referendum over the next five years because there will be no significant transfer of power or competences. The Liberal Democrats welcome that, and I would have thought that he would too.
Mr David: To add to the thesis of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash), given that the Labour party is not in favour of any further EU treaty changes and that we cannot bind a future Parliament, what is the point of the Bill?
Stephen Gilbert: In fact, what we know from yesterday's debate in this Committee is that the Labour party, given the bizarre system it proposed in its defeated amendments, is in favour of giving the House of Lords a veto on whether the British Parliament chooses to put a referendum to the British people.
Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Did I hear the hon. Gentleman correctly? Did he say a moment ago that there will be no further significant transfer of power to Brussels? Will he outline which not very significant powers will be transferred during this Parliament?
Stephen Gilbert: The Bill is absolutely clear on that. A number of criteria have to be met and a number of hurdles must be jumped. We debated the significance test yesterday-the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber and would have carefully listened to the debate-but let me give him an example. At the moment, in the objectives of the EU as I understand them, there is no requirement to combat climate change. Of course, the EU is rightly and properly taking action on environmental issues, but the simple codification of that into one of the objectives of the EU would be quite a minor change, and one that we would all welcome and accept as necessary and important.
Mr Cash: Almost everything the hon. Gentleman says demonstrates the complete divergence of views between many Conservatives and many Liberal Democrats. Does he accept that a key problem facing the coalition Government is not only the integral federal views of the Liberal Democrats on matters relating to Europe, by which they are totally besotted, but the implementation of the Lisbon treaty? That is where the problem arises. People talk about transfers of power, but actually, the implementation of existing arrangements under the Lisbon treaty is causing so much difficulty-it is also an embarrassment to Opposition Front Benchers.
Stephen Gilbert: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but it is not for me to judge who or what might be an embarrassment to those on the Front Benches. The reality is that there are clearly a number of safeguards in the Lisbon treaty, including the emergency brake clauses, which can be exercised by national Parliaments. In some cases, they would not require the UK Government to take a view-Parliament can take a view of its own volition. However, I shall resist further temptation from hon. Members and press ahead with my comments on some of the specific amendments in the group, particularly amendments 81, 54, 8 and 79.
Amendment 81 is in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), and I have a slight declaration of interest to make in that my great-grandfather
was a fisherman along the north Cornwall coast out of Padstow. My constituency also includes many fishing communities, for whom the common fisheries policy in its current iteration is a significant problem. There is huge agreement across the House that having nationally decided quotas rather than regionally set quotas is a problem. The discard policy is also a problem, because it is absurd for this nation to have to throw back hundreds of tonnes of perfectly good fish when we could be using it to feed people in this time of pressures on food security around the world and concerns about the sustainability of fish resources.
I share my hon. Friend's determination to secure real reform of the CFP. We need to put sustainability at its heart and ensure that local communities are driving it. We also need to review the policy on discards. However, amendment 81 is-to shamelessly snag a pun that has already been used tonight-a red herring. I do not see how it will strengthen our hand when it comes to reform of the CFP-
Stephen Gilbert: I have some sympathy with the point that my hon. Friend makes, but it is a misnomer to call the amendment an effort to reform the CFP. As I understand it, the competencies under which the CFP sits were transferred three decades ago. They are already decided under qualified majority voting, and having a referendum on this issue-should it even be a topic for debate, and I know of no such plans-would have no effect.
Thomas Docherty: It might help the debate to know that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, will shortly carry out an inquiry into fishing policy. I am sure that the Minister will be excited to have the chance to give evidence on the issue of discards.
Stephen Gilbert: I am grateful for that intervention and I am sure that the fact that the Committee will look at this issue will be as worthy of note as the fact that I have joined hon. Members from both sides of the House in signing the early-day motion on discards policy. On every occasion that this House has debated the CFP, a clear signal should have been received by Ministers that we want reform and we want it now. However, amendment 81 is not that reform.
It is clear that negotiations on the CFP will start later this year. I would like an assurance from the Minister that he has heard the concerns that have been expressed in this debate and will put protection of the UK's fish stocks at the heart of those negotiations.
Martin Horwood: What is my hon. Friend's opinion on some of the other amendments that have been tabled? Does he think that reform of the CFP might be made more difficult if we have such a hair trigger for referendums that it brings the whole process grinding to a halt?
Stephen Gilbert: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We need to be careful what we wish for. Many of the amendments we are discussing would introduce a hair-trigger-an apt expression-approach to referendums that could end up shooting the UK's best interests in the foot.
Jim Shannon: The hon. Member mentioned regionalisation and the opportunity for other parts of the UK to be in control of fishing. Does he think that the localised control of fishing is the way forward to take control away from Europe and ensure that local people, who have the knowledge and the experience, can have an input into the process?
Stephen Gilbert: I share the approach that the hon. Gentleman outlines. It is the fishing communities who understand sustainability and the importance of ensuring that we have viable stocks for the future, and they will respond to those needs. It is right that responsibility for fishing policy should be reduced to the region, if not further to local areas.
Amendment 54, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), is a little bizarre, because it promotes the notion that being given extra rights would require a referendum. The rights of EU citizens come under article 20 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union and, as far as I can tell, they number four at the moment. They are the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the member states; the right to vote and stand as candidates in elections to the European Parliament and in municipal elections in the state of residence, under the same conditions as nationals of that state; the right to petition the European Parliament, to apply to the European ombudsman, and to address the institutions and advisory bodies of the European Union; and the right to enjoy, in the territory of a third country in which the member state of which they are nationals is not represented, the protection of diplomatic and consular authorities-a point about which the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) spoke at some length. My contention is that adding to the rights of citizens cannot be seen as a transfer of power or competence from the EU to the UK.
Mr Nuttall: Does my hon. Friend agree that, by definition, if citizens of another European Union member state are given rights by the European Union to do things in this country, the rights of our own citizens are diluted and power is therefore transferred to the rest of the European Union?
Stephen Gilbert: I simply do not agree. If rights are transferred to the EU level, every European citizen will benefit from those rights, including the many hundreds of thousands of British citizens who live and work in the other European Union member states.
My hon. Friend and I share an interest in many matters, and I was delighted that the other place came to his rescue in the Parliamentary Constituencies and Voting Bill-although I am less pleased that it did not come to Cornwall's rescue. However,
on this issue I disagree with him. It is a caricature to say that they have rights and we have liabilities. The reality is that many of the people I went to school with now live and work in member states of the European Union and it is right that they should have protections extended to them in the same way that protections are extended to EU nationals living and working here.
My hon. Friend's philosophical disagreement does not detract from my central point, which is that this is not a transfer of power or competence from the UK, so I do not see the need for the referendum lock to be introduced. More broadly, is it not belief in those human rights and the shared view of human nature-the belief in the rule of law, the sanctity of human life and that all individuals are born equal-that unites member states in the European Union and leads to our ability to have a common view on many issues?
Mr Cash: On the question of human rights-of course, our manifesto committed us to the repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998-what makes the hon. Gentleman think that the people of the United Kingdom would have been that much worse off if the European Human Rights Act had never been passed? What makes him believe that the vast amounts of money going to all the lawyers in the human rights environment are doing the people of this country any great service?
Stephen Gilbert: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. The European Human Rights Act gave rights to people in this country that they did not enjoy previously. Those rights are now in statute. Of course, hon. Members can make the argument that the House could have conferred those rights-but then this House is exactly the body that did confer them, first through the 1972 treaty, and secondly under the previous Government through bringing the European human rights treaty into British statute, as I understand it.
Mr Nuttall: My hon. Friend is touching on one of the fundamental differences between how the European Union sees rights, and how this sovereign Parliament sees them. Parliament does not think that citizens need to be given any human rights because they are free to do anything under the law, whereas the European Union thinks that it has those rights to hand out to citizens of its European superstate as part of some great, grandiose gesture. That is the difference.
I will finish with some brief comments on amendments 8 and 79, which deal with the notion of a referendum lock on giving further financial aid to countries other than Ireland-an issue on which the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) and I have just engaged. If the amendments are passed, they would damage diplomatic relations, delay the EU in helping struggling economies and potentially deny to the UK the same kind of benefits that Ireland has had in the past.
I want to make it clear that the Liberal Democrats support the Bill: it is about reconnecting the British people with the European issue; about saying that over the next five years, there will be no further transfer of
powers and competencies; about putting that commitment in law; and about raising the benchmark significantly higher than it has been to date.
Ben Gummer: I had many comments to make but, happily, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) has covered much of the ground I wanted to cover. I shall therefore be quite brief. Yesterday, in a memorable speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) described the Bill as the William Cash memorial Bill. Although I would not like to use such lapidary language with regard to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, it is certainly a memorial in the sense that all that he has done over the years to protect the House and nation from the transference of powers to the European Union is contained within clause 6, so that it will not happen again without a referendum of the British people. I suspect that that is why my hon. Friend, whom I admire and have watched with great interest today, as a newcomer to the House, is uncertain about parts of the Bill.
Mention was made earlier of the fact that my hon. Friend's seat is often left cold while he explains the dangers of the transference of powers. The Bill will render much of that function, which he has served with such honour over the years, no longer necessary, because it encompasses what the British people have wanted for so long, as has been pointed out by so many people in this debate, which is for the powers of Parliament to remain here and not be transferred. Whether on the euro, social policy, finance, jurisprudence or border control-all those things that he has spoken about so many times-will now sit here in statute unable to be moved to a qualified majority voting system in the Council without the matter being referred to the British people.
The Bill does not just enshrine in law the wishes of the British people over many years; it is also a testament to the intellectual coherence of the coalition's project. It is about retaining power at the most local level possible. That does not just apply to this Parliament, but involves pushing power down to local communities wherever possible. That is why the cat-calling about the Bill from the Opposition is so misguided. They do not understand how it fits into the wider revolution being instituted by the coalition Government of bringing power as close to the people as possible. That is why I suspect they do not like it very much. It goes against everything that the Labour party believes in, which is to push power up to people who know best at all times.
We need only look at some of the comments made in this and previous debates. The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane), who is no longer in his seat, said in a previous debate on the European Union that the Bill would be a mistake because it would make it harder for Turkey to accede to the EU. Today, we heard points about the European arrest warrant-because, of course, it is he who knows best, and not the British people. Of course, it is the Opposition Front-Bench team who know best-in their minds-and not the British people.
Mr David: The hon. Gentleman has referred to Turkey. I hope that he has not forgotten that, as we discussed yesterday, a referendum on Turkish accession is expressly excluded from the Bill that he is supporting.
The Temporary Chair (Mr Brady): Order. In order to ensure that the voice of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer) is picked up, may I advise him to address the microphone and the Committee more directly? That would be helpful.
As the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr David) knows, my general point is that the comments the Opposition Members have made today betray the fact that they do not trust the British people with these decisions. They said, "Well, of course, we could put a whole series of things to a referendum". But this is the point: it is about the transference not of decision making, but of powers by treaty to an outside body. Whether in their attitude to the European constitution-it is odd to try to force a constitution on the British people and a nation that does not have a constitution-or whether on the Lisbon treaty, on which a referendum was promised but not given, at every single point, the Labour party has shown its contempt for what the people want. In the course of that, it has damaged the very European project that it supports. For instance, it makes it very difficult to make the argument for the European arrest warrant-it actually helped one of my constituents in a moment of great difficulty, as I mentioned earlier-because every time it is rightly perceived to be a decision by people who think they know best but who do not trust the people with the arguments.
Emma Reynolds: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is very gracious. Is it not the case that the Conservative Government in the 1980s and 1990s agreed to massive transfers of powers, without a referendum, from Westminster to Brussels in the form of the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty? Is it not also the case that in our lifetime-in fact, since 1973-no Conservative Government have granted the people of this country a referendum? We actually have quite a good track record on referendums in this country-we granted many on devolution and one on membership of the European Union in 1975-but no Conservative Government have ever done such a thing.
Ben Gummer: The hon. Lady, who made an excellent speech earlier-I believe-said then that she had not read the 1973 Conservative manifesto. Well, I am of a similar age-I think-and I cannot stand here and answer for the actions of previous Conservative Governments, except to say that every one of those Acts and treaties was prefigured in a Conservative party manifesto. The difference between the Labour and Conservative parties is that we were promised a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, but did not get one. We were also promised a referendum on the euro, which is why the relevant provision is in the Bill. Had we decided to join the euro, that referendum would never have happened, because we did not have one on the Lisbon treaty. The Labour party would have been true to form.
The hon. Lady asked what the need was for the passerelle protection in the Bill and why would we not just veto each action at the Council of Ministers. The answer is precisely this: although we can trust the coalition Government not to transfer powers, if and when the Opposition show themselves capable of government, we will not be able to trust them precisely because on two occasions they failed to do what they should have.
Emma Reynolds: First, if our Government had decided that the economic conditions were right to go into the euro, which we did not, we would have given the British people a vote on that, because it would have been a significant monetary change. On the hon. Gentleman's second point, I did make the remarks to which he has referred, but I do not think they are as significant as he claims.
Ben Gummer: I thank the hon. Lady for that, but the British people have lost their trust in what the Opposition say on matters European. The Opposition's only contribution to this debate is one pathetic amendment-amendment 100-which does nothing to address the needs of their constituents, providing no constructive proposal whatever, unlike so many that my hon. Friends have proposed.
What the Opposition do not understand-and what I think many on the Government Benches do-is the entirely radical nature of this Bill. It will fundamentally change the relationship between the people of this country-our constituents-and the European Union, and in so doing will change the functioning of the European Union. It is without doubt one of the more exciting Bills to be put before the House by the coalition Government, and I support it wholeheartedly.
Mr Lidington: Clause 6 lists those decisions that would always require approval by an Act of Parliament and a referendum. Most of the amendments that we have been considering today seek to add new provisions to clause 6. I want to try to do justice to each amendment and to the various topics that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have raised in this debate.
Let me turn first to the issue of citizenship, which is the subject of amendment 54, as well as the consequential amendment 55, both tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall). The amendments would mean that if a decision under article 25 of the TFEU were to add to or strengthen the list of rights for citizens of member states in the European Union contained in article 20(2) of that treaty, there would have to be a referendum before the United Kingdom could agree to it. I understand my hon. Friend's concerns, and he is right to say that the question of citizenship is important and sensitive. However, where I took issue with him was when he suggested that there was no limit to the ability of the European Union to confer new rights upon European citizens. There are a number of such limits specified in the treaties. Article 20(1) of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union states:
"Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to and not replace national citizenship."
"exercised in accordance with the conditions and limits defined by the Treaties".
Article 25 is not a new article, but it does concern a sensitive issue, and that is why the Bill proposes to strengthen parliamentary scrutiny of this important
ratchet clause and to require that an Act of Parliament be passed before a Minister could notify approval by this country of a Council decision extending the rights attaching to EU citizenship.
That is also the reason-I hope that this will give my hon. Friend some assurance-why the Bill puts a referendum lock on any proposal that the United Kingdom give up its veto over article 25. We have also put a referendum lock on any proposal that the UK should give up other vetoes in the treaty chapter on citizenship of the Union, such as its veto over the arrangements for allowing EU citizens to vote in local elections or the arrangements for allowing people to stand and vote in European parliamentary elections. However, we do not believe that we need a referendum before agreeing to legislation to strengthen or to add to the rights of citizens of member states under article 25, because such legislation can be made only within existing competence. If there were any proposal to change the treaty to extend those areas of competence on which the rights of EU citizens could be based, such a treaty change proposal would be caught automatically by clause 4 and its requirement for a referendum before any extension of or addition to European Union competence.
My hon. Friends the Members for Witham (Priti Patel) and for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) both spoke about the common fisheries policy, as did the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell). In addressing amendment 81, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Witham, I acknowledge from the start that the Government completely accept that the common fisheries policy has major problems-or, in plain English, that it has failed and continues to fail. It has failed to deliver on conservation and has not protected fish stocks. At the same time, it has failed to provide an adequate sustainable living for our fishing communities. That is why the United Kingdom has been at the forefront in calling for radical reform of the policy. The Fisheries Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), will be pressing for fundamental changes to the policy at the forthcoming negotiations, to simplify and decentralise fisheries management. However, as was pointed out in an intervention from the Democratic Unionist Benches, when we talk about decentralisation, it is important that we take account of the interests of the devolved Administrations in the different parts of the United Kingdom.
What we are pressing for will mean member states taking more responsibility for management decisions, and working together regionally to agree appropriate measures. It will also mean giving member states the tools to apply conservation measures, and holding them to account for implementing these, regardless of which nations fish in their waters. A draft proposal for reform of the CFP is due to be published in May or June this year, but so far there is no indication, in any of the many discussions that have taken place on the subject, that the Commission will propose changes to the powers
of member states in relation to nautical limits. I can assure my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Great Grimsby that the Government would vigorously oppose any such move on the part of the Commission.
However, in respect of amendment 81, I should say to my hon. Friend the Member for Witham that, for better or worse, the European Union has had competence over fisheries matters for more than 30 years, so there is no transfer of competence from the UK to the EU involved here. Changes to the CFP are agreed by qualified majority voting and co-decision with the European Parliament. Amendment 81 could therefore result in a referendum being held on a decision that this country could not subsequently block.
Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend feel that if amendment 81 were accepted and there were a vote, and if nothing could then be done as a result of such a referendum, it would undermine the confidence of the British people in a fantastic Bill?
Mr Lidington: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is therefore important that we focus the referendum lock on those decisions that are of real significance to the people we represent. I understand why my hon. Friend the Member for Witham has tabled amendment 81, which has provided us with a good opportunity to debate a subject about which she cares passionately, but it would not achieve the objective that she and other Members who want reform of the CFP are seeking.
Amendments 36, 37 and 38 would add any decision by the United Kingdom to vote in favour of, or otherwise support, measures brought forward under the justice and home affairs ratchet clauses contained in articles 81(3), 82(2)(d) and 83(1) of the TFEU to the list of measures subject to the safeguard requirements contained in clause 6 of the Bill. Amendment 40 has a similar effect to amendment 36, but seeks to achieve it by adding article 81(3) to the list of treaty provisions in schedule 1. What those amendments seek is a referendum, rather than such provisions being made under the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison), speaking in support of the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), broadened the debate into matters of justice and home affairs more generally. I hope that we will get the opportunity to debate those matters tomorrow, but I will respond briefly to the important points that he made. I know that his concerns are shared by many other Members.
On justice and home affairs opt-ins, we are talking about something that, like it or not, is a matter of existing European Union competence. However, where we have a choice, we cannot be compelled to take part in a particular measure. Furthermore-this affects how we deal with our systems for requiring scrutiny and accountability-where there is a three-month time limit, during which the United Kingdom has to decide whether to take part in the final negotiations on the shape of the legislative measure, that will impose a practical limit on what we can do while still keeping open the option on whether to join in.
I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere that the policy of the coalition is to consider on a case-by-case basis whether we should opt into a
measure or not, and to judge each decision on its merits. There will be occasions when it will be in the national interest of the United Kingdom for us to take part. I would use the example of passenger name records to illustrate that. The United Kingdom Government are pressing the Commission and other member states to introduce measures on that, because we, along with the Government of the United States and a number of European partners, believe that such a measure would help all European countries and the international community generally to strengthen our counter-terrorist policies and provide a means of giving greater assurance of safety to our citizens when they travel by air. So we need to look at these measures on a case-by-case basis.
On scrutiny, as I said in my written ministerial statement of last Thursday, we are proposing not to reduce or limit existing scrutiny powers but to add to them. The minimum that the Government would offer is a written ministerial statement on each decision and, for more important measures, an oral statement. When there was an especially strong parliamentary interest, the Government would commit to setting aside their time for a debate in both Houses on a motion supporting the Government's approach. Such a motion would, of course, be amendable.
I believe that it would generally be right for such debates to be called when it was proposed to opt into a measure that would have a substantial impact on this country's civil or criminal law, on our national security or on our immigration policy. I can say to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere that it is certainly our view that, under the policy that I announced last week, the European investigation order would indeed have been referred for a debate of that kind. As he knows, the Commons scrutiny Committee had not been fully constituted when that decision had to be taken within the three-month time limit. I know that the Government were uneasy about the fact that the non-existence of the Committee meant that we could not go through the appropriate scrutiny procedures.
In sorting out the details of these matters and putting flesh on the policy that I outlined last week, there will be a need for the Government to talk to Parliament, and to the scrutiny Committees in particular, about exactly how we translate this policy into practical action. There will also be a need to deal with matters such as recess periods and periods of Dissolution. On the question of override, there will, I am afraid, occasionally be cases in which an early opt-in decision is required. There has been one such case this year, in which it was in our interests to opt into the EU-US agreement on the terrorist finance tracking programme, and we had to do that before the completion of scrutiny. We do not ever take those decisions lightly, and we always seek to keep Parliament informed when the risk of an override exists. To that end, we need to establish how these new arrangements will be managed, especially during periods of recess.
I shall now respond in more detail to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry. In practical terms, although the UK could block any attempt to move article 81(3) to QMV using either treaty revision procedure, we could not block the result being achieved through the use of the specific ratchet clause in article 81(3). We would simply be ejected from the measure under
article 3(2) of the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice protocol, and the other member states would continue without the UK. So, in the unlikely event of the UK seeking to use either revision procedure to move article 81(3) to QMV, we could veto that and block the treaty change, but all that would happen, assuming that other member states wanted to go ahead, is that the EU would use the ratchet clause to change the legislative procedure without UK participation. On that basis, it does not seem sensible to put a referendum lock on the use of either of the treaty revision procedures to move the article 81(3) legal base to QMV, because it would not have the desired effect of stopping a move to QMV for individual measures of family law.
Article 82(2)(d) enables the Council to add to the list of issues that can be made subject to EU legislation on criminal law procedures, and article 83(1) allows for additions to the list of criminal offences where the EU can set minimum standards. The exercise of those two articles is already foreseen; they are known entities. They add to what can be done within existing areas of EU competence, rather than creating new competences, and we expect them to be used in relatively obscure areas. For example, on the criminal side, there is a possibility that a proposal will be introduced to use the ratchet to add the crime of female genital mutilation to the list of serious crimes, where the EU can set minimum standards under article 83(1) of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. We will have the choice whether to opt in or not, in line with Government policy. If we wished to opt in, each House would have to agree that it could do so within the three-month period and, before the UK could finally sign up to such a proposal, there would have to be an Act of Parliament. Should we decide not to opt into the negotiations but later decide to opt into the final decision, there would then need to be an Act of Parliament before we could do so. We believe that that is the correct level of control for such decisions, and a considerable increase on the present amount of control provided for under the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008, under which the Lisbon treaty was approved.
I turn now to enhanced co-operation. I might want to write to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere at greater length on this, given the limited time available to me now. I can tell him, however, that we have provided that, if the UK is participating in an area of enhanced co-operation that touches on one or more of the treaty provisions listed in schedule 1 and there is a proposal to use the ratchet to allow a move from unanimity to QMV, an Act of Parliament would need to be passed and the proposed move supported in a referendum before the UK could agree to that proposal.
My hon. Friend's amendment 13 would mean that, if the UK wanted to join in legislation agreed under an enhanced co-operation arrangement after that legislation had already been agreed by others, a referendum would be required if the smaller group had already decided to move to QMV on an article listed in schedule 1. The reason for the different approach that we are proposing in those circumstances is that the UK would be deciding whether to participate in enhanced co-operation on a specific piece of legislation, rather than on a whole area of policy, and we would be taking that decision in the full knowledge of what had already been agreed. We would be deciding freely whether to take part-we
could not be forced to take part-and we would take that decision in the knowledge that any future negotiation to amend that legislation would also have to be done on the basis of QMV.
That is different from taking a decision to move to QMV in the middle of a negotiation on a piece of legislation being agreed under enhanced co-operation to which we were already committed to taking part. That could lead to us being outvoted on the final piece of legislation, having gone into the process under different circumstances altogether. Any such decision, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere, would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny in the customary way. I am certainly prepared, in the context of the broader reform of scrutiny that I announced last week, to look at the particular point that he raised.
The official Opposition's amendment 100 is simply unnecessary. The policy on the patent is already subject to qualified majority voting, apart from two areas that are subject to unanimity. We propose that those should require an Act of Parliament, not a referendum.
To my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), I say that we are not happy with the position on the European financial stability mechanism; it is one that we inherited from the previous Government. Our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister fought hard-and successfully-at the European Council to make sure that article 122 was extinguished for the future as a source of bail-outs for other countries. I ask my hon. Friend to recognise, in turn, that the stability of the eurozone, and the eurozone's success in solving its serious problems, are in our interests, too.
'and for the purposes of subsection (2A) as references to a notification'.- (Mr Lidington .)
'except in the field of EU patents'.- (Emma Reynolds .)
It would be helpful if, by way of introduction, I gave a brief explanation of our approach to how the referendum provisions in the Bill would work-the referendum mechanics, in other words. I stress that provision for the conduct of UK referendums on all issues, including those in the Bill, is set out in the
Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. That statute covers the overall regulatory framework applying to referendums and sets conditions in relation to the referendum period, the date of the poll, the wording of questions, the role of the Electoral Commission in commenting on the intelligibility of those questions to ensure that questions are "clear, simple and neutral", and the conditions to be set in relation to the registration of campaign organisations and for financial and other assistance to be given to designated individuals or organisations. For this purpose, the Act allows the Electoral Commission to designate one individual or organisation for each possible outcome of a particular referendum, which could include political parties, and to award them a public grant of up to £600,000 and other benefits.
In addition, the provisions of the PPERA impose financial controls on the expenditure and income of campaigning individuals or organisations that are not political parties. They place controls on referendum publications by Government and others, and make provision for enabling secondary legislation to be made for the conduct of referendum polls. Those provisions in the PPERA would apply to any referendum conducted under the terms of the Bill and, as the Committee knows, the referendum proposed in the Bill on the parliamentary voting system. Similarly, any amendment to, or replacement of, the PPERA in the future would correspondingly apply to any referendums held under the Bill.
The PPERA, however, does not cover matters that are inherently specific to a particular referendum. Those include the precise wording of the question, the date of the referendum, its franchise, or the precise length of what is termed the referendum period, which is that period during which campaign expenditure is regulated. The Act does not cover how challenges to the referendum result are to be handled, the payment of counting officers, or the conduct of the referendum-for example, decisions on locations, opening hours of polling stations, permitted size of posters and any electoral offences related to the holding of a referendum.
When considering how many of these specific issues to address in the Bill and how many to leave for a specific Bill at the time of a particular referendum, the Government took account of our commitment in the coalition agreement that there would be no further transfer of competence or power from the United Kingdom to the EU over the course of this Parliament. Logically, therefore, there will be no referendums about the transfer of competence or power until 2015 at the earliest, as there would be no such transfers on which the British people should be asked to opine. But as I made clear in earlier debates on the Bill, any proposed treaty change even during this Parliament would none the less be subject to the rigours of this legislation-a statement would have to be laid before Parliament setting out the Government's analysis on competence and whether any transfers of power would result, and that treaty change would still require Parliament's clear approval through primary legislation.
May I take the Minister back to what he was saying about the Electoral Commission and possible financial support to those putting forward a case for or against an issue under consideration? A referendum is due to take place in Wales on 3 March and, because
there is no recognised body advocating a no vote, no finances are being given in that direction, but that means that no finances have been given to those who support a yes vote. Could a similar thing happen to any referendums that the Minister is outlining?
Mr Lidington: We would certainly want to avoid that and would look at the experience that the hon. Gentleman describes. It is important to recall that the principle of grants being made available for lead campaign organisations was recommended by the independent Committee on Standard in Public Life and approved by Parliament in legislation passed under the previous Labour Government in 2000. I hope that he agrees that it would not be in the public interest for one side in a referendum campaign to be able to outspend the other hugely. A grant ensures that both lead campaign organisations can campaign effectively and that helps the public make an informed choice.
I emphasise that the Bill is not intended to serve as a vehicle for providing for all the detailed referendum rules required to supplement the provisions already contained in the PPERA. That is because we cannot anticipate exactly what referendums might be required in the future, when they would be held or, indeed, what the relevant electoral and referendum law would look like at that time. I do not want to write on tablets of stone arrangements that could prove to be at odds with a subsequent change in general electoral legislation. Therefore, we cannot provide everything on the convening of those specific referendums in the Bill. Rather, it sets out the circumstances in which those referendums would have to be held.
Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): On the issue of who can vote in referendums, I notice that specific mention is made of the right of the people of Gibraltar to have a say in a referendum. It seems to me that they would like to be part of the United Kingdom for many purposes when it comes to European matters. Would it not be right to allow them more of a chance to have a say?
Mr Lidington: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Of course, we must look at the question of whether the franchise for a particular referendum should include the people of Gibraltar in the context of whether it would affect Gibraltar. As he will appreciate, although Gibraltar is in most respects treated as part of the EU, some parts of the treaties do not apply to it. It is therefore right that the Bill specifies that the electorate in a referendum should include the people of Gibraltar when the subject matter of that referendum also applies to them. To provide further reassurance, I call tell him that I have consulted the Chief Minister of Gibraltar formally and discussed the matter with him face to face, and he has assured me that he is content with the arrangements for Gibraltar as set out in the Bill.
Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): This is not the time to talk about changes to the Representation of the People Act 2000, although it is probably the place, but the Minister will be aware of the great concern here and in the country about extending the right to vote to prisoners. My understanding from the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights is that that applies only to general and European Parliament elections, so is it not possible to include in the Bill a specific disfranchisement of prisoners, who otherwise would have an opportunity to vote on constitutional matters?
Mr Lidington: As my hon. Friend knows, the Government are considering how to comply with the Court's decision. Article 3 of the first protocol of the European convention on human rights sets out the right to vote in elections. Importantly, that right extends to elections to legislatures, within the meaning of article 3, so we are not under an obligation to enfranchise prisoners for local elections or referendums, and the policy is that we will not do so. The Government accept the need, as did our predecessor, to change the law to give some prisoners the vote in the light of the Court's judgment. The right to vote will be restricted to UK Westminster parliamentary and European Parliament elections only.
Charlie Elphicke: The European Court of Human Rights ruled on prisoner voting in, I believe, Hirst v. the United Kingdom. Despite what my right hon. Friend says, and given that case, how can we be confident that an element of judicial activism will not enable prisoners to vote on a referendum question?
Mr Lidington: My hon. Friend is perfectly right to be alert to any sign of judicial activism, but I assure him that one thing that will be very much on the mind of our right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Justice is to devise a policy that takes us forward in compliance with the judgment while keeping to the minimum the risks that my hon. Friend fears.
We recognise the need to ensure that Parliament and the British people have a degree of clarity now about any referendums that will take place under this Bill in future. We want to provide as much clarity as we can from the outset in order to reduce any scope for wriggle-room, and we therefore propose specific measures in this Bill to ensure that any referendums held under it are to some extent standardised. Clauses 11 to 13 include three mechanical provisions for every referendum to be held in future.
Clause 11 concerns the franchise for any future referendum held under the terms of the Bill. The most appropriate franchise for future referendums on questions of transfers of competence or powers from this country to the EU is one based on that for elections to this House, rather than on that for either local government elections or European parliamentary elections, for example. If we were to adopt an alternative franchise, we would allow for voting by citizens of other European Union countries resident in the UK, and that would sit rather oddly with the principle of having the British people decide on whether they wish to pursue further transfers of power from their country to Brussels.
I do not know whether this delights my hon. Friend, but peers would be able to vote in a referendum; it might well delight Members of the other place. The purpose of the referendum would be to obtain views about the transfer of competence or power from the UK to the European Union, and the Government do not consider there to be a strong, principled reason for excluding peers from expressing their views as part
of such an exercise. We therefore propose the same franchise as that used for the European Economic Community referendum in 1975 and that which will be used for the referendum on the voting system for UK parliamentary elections, namely the parliamentary franchise plus peers.
Charlie Elphicke: One concern that I have about using the referendum mechanism is that it does not contain thresholds. Recently we had before this House a Bill, which has become jammed in another place, where thresholds were discussed. Does the Minister not think that, in the case under discussion, thresholds might surely be worth considering?
In response to my hon. Friend, I mentioned the Government's reasons why the franchise should be extended, where relevant, to Gibraltar, but it is worth me explaining, because there has been some concern in the House, why people from the Crown dependencies and British overseas territories will not be included in the franchise. Very little EU law applies to the Crown dependencies, mainly because of the provisions of our Act of accession to the then EEC in 1972, and also because of the current provisions of the European Union treaties. By virtue of article 355(5)(c) of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, the European Union treaties apply to the Crown dependencies, but only to the extent described in protocol 3, which provides that EU rules on customs matters and quantitative restrictions apply to the Crown dependencies
"under the same conditions as they apply to the United Kingdom",
Provisions on the free movement of persons and services do not apply to the Crown dependencies. The people of the dependencies benefit from those provisions in the rest of the EU only if they have close ties with the UK-for example if they, their parent or grandparent were born, adopted or naturalised in the UK, or if they have
"at any time been ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom for five years."
The Crown dependencies neither contribute to nor are eligible to benefit from EU funds. They are not subject to EU measures on taxation, nor are they for any purposes within the EU's fiscal territory. Unlike the citizens of Gibraltar, citizens of the Crown dependencies do not vote in European parliamentary elections.
Overseas territories other than Gibraltar are not members of the European Union, but all apart from Bermuda and the sovereign base areas have a special relationship or association with the European Union.
That association is enshrined in European legislation, most recently in the Council's 2001 overseas association decision, under which qualifying territories are eligible for European development fund finance. Neither the Crown dependencies nor the overseas territories are looking for closer political integration with the EU, and through official-level engagement with colleagues in the Crown dependencies, we have not received any representations to consider their inclusion in the franchise for any referendum conducted in accordance with this legislation.
"A person who is entitled to vote in a parliamentary election in the UK must be a British citizen, Commonwealth citizen, a citizen of the Republic of Ireland or a British citizen who qualifies as an overseas elector."
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is rather strange that all those classes of people will be entitled to vote under the Bill, but not necessarily, from what he has said, people from British overseas territories?
Mr Lidington: Our position is that people who are resident in the United Kingdom and who are enfranchised for general elections will count legally as UK nationals for European purposes. That is the electorate, with the addition of peers, that we envisage for any referendum that is required under the terms of the Bill. The distinction that I tried to make earlier-I apologise to my hon. Friend if I did not explain myself with sufficient clarity-was between Gibraltarians living in Gibraltar, who would be entitled to vote if the subject matter of the referendum affected Gibraltar, and citizens of Crown dependencies or British overseas territories living in those places. An analogy might be made between those people and citizens of Gibraltar, but as I have tried to explain, the relationship of the Crown dependencies and other British overseas territories with the EU is very different from that enjoyed by Gibraltar.
Charlie Elphicke: I hate to press the cause of the people of Gibraltar, but I understand that for the purposes of elections to the European Parliament, the people of Gibraltar are able to vote for Members of the European Parliament for the south-west region. Given that they can vote in elections for that Parliament for all purposes in the European arena, surely they should be able to vote on referendum questions for all purposes.
Mr Lidington: No, I think that we have drawn a fair distinction by saying that it is right to confine the electorate for a referendum that does not affect Gibraltar to people in the UK who are entitled to vote in UK elections, and to say that Gibraltar should be allowed to vote when the issue in question affects it. I repeat to my hon. Friend that the Chief Minister of Gibraltar has assured me that he is perfectly content with what we are proposing.
The franchise proposed in clause 11 is also referred to elsewhere in the Bill, namely in clauses 2 and 3. I believe that what we propose is proportionate and justified to ensure that citizens in both the UK and Gibraltar who would be affected by a treaty change, or by a decision that would transfer power or competence from this country to the EU, could express their view in a referendum.
Emma Reynolds: I have just two questions of clarification for the Minister and to ask him whether he can confirm that the Government will not repeat the recent mistakes on the alternative vote referendum. First, will they commit to consulting the devolved Administrations regarding the timing of any referendum triggered by the Bill? Secondly, will he make a commitment today that any such referendum would not take place on the same day as the devolved Assemblies elections?
Mr Lidington: We will not give a commitment about specific dates for referendums that are not going to be held before 2015 at the earliest. There are advantages and disadvantages to holding referendums on the same days as other elections, and it is certainly considerably less expensive to the taxpayer if a referendum can be combined with a ballot for other purposes.
Nick Boles (Grantham and Stamford) (Con): In the United States, where much more use is made of local referendums in states such as California, do not such votes almost always take place on the same day as gubernatorial, mayoral or House of Representatives elections? What America understands, which we somehow fail to understand, is that people are perfectly capable of distinguishing between different questions and quite like being asked to go to the polls only once.
Mr Lidington: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I suspect that a number of Members of all parties can recall occasions when both a general election and a local government election of some kind have been held on the same day in the same place. We have found that our electors have been perfectly capable of deciding to split the ticket if that is what they wish to do.
Mr Dodds: As far as Northern Ireland is concerned-I cannot speak for Scotland or Wales-the objection has always been to the idea of a general election for Westminster and for the Northern Ireland Assembly on the same date. There has not really been the same objection to holding a referendum or a local government election on the same date as the Northern Ireland Assembly election. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) about people not having to go out to vote over and over again, and we have certainly had plenty of experience of that in Northern Ireland over the years.
The other point that a future Government would have to bear in mind in determining a referendum date would be whether there was any particular urgency to a treaty or passerelle proposal that required a referendum. In normal circumstances the various national ratification procedures take quite a bit of time, and if there were a proposal under the ordinary revision proposal, it is probable that more than one member state would have to have a referendum. There would therefore be quite a long period between agreement at European Council level and ratification by all 27 member states, or more by then, I hope. However, it is conceivable that there may be a particular need for urgency, and the Government of the day would have to bear that in mind.
The other point that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) made was about the relationship with the devolved Administrations. The Government take that seriously, and we have regular formal meetings with them about Europe through the joint ministerial committee on Europe. I am also in contact with Ministers in each of the devolved Administrations. I can assure her and the Committee that they never hesitate to bring their concerns to me. We would certainly want to continue that process of consultation, bearing their interests in mind.
Mr David: I welcome the Minister's partial reassurance, but may I press him on it? The important thing is for this Government proactively to lead consultation with the devolved Administrations. He should not simply wait for them to make representations to him.
Mr Lidington: We try to do both. We in the Government can pride ourselves on enjoying a rather better relationship with the devolved Administrations than the previous Government were usually able to manage.
Mr Dodds: It is key not only that Ministers from the devolved regions make representations and that the Minister proactively instigates consultation, but that when representations are made, they are listened to and taken seriously, and that the respect agenda is followed.
Mr Lidington: The right hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly fair point. He will know that the Prime Minister personally takes the respect agenda very seriously and that he is determined that his Government pursue it. I hope that the Committee agrees to clause 11.
Mr Lidington: Clause 12 provides that separate questions should be set out on a referendum ballot paper in specified circumstances. You will not need reminding, Mr Hoyle, that it is this Government's clear commitment not to agree to any treaty change or decision to transfer power or competence during this Parliament, but if and when the time comes to hold a referendum under the Bill, nothing in the legislation prevents more than one referendum from being held on separate but coincident treaties or decisions on the same day, or the combination of a referendum with another poll.
As the Committee is aware, a combined poll is the Government's intention when it comes to the referendum on the parliamentary voting system. As I explained in relation to a previous clause, the rules that govern whether such a combination could take place for referendums under the Bill are provided for in the overarching legislation-the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000-and we recognise that the Electoral Commission would have an opinion on what combinations would be feasible.
There are considerable savings to be made in terms of money, disruption and people's time if polls are combined, but in addition, as my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) pointed out, the electorate often wish to combine different voting opportunities on a single day. People do not really relish the task of having to traipse to the polling station more frequently than they regard as necessary.
The Electoral Commission has previously said that it would consider on a case-by-case basis proposals to combine different ballots on the same day. The Government believe that that is a sensible approach. We therefore do not seek to make any specific provision in the Bill, particularly as we do not know at this stage when any future referendums will be proposed.
Clause 12 would ensure-should more than one referendum be proposed for the same day-that it is not possible to set a single combined question on all of the issues to be decided upon that day. People have a right to the utmost clarity and choice, and the clause sets a standard that we intend will provide that.
To give an example, if a future Government ever took the step of proposing that the United Kingdom should join the single currency, and separately took the decision to give up our border controls, and if those two referendums were to be held on the same day for reasons of efficiency, the question on joining the euro would be separate from the question on giving up our border controls. There would be two separate questions on the ballot paper and two separate results, because obviously, some people might wish to support one proposition but to oppose the other.
Mr Nuttall: I can quite easily see how it would be a significant saving to the public purse to have more than one referendum held on the same day, and I have no doubt that our fellow citizens are more than capable of determining two complex questions at the same time and on the same day. Does my hon. Friend agree that, for ease of counting if for nothing else, it would be preferable if the two questions put before the electorate were on separate ballot papers, possibly even of differently coloured paper? That would make it far easier for the returning officers to sort the ballot papers and determine the outcome of the ballot.
Mr Lidington: My hon. Friend makes a sensible suggestion, and I am sure that the Government of the day and the Electoral Commission would wish to take it into account in framing the rules for any particular referendum or combination of referendums.
"a separate question must be included on the ballot paper"-
singular. If this clause is passed in its current form, we will not have the flexibility or freedom to have a separate arrangement. Having separate ballots is a good idea, given the experience in Scotland at the last Assembly and parliamentary elections, when the fact that there were different elections on the same ballot paper was the problem.
Mr Lidington: There is a principle in the interpretation of the law that the singular can include the plural. If the wording proved to be an obstacle to what the Government of the day and the Electoral Commission considered to be the best way to operate a referendum, it would certainly be open for a change to be made in the Bill authorising the referendum. I am prepared to have a look at that question between now and Report. I am reasonably confident that we would not run into the problems that the right hon. Gentleman described, but I am prepared to seek detailed advice and come back to it on Report.
Christopher Pincher: I suspect that the number of occasions on which multiple referendum questions are on the ballot paper will be quite rare, but on those occasions will the Government agree to spend more money to publicise the referendum and allow campaigning organisations more money to spend campaigning for or against the questions? The more questions on the ballot paper, the more complex the issues are and the more money needs to be spent to explain them.
Mr Lidington: That is one of the very good reasons for not trying to cover all the ground in this Bill. That kind of detail will be a matter for the application of the 2000 Act or its successor statute, and for the Government of the day to authorise a referendum or combination of referendums. That might depend, for example, on whether one lead campaign organisation could be said fairly to represent the views of the yes or no camp on more than one referendum, or whether separate lead organisations were needed. It is reasonable for my hon. Friend to ask those questions, but answers to them can be provided only when we come to consider a specific case in due course.
Mr Nuttall: Does that not lead us to the interesting question of whether there is a practical maximum number of referendums that could be held on the same day? I can understand how we could deal with two, but it gets rather complicated if there are more than two. We could have three different organisations with three separate streams of funding from the Electoral Commission, and soon the whole thing would begin to look rather unwieldy.
Mr Lidington: Although one can never guarantee against the utterly implausible happening, the scenario that my hon. Friend describes would require a commitment of political energy on the part of every EU member state, because the decisions subject to a referendum require unanimity among member state Governments. Furthermore, he assumes that the UK Government of the time would be prepared to accept and recommend to the people three different treaty changes, or the implementation of three different passerelle clauses, or some combination of those on a single occasion. That is unlikely in the extreme.
A more plausible scenario-although I do not think, from talking to my colleagues on the Council of Ministers, that people have any appetite for this at the moment-if European countries wanted an ambitious treaty change covering a number of different competencies, would be to seek treaty amendment through the ordinary revision procedure. That is the instrument available to the EU for an ambitious, wide-ranging treaty change along the
pattern of Lisbon, Nice, Amsterdam and Maastricht. In those circumstances, the total proposal for a treaty amendment-regardless of which city it was named after-would be the subject of a single referendum question. It is most unlikely, therefore, that there would be a multiplicity of narrowly focused referendum questions, given the availability of that instrument.
Nick Boles: On a related point, it is dangerous ever to underestimate the deviousness of those who wish to build the grand European project-of course, they are entirely honourable in this, because they believe that their aims are honourable. However, would it not be conceivable that a Government-a future Labour Government, probably-who wanted, for example to set up a set of common European defence forces to replace our national defence forces, might agree a treaty in which they also agreed to repeal the common fisheries policy, which Conservative Members would strongly support? Would we then have a single vote on a single treaty that combined some elements that this country would strongly support and other elements that it would find very difficult? Or would the Government still be able to separate the different elements of the treaty and ask separate questions?
Mr Lidington: No, in the circumstances that my hon. Friend describes, in which an omnibus treaty amendment is delivered under the ordinary revision procedure, there would be a single question. It would be ridiculous for the Government to present that to the people as a number of different questions, because the Government, on behalf of the United Kingdom, would have to ratify the entire package en bloc, or refuse to ratify it en bloc. The negotiation would have resulted in a compromise among member states on something to which they all felt able to give their assent, and they would all have to be accountable to their respective electorates for that overall decision.
Mr Lidington: As I said in response to an earlier intervention, if different decisions about treaty amendments were being taken at roughly the same time-I imagine that they would be either passerelle clause decisions or simplified revision procedure decisions-it might well be sensible to combine the referendums on those measures on the same day. The public would get pretty impatient with Parliament if we suggested that should they pop down to the polling station every other Thursday to put their cross in the box for yet another referendum proposal. They would quite rightly be asking why we were requiring their local authorities, as the electoral registration authorities-and ultimately them as taxpayers-to go to such expense and bother on so many different occasions. I would suggest to my hon. Friend that common sense would prevail, regardless of which party was in office.
If my hon. Friend will allow me, I want to make a bit of progress. In particular, I want to deliver a bit of good news to the right hon. Member for
Belfast North (Mr Dodds), to whom I am always pleased to give good news. Advice has reached me that confirms the point that I made to him somewhat tentatively when I responded to his intervention. The law does indeed make it clear that when it comes to the interpretation of statutes, the singular can be interpreted to mean the plural. Under the language that we have used in the clause, it will be possible to have either one ballot paper with multiple questions or several different ballot papers, depending on the circumstances at the time. That would obviously be a detailed decision that the Government of the day would have to make, taking, I would very much hope, the advice of the Electoral Commission into account.
It should be noted that neither clause 12 nor any other clause in the Bill sets any other explicit parameters on the framing of the question. However, it is a condition separately in clauses 2, 3 and 6 that, for a proposal in a referendum to be passed, the majority of those voting should be in favour of the ratification of the treaty or approval of the decision, whichever it may be. That condition would logically require that the question be framed as a simple choice between two options, rather than a menu of options to which the responses would be much more difficult to interpret. In other words, it is implicit in the Bill that the question would be a binary one. It is the Government's clear view that this should be the case for all and any referendums held under the provisions of the Bill.
Mr Nuttall: On the binary question, and whether we should have no/yes or yes/no, does the Minister agree that it is rather unusual that whereas individuals standing in an election are listed on the ballot paper in alphabetical order based on their surnames, when it comes to a referendum, for some reason the yes comes before the no? That is rather odd. I think that the no should be first and that the yes should come second.
Mr Lidington: I am sure that my hon. Friend means well, but I would urge him to have more confidence in our fellow citizens. In particular, I would point him to the referendum on the proposed assembly for the north-east of England. A yes vote was strongly supported by the then Labour Government, as well as enjoying the support of quite a number of public organisations in the north-east of England, but the proposition was resoundingly rejected by the public when it came to the ballot in that region. It is a good old Tory principle to trust the people, and I think that we should be content with that.
Mr Nuttall: I want to make it absolutely clear that I entirely agree with the principle of trusting the people. I have no doubt whatever that the people of this country are more than capable of working out which is which. I just thought it was rather odd that the "yes" should appear above the "no", and I wondered whether there was any reason why that should be so.
As far as I am aware, there is no particular reason for it. However, the Electoral Commission will have a duty to comment on the question that the Government of the day have chosen, and I am sure that, if the Commission felt that placing "yes" above "no" gave an unfair advantage in some way, it would so opine and the Government would take account of that. It is
quite difficult to envisage a ballot paper that did not have either "yes" or "no" at the top of the paper. At the end of the day, it comes down to a choice by the people: they have two options available to them, and I think that they will know which side they are on when it comes to the vote.
Mr David: I am tempted to ask the Minister whether Welsh will appear above English on the ballot papers in Wales, but I will not. Is there anything in the legislation that would prevent the Government from going back to the electorate if a no vote had been secured when the Government clearly wanted a yes vote? Could the question be put to the electorate for a second time, and, if so, what period would have to elapse before that could happen?
Mr Lidington: The Bill makes it very clear that the referendum condition has to be satisfied, in the circumstances in which the law requires a referendum to be held, before the Government are able to ratify the proposed treaty. I simply do not believe that any British Government who had been defeated at a referendum would then come forward and say to their electorate, "No, you've got it wrong. Let's dissolve the people and have a new one!" That really does not make political sense.
Mr Lidington: What happened in Ireland was that the Irish Government went back to their EU partners and received various assurances, which were incorporated into a protocol to the treaties. We can debate whether the Irish Government were right or wrong to be satisfied by those assurances, but I actually think that it is a matter for the Irish people, not for me, to decide. In such slightly far-fetched, hypothetical circumstances, were a British Government to do as the hon. Gentleman suggests, they would have to bring the protocol back here and go through the entire process again, including the assessment of the ministerial declaration and the Act of Parliament. There would then have to be a new referendum. I just think that any Government who tried to do that would be punished so severely by the people every time they got the opportunity to go to the ballot box that it would be the last thing on any Minister's mind.
Mr Nuttall: I, too, am conscious of that. The Minister says that the Irish situation was a rare occurrence, but he will be aware that it also occurred in Denmark and France. It is therefore not all that unusual in the European Union for second referendums to be held on the same or a very similar question.
I go back to what I said earlier: I trust the people. If a Government wanted to ask people to vote again, they would have to go through the entire procedure again-assuming that a new protocol or slightly revised treaty wording were involved-as well as
having to persuade a pretty sceptical electorate that they should change their mind. I think that my hon. Friend is at risk of exaggerating the likelihood of those circumstances arising. While I do not think that the loss of a referendum vote on a European treaty amendment should determine whether a Government should fall, it would undoubtedly be a very severe political blow to that Government.
Once this Bill becomes law, I think the pressure will be the reverse of what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North fears, as the pressure will be on any British incumbent Government to be very confident that they can carry support among the electorate for a treaty reform transferring new powers or competences to the European Union before they agree to it at the European Council. The arrangements we are putting in place thus provide safeguards against what my hon. Friend fears.
In any event, the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 requires the Electoral Commission to consider the wording of any referendum question when a Bill to provide for the holding of a poll is introduced in Parliament. In the case of a draft instrument, the Secretary of State is required to consult the Electoral Commission on the wording of the referendum question before any such draft is laid before Parliament for approval, and he or she is then required to lay before each House a report stating any views as to the intelligibility of that question which the Commission has expressed in response to the consultation. We have not sought to disapply that requirement, as we think the Electoral Commission plays an important role in ensuring both the neutrality of the question and that it is correctly and easily understood by voters.
Under PPERA, the Electoral Commission is required to consider the wording of the referendum questions for UK, national and regional referendums and for some local government referendums. Having done so, it is required to publish the statement of its views as soon as practicable and in such a manner as it may determine. Helpfully, the commission has developed guidelines to aid the drafting of intelligible referendum questions. In these, it says that a referendum question should present the options clearly, simply and neutrally so that it is easy to understand, to the point and unambiguous; and should avoid-I hope this helps my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North-encouraging voters to consider one response more favourably than another, and avoid misleading voters. In reaching its conclusions, the Electoral Commission adopts a systematic and thorough approach, which now has the advantage of some considerable experience behind it. It is also important that it publishes a report of methodology to enhance transparency and its credibility.
Clause 12 is thus a proportionate and sustainable provision to ensure that the voice of the British people can be heard on each question asked of the people. That, in turn, will help us with our commitment to rebuild the trust between Government, Parliament and the people, and to reconnect our people with decisions taken in their name on our continuing relationship with the European Union. For those reasons, the clause should stand part of the Bill.
I want to make a few brief points and hope that the Minister will come back to me on them. I note that after the Scottish elections of 2007,
the Gould report concluded that it was preferable for referendum questions not be done as a multiplicity, but to be put separately after separate campaigns. I am particularly concerned because there has been a tendency on the part of some Governments to play somewhat fast and loose on whether there should be a referendum at all or, indeed, in respect of asking loaded questions. We need to be careful to ensure that if there is a combination of questions, the key issues are not edged together and confused, leading to a muddle in the public's minds. That is a serious and substantial concern, so I would be grateful if the Minister would respond to it.
Also, I was not being frivolous when I asked the Minister how much it would cost if referendums were held on separate days-leaving aside the annoyance that voters might feel in being called time and again to the polls.
Mr Lidington: On my hon. Friend's second point, I do not have precise figures. Clearly, our experience of national UK referendums is limited-the last being in 1975, as the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr David) has frequently reminded us today. The referendum on the voting system planned for later this year will no doubt give us some guidance. I am happy to write to my hon. Friend if I acquire any firmer indication of what the costs might be. Clearly, there would be financial advantages in combining more than one poll, whether it be a combination of referendums or of a referendum and a local or devolved election on the same day.
Let me say in fairness to the Gould report, to which my hon. Friend alluded, that although it criticised what happened in 2007, it also recognised that there were benefits in the combination of polls, such as reduced costs and a higher turnout. A well-managed referendum, involving close co-operation between us and the Electoral Commission and others, should allow us to maximise those benefits while avoiding the problems that undoubtedly occurred in 2007. Let me emphasise again, however, that the decision would need to be taken in the future, and would depend on the circumstances at the time.
Mr Lidington: Clause 13 covers the role of the independent Electoral Commission in the administering of any future referendums held under the Bill. The clause would supplement the existing provisions of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. The Neill committee originally suggested the establishment of such a commission to supervise the restrictions on spending by, and donations to, both political parties and third parties.
As I have explained, we have not sought to disapply or replace any of the general provisions of PPERA. There is, of course, nothing to prevent Parliament doing
so in any legislation that might be needed for a referendum in future, in order to reflect the context and the circumstances in which that referendum would be held. Significantly, however, the Act contains no provision to confer on the Electoral Commission power to promote public awareness and understanding of the subject matter of referendums.
We feel that, as part of the Government's firm commitment to helping to rebuild trust and reconnect the British people to decisions made in their name on the European Union, it is important that the administration of any future referendum to be held under this Bill facilitate the understanding and clarity required to enable the British people to make informed decisions on whether or not to approve a treaty change or decision that would transfer power or competence from Britain to Brussels. Clause 13 provides that if a referendum is triggered under the EU Bill, the Electoral Commission has an obligation to take whatever steps it thinks appropriate to promote public awareness of the referendum and how to vote in it.
"may take whatever steps they think appropriate".
Mr Lidington: The Electoral Commission was rightly established as an independent body. I think it important for the Government not to issue instructions to it, and to be seen not to do so. Given that the commission's value to our political process is by virtue of its being a completely independent statutory body, I consider it right for us to give it these new powers without laying down rules requiring it to use them in a particular way. It is for the commission to make its own judgments. How it chooses to promote awareness is rightly a matter for it, but we are giving it a statutory duty to promote awareness before any referendum held under the provisions of the Bill.
"must take whatever steps they think appropriate to promote public awareness"
"may take whatever steps they think appropriate to promote public awareness of the subject-matter of the referendum."
We are seeking to encourage greater participation, and providing clarity so that the people know what they would be voting for regardless of which way they choose to vote. We are following the practice adopted for the North East assembly referendum in 2004, and the approach taken in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill.
If I may, I refer the hon. Member for Caerphilly to the 2003 enabling Act for the north-east regional assemblies referendum. It included clause 8, supplementary to PPERA, on "encouraging voting", and that-
That this House takes note of European Union Document Second Revision of the Cotonou Agreement-Agreement Consolidated Text March 2010 and supports this important revision of the key principles supporting implementation of the broader development agenda between the EU and the ACP countries . -( Mr Vara. )
Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): I am glad to have the opportunity to initiate the debate on the future of Royal Air Force Leuchars, which lies near St Andrews in my constituency of North East Fife. A number of other hon. Members have indicated a wish to make short interventions, and I am happy that they should do so. In addition, I have the authority of the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) to say that he supports the campaign for the retention of the base.
I want to begin with the recognition of the professionalism and commitment of the men and women who serve at RAF Leuchars, who in recent weeks have endured a period of unnecessary anxiety. I particularly wish to pay tribute to those members of 111 Squadron, whose time at Leuchars will come to an end in March, and who have served the defence interests of the nation with distinction and effectiveness. The reason why I say "unnecessary anxiety" is this. I believe that the case for the retention of RAF Leuchars is overwhelming. In short, Leuchars is in the right place at the right time and doing the right job. Geographically, it is uniquely positioned to fulfil the responsibility for the air defence of the northern half of the United Kingdom, a responsibility which, even as we have this debate, it fulfils 24 hours a day. In particular, that responsibility now has to deal with the terrorist threat, which is recognised in the strategic defence review as a tier 1 threat, and therefore one against which the most serious precautions need to be taken.
Lindsay Roy (Glenrothes) (Lab): Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that that contribution has been further strengthened by the £27 million investment in the runway, the designation of Leuchars as the home base for the Eurofighter Typhoon squadrons, and the excellent performance of the quick reaction alert force? In other words, RAF Leuchars is a strategic necessity for the effective defence of the UK.
Why was Leuchars chosen? It was chosen to fulfil the responsibilities that the hon. Gentleman has just described, and because 80% of the Scottish population lives within 80 miles of Leuchars. Aircraft from RAF Leuchars can be over Edinburgh and Glasgow, the two major cities of Scotland's central belt, within a matter of a few minutes. Leuchars also has the capacity to protect the two most sensitive installations within that area: the nuclear power station at Torness, and the Trident submarine base at Faslane. But we would do wrong to consider that the responsibilities of Leuchars extend only to Scotland, because the arc of responsibility of this air defence base extends far into northern England-as far as Sunderland, some have said-covering substantial populated areas.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Is it not the right hon. and learned Gentleman's understanding that the coverage also extends as far as Northern Ireland? I believe that it does, but perhaps he could give confirmation.
Sir Menzies Campbell: I have been approaching this matter on the basis of the speed of deployment within certain arcs. I understand that the approach is to take the base as the centre and then draw a circle, but there is no doubt that, because of its operations over the sea, there may well be occasions when RAF Leuchars would be deployed for the purpose of protecting interests in Northern Ireland.
I have heard no strategic argument for the closure of RAF Leuchars. The strategic case for its retention is exactly the same as the strategic case for its selection for the role that it now plays. It has been chosen to be the home of three Typhoon squadrons, one of which, 6 Squadron, is already in place there. It stood up on 6 September, a few days before one of the last surviving air shows, which drew a crowd of some 50,000 people. That made it the second largest non-sporting event in Scotland-the largest is a rock festival entitled T in the Park. The fact that 50,000 people are able to go and want to go is a reflection, of course, on the base's geographical position adjacent to the main centres of population.
RAF Leuchars was chosen for its role because it has ready access to training areas over land and over the North sea. It was chosen because the local weather-its particular climate-is very suitable for flying operations. As the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Lindsay Roy) said, Leuchars has been chosen to perform two essential components of the quick reaction alert, or QRA. The first is to protect northern Britain from unwelcome and illegal intrusion into United Kingdom airspace, which it is called upon to do on an almost regular number of occasions as other air forces seek to determine the state of readiness of the Royal Air Force to defend the UK's airspace.
The second part of the QRA is the duty that RAF Leuchars has to protect us from terrorist attack from the air and stop any malign effort to do damage to the fabric or population of the United Kingdom. Only a few years ago that possibility would have been thought so remote as not to be regarded but, unhappily, it now has to be given more serious consideration because of the attack on the twin towers and its consequences.
RAF Leuchars was chosen, therefore, because the established strategic considerations were favourable, and they remain so. It was chosen because the fact that 80% of the Scottish population live within 80 miles demonstrates that it provides the immediacy of protection required. As 111 Squadron, to which I have referred, comes to the end of its service at Leuchars, 6 Squadron will take over. The 111 Squadron has been flying the Tornado F-3, an aircraft that has given us valiant service since its introduction. It is to be replaced by the Typhoon, formerly the Eurofighter, the most modern and up to date of aircraft available to the Royal Air Force.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making an extremely strong case for the retention of Leuchars, which the Scottish National party supports. May I ask him to ensure that we do not allow the Government to play Lossiemouth off against Leuchars and to make the case for the retention of all the capacity we have and against the overall reduction of the RAF footprint in Scotland?
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