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What was interesting about those visits was that the British people really did not understand enough about what was happening in the European Union. They did not understand what we were doing there, something that has become part of the sub-culture affecting summitry when Ministers have gone to defend this country's interests, including my successor, the current Minister for Europe. An in/out referendum would give the British people the opportunity to know all the facts about the European Union, so that they did not have to rely on some of the tabloids and some, if not most of the broadsheets; rather, they would rely on Members of this House going into the towns, villages and cities of this country and talking about our membership.
I know that those on my Front Bench will probably be a bit upset with me about this, because they know my record on the European Union. However, I am with the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), for whom I, too, have great respect, for all the work that he does in this House, and those other hon. Members who support an in/out referendum. Indeed, that is what I thought the Liberal Democrats' position was. When the question was raised at the tail end of the previous Government, I can well remember the then leader of the Liberal Democrats, now the Deputy Prime Minister, supporting that view in this very Chamber. I think I was sitting where the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) is now-we were in government then-and I remember those very words: "Let us put this to the British people, because in the end it is they who will have to make the decision."
Martin Horwood: I rise with some fatigue, having I thought made this point three times already, but the Liberal Democrat position was to support an in/out referendum at the time of a substantial transfer of power from the British to the European level. The Bill provides for far more referendums. That is not necessarily what the Liberal Democrats would have wanted in the first place, but this is the Bill before us and our Conservative colleagues believe that it is very important. Those referendums will be referendums on the specifics of a transfer of power. There is no logic to the new clause-and certainly no consistency with the Liberal Democrat position-because it says that only when a referendum is lost, thereby establishing that there will be no transfer of power, should an in/out referendum be held. It is barmy.
Keith Vaz: I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman has had to explain that three times, because I am afraid that he lost me in the first sentence. I do not think that what he said is logical at all. I understand what the Government are trying to do. The Minister is here, and I know that the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood said that he had met him a few years ago at a dinner party. I first met the Minister for Europe when I was 18 years of age- [ Interruption. ] The hon. Gentleman was 18 as well? Goodness, that is rapid progress. Perhaps it was the same dinner party. Anyway, what the hon. Member for Cheltenham has set out is an illogical position. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having such a referendum.
Emma Reynolds: I would just like to point out that, as I think the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) was trying to set out and as the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) so eloquently and clearly set out, new clause 11 would trigger an in/out referendum only if it were preceded by a referendum on a transfer of power that was then lost. The new clause would not introduce an in/out referendum before a referendum on a transfer of power.
Keith Vaz: I am grateful for that, but I feel very insecure every time my hon. Friend mentions the hon. Member for North East Somerset, because he is an intellectual powerhouse on these and other issues. I shall therefore stick to whether such a referendum would take place before or after. My hon. Friend will have to excuse me, because she is obviously also an expert on- [ Interruption. ] Yes, she is an expert: she is pointing at the provisions. I take this new clause to mean that the British people ought to have the chance to vote on this crucial issue. I am not afraid to put this vote to the British people.
Dr Lewis: I am grateful for the slightly delayed acceptance of my intervention. I simply wanted to say that I thought the right hon. Gentleman's speech, apart from being massively entertaining, was absolutely right about the Liberal Democrat position. One thing was missing from the gobbledegook that we heard by way of justification. There was only one reason why the Liberal Democrats were going for an in/out referendum: it was to try to disguise and camouflage the fact that they were reneging on their promise for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty.
One problem is that, in the end, we have to accept the judgment of Ministers about the transfer of powers. We all have our own views, but Ministers will go to a summit, come back and announce to the House that they do not believe that a massive transfer of powers is at stake. They view it perhaps as a semi-massive transfer of powers, so a referendum will not be required. The problem is that this issue will go on and on and on. It is a fundamental issue that should be resolved. The country needs to know where it is going on Europe, and there is nothing wrong with putting that question to the British people.
We have had an excellent debate. I know that my Front-Bench team will not be pleased when I announce that I am going to join those who support new clause 11. When we get this referendum-I think we will need one of this kind at some time in the future-we will see the leader of the Conservative party, the leader of the Labour party and the leader of the Liberal Democrat party all on the same platform together, supporting Britain remaining in the European Union. I am pretty confident of that, which is why I have no problem with the new clause, which I look forward to supporting in the Division Lobby.
I was honoured to be asked to add my name to the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). I, too, would like to celebrate his genius not only in drafting
the clause, but in taking advice from the Clerks and outdoing the Government Front-Bench team in having such a long debate on the provision this evening. He has worked tirelessly to get this issue debated on the Floor of the House, and I would like to congratulate him.
I am proud to say on behalf of my Kettering constituents that I am in favour of an in/out referendum and that if there were one, I would vote to leave the European Union. I have absolutely no doubt that if that issue were put to my constituents, a majority would vote to leave the EU. That would not necessarily always have been the case. Had there been a referendum 10 or 15 years ago, there might well have been a majority for staying in. I have no doubt that a majority of voters in the Kettering constituency would have voted to stay in the Common Market in the referendum of 1975. Now, however, people are so fed up with European issues and with the effect Europe is having on their country and their way of life that we have crossed over so that there would no longer be an overwhelming majority in favour of staying in. The majority would want to leave so that Britain can be a proud, self-confident nation once again, without having to pay a massive annual membership fee-soon rising to £10 billion a year-and without having to open our borders to all and sundry from across the European Union, allowing them to flood to these shores.
Immigration is a European issue. It did not used to be, but it is now. People in my constituency and across the country are fed up with the numbers of people coming into our country from abroad and fed up with uncontrolled immigration from the European Union. Frankly, my Kettering voters feel let down by the political establishment that our being in the European Union should have been allowed to take over so many aspects of our lives.
Andrew Percy: Does my hon. Friend share my embarrassment at the very idea that people from Australia, Canada and New Zealand-our Commonwealth brethren -are made to wait at our borders while we have absolutely no control over people coming here from 20-odd countries in Europe?
Mr Hollobone: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention because he has hit the nail on the head. In the few times I have had the misfortune to go abroad, whenever I come back into this country, I always try to do so without coming through the European Union section. I have been told several times that a British passport holder has no choice and has to go underneath the blue flag with the yellow stars. I just think it is a huge shame that our country has come to that.
The Minister gave the game away early on when he had difficulty responding to my perfectly reasonable request that Her Majesty's Government undertake a comprehensive audit of the costs and benefits of our membership of this European club. I would have thought that everyone would be in favour of such an audit. After all, if the argument for being in the European Union is so strong, why not get the evidence together and put it to the British people? Those who feel strongly that the time has come to leave the Union would also like to see the facts and figures presented. I perfectly understand
that it is going to be apples and pears, and that some things are not perfectly calculable, but Her Majesty's Government should at least make some kind of effort to tell the British people why it is so important for us to remain in the EU. As far as my constituents and I can see, the membership subscription is now too high, we have no effective control over our borders with the EU, and business and other institutions in our country are being strangled more and more, month by month, by the red tape emanating from Brussels. It is time that it stopped.
Mr Cash: Can my hon. Friend think of a single reason why we should not have a clear and positive policy to repatriate those laws that are now within the European Union, which are deliberately and wilfully destroying the British economy?
Mr Hollobone: I cannot think of a single reason-a straight answer to a straight question-and my Kettering constituents would greatly welcome the repatriation of powers that we have given away all too freely. Another example is the disgraceful common fisheries policy. I notice that a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister is now on the Treasury Bench; he is doing his best in Brussels to try to end the scandal of fish disregards, but it is like pushing water uphill. We are not going to get anywhere with Brussels because it will not see sense on these issues. If I were to ask my Kettering constituents whether we should repatriate our powers over Britain's fishing waters, there would be an overwhelming vote to do just that. We have given all these things away.
Ms Louise Bagshawe (Corby) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour for giving way. On that very point of the repatriation of powers, is he not concerned that new clause 11 presents a fourth choice to the British public? It offers a straight in/out choice. It does not lay in front of the British public what many of us would like to see, which is perhaps the most significant element that the Conservative party lost in the coalition agreement-a vote on the repatriation of powers. Many of us do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but would like to see some of those powers repatriated to our country.
Mr Hollobone: That would be very nice, but I do not see the coalition Government repatriating any powers. For many people, it has now come to the issue of whether we are in or out. I do not believe that we can be "In Europe, but not run by Europe". That slogan is, I am afraid, no longer valid.
I know that many Conservative Members believe that we can reform Europe to make it better, but some of us have reached the point where we simply do not believe that that is achievable. I do not want to spend the rest of my life arguing that we can improve Europe for the better. I believe that Britain's best chance is to be an independent, sovereign, self-governing nation, with an enterprise economy looking out into the world, free from the restrictions that the European Union imposes upon us.
If Britain left the European Union, that would not mean the end of the European Union. It would still exist, but we would be freed from its shackles. We would
be able to look out on the wider world, regain our economic self-confidence, and start to trade properly with superpowers such as China, India, and all the other countries with which we used to have such a wonderful relationship. Membership of the European Union is increasingly holding us back from both our past and our future as an entrepreneurial nation.
Our best hope of securing a decision in this Parliament lies in new clause 11. The new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough may well present us with the only opportunity that we will have in the five years of this coalition Government to decide whether we are to have an in/out referendum. I know that the new clause does not provide a perfect solution, but part of the genius of my hon. Friend is that he has got this far.
Mark Reckless: Does my hon. Friend agree that members of the Labour party are generally in favour of winning elections, and that if there is a strong enough demand from the British people for such a referendum, it is very possible that the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) will flip his position on the issue?
Mr Hollobone: From a sedentary position, the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) says that Labour would rather lose with principle. Well, they lost without principle at the last general election, and they will do so again many times in the future.
Emma Reynolds: I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Conservative party did not win the last general election with a sufficient number to form a majority. As for his other point, I know that many Government Members are very interested in this subject, but they may have noticed that not many Opposition Members are present. The simple fact is- [Interruption.] If hon. Members will hear me out, I will give them the reason. Since I was elected in May, not one of my constituents has raised this issue with me. I believe that the next general election will be won on the basis of the economy, jobs and the NHS, and I believe that this Government are putting those things at risk. They are what will be at stake in the next election, not the European Union.
Mr Hollobone: The fact that we are having to pay more than £10 billion to the European Union every year is not helping the economy. The increasing burden of red tape from Brussels is not helping job creation. The hon. Lady speaks of those issues as if they were separate from Europe, but in fact the European Union is increasingly having a say in them.
Emma Reynolds: The hon. Gentleman uses the words "even if we accept", but that is a fact. As Foreign Office Ministers now tire of telling us, many more of our exports go to the European Union than currently go to China. Our jobs and our economy rely on the European Union for our exports, which is why the single market is such a good thing.
Mr Hollobone: Even if we accept the hon. Lady's opinion-which is not a fact-that a small majority of our exports go to the European Union, the question for her is this: is our future with Belgium or with China? There is another fact that she needs to address. We now have a permanent and ever-growing trade deficit with the European Union, which our membership of that organisation is doing nothing to solve.
Emma Reynolds: I returned from a parliamentary visit to China in September. Although they were very polite about it, I know that the Chinese are actually interested in trading with the EU as a bloc, and would like to see agreements between China and the European Union. We should understand that fact.
Mr Hollobone: Of course the Chinese are interested in trading with the EU bloc, because it is a big economic entity. Were we outside the EU, however, China would also be interested in trading with us. As for the idea that if we left the EU we would lose 3 million jobs, that has never been proved by the Labour party, and it is misleading to tell the British people that so many jobs are tied to our membership of the European Union.
Andrew Percy: I cannot get away from my old job as a teacher. I want to help to disabuse the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) of a couple of assumptions. Does my hon. Friend agree that businesses are not buying British goods just because we are in the European Union? The French are not buying goods from this country out of the goodness of their hearts; they are doing it because they make hard-headed business decisions, and they will continue to buy things from this country whether we are in the European Union or outside it. It is extremely likely that if we were outside it, we would continue to have a free trade agreement with them.
Mr Hollobone: The point is that if we left the European Union, we would continue to trade with the European Union. The idea that, if we tore up our membership slip, suddenly no one would talk to us or trade with us any more is nonsense.
Emma Reynolds: I think that the hon. Gentleman has reduced my argument to absurdity. [Interruption.] But my argument is not absurd. My argument is that countries throughout the world, from Latin America to the far east, are queuing up to sign free trade agreements with the European Union. If we were not part of the European Union, we would not be part of those free trade agreements, and would not benefit from them or from the additional exports resulting from them.
Those countries would still be able to trade with us. The big difference between 2011 and 1972 is the fact that trade barriers have fallen all over the
world and continue to do so. As a free independent trading nation, Britain would still be trading with China, India, South America and the European Union, with lower trade barriers than we had 40 or 50 years ago.
Martin Horwood: If the hon. Gentleman is not persuaded by the argument about the jobs that would be lost if we left the European Union, what about the democratic deficit that would result from our trying to trade and have full market access to the EU, while having absolutely no say in the regulations and legislation that would deliver that access?
Mr Carswell: If Labour Members are so confident about their position, why did they not support the proposal for an in/out referendum so that they could put their views to the British people and let them settle the issue in that way?
Mr Hollobone: Exactly. It is not necessary to believe that we would be better off out of the European Union to support new clause 11. If Members here are so confident that Britain has a bright, rosy economic future in the European Union, they too should welcome the opportunity to take their case to the British people and settle this wretched argument once and for all.
Dr McCrea: Is not the truth that Members are not confident enough to take the argument to the British people, because they are not confident about the outcome? At a time when major cuts are being made in every Department in the United Kingdom, are not the hon. Gentleman's constituents, like mine, concerned about the fact that we are paying endless billions to this European club?
Mr Hollobone: The hon. Gentleman is spot on, but I would go rather further. I do not believe that Her Majesty's Government, and other Members, are not confident; I think they now know that they would lose. They may not be drenched in e-mails and letters, but many members of our electorate have simply given up. That is why turnouts at general elections are now far lower than they used to be. Powers have drained from the House of Commons and Her Majesty's Government to Brussels, and people are increasingly asking, "Why bother to elect Members of Parliament at all, given that all the decisions are made over in the EU?"
I believe that if we had a referendum, all those issues would emerge. I believe that most people in the country would be happy if we re-entered some kind of European Free Trade Association. I believe that most of them want a common market-a trading arrangement with European countries. What they do not want is membership of this political club.
I come back to earlier remarks about the "Save the Pound" campaign in 2001. Opposition Members had the audacity to say that the British people did not understand it, but they did and if it had not been for the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary when he was the leader of the Conservative party, there would have been a grave danger of the first-term Labour Government ditching the pound. If they had, they would not be laughing now because the economic mess in this country in 2011 would be much like that in Spain, with 22% unemployment.
Keith Vaz: The Foreign Secretary's lorry and my bus met in Wellingborough, so I am happy that this issue has been raised by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) today. It was not because of the Foreign Secretary's campaign that the Labour Government did not abandon the pound: it was because they had no intention whatever of joining the euro.
Mr Hollobone: That was an interesting intervention. I am certainly of the view, as are many of my constituents, that we owe a huge debt of gratitude to my right hon. Friend for his efforts at that time and to all those in the Eurosceptic movement who made sure that Tony Blair did not go as far as he might have.
Mrs Main: Is my hon. Friend as surprised as I am to hear the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) say that the Opposition Benches are virtually empty because there is no interest in this matter, even though it crosses so many issues in our everyday lives?
Mr Hollobone: I am most grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. This shows the tragedy of what has been happening since 1997. There has been huge disinterest in matters European from Labour Members both when they were in government and now they are in opposition. That is why there was a massive loss of sovereignty to Brussels over the Blair and Brown years.
I am going to support the Bill. I supported it on Second Reading and I will happily vote for it on Third Reading, because it provides the referendum lock that the British people want. The purpose of new clause 11 is to strengthen that referendum lock so that no future Government would dare to propose a transfer of power that they thought they might have the slightest chance of losing. That entrenches the little bit of sovereignty that we have left. If Her Majesty's Government stood back and thought about this, they would welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough's proposal and agree to the new clause without the need for a Division.
I shall speak for just a few minutes on this particularly interesting clause, which I support. I should like to make a big apology to the Whips; I am sure that the eye-rolling and head-banging has gone on already, because they see the usual suspects rising to speak on
this matter, but I think that it is important. I know that rather a tortuous device was used to get it debated today and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) for his ingenuity.
I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) that the measure would somehow negate the referendum lock. Let me put that on its head: if we were to have a referendum about a significant transfer of powers and the public said no, where would that leave us? We would be standing alone saying no. It would be quite logical to go on and say, "We have been hearing grumbles over the years about your unhappiness"-for 19 years, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) has pointed out-"over bits and pieces of legislation that you believe have come from Europe and may have impacted negatively, let's have an open debate about it and have a referendum on whether we should be in or out."
I completely agree with the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who spoke very eloquently. As I said in an intervention earlier, an in/out vote would not be a foregone conclusion. Indeed, I would look forward to a robust debate airing the positive aspects. Perhaps we could look forward to people being persuaded, despite some misgivings about whether or not we should give prisoners the vote, which we will debate next week, or whether they agree with human rights legislation being imposed on us from Europe-I believe that we were somewhat opposed to that in our manifesto-
Mrs Main: The EU is about to be a signatory of it. The hon. Lady said that Labour has no interest in this matter and that that is why the Opposition Benches are empty, so I am surprised that she still feels the need to take part in the debate.
Emma Reynolds: I thank the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to clarify my position, although if she had listened the first time perhaps she would have been clearer on it. I said that my hon. Friends have very pressing concerns that reflect those of their constituents about the massive programme of Government cuts taking place in this country and the risk to our economy and economic growth, as we saw last week with the shrinkage of our economy. That is what we are worried about, and we would rather have more time in the House to debate the NHS and the trebling of tuition fees. That is what I was saying and I do not think she should misrepresent my position.
From the hon. Lady's rather tetchy remarks, I gather that most of her right hon. and hon. colleagues are off somewhere else debating more pressing matters, but this is being debated now and unlike her I think it is crucial that we debate it clearly. If we are game enough tonight to let people have a little sniff of the freedom of
choosing, it could be the first time that many of them have a chance to hear the arguments for and against staying in the European Union.
Andrew Percy: On the comments of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) about Labour Members wanting to discuss more important issues, perhaps she would like to comment on why the Opposition have chosen the subject of forests, rather than the NHS, for tomorrow's Opposition day debate.
Opposition Members could have had a referendum on the Lisbon treaty and I believe that my party and other hon. Members here felt that the people should have had a say, but they did not. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) advocated quite strongly having a debate on the in or out issue; I do not feel that the treaty's ratification negates that aspiration. I am sure that he would make a very robust defence for having an "in" vote, whereas other Members on the Government side who have concerns about it would make a robust argument for an "out" vote. That said, I am fed up with hearing constantly the mantra that now is not the time. It is never the time; it has not been the time for the past 19 years. When will be the time? The Bill offers us the opportunity to have a little hook on which to hang the possibility-that is all-that at some time in the future, if the people were unhappy about the relationship with Europe, they could say so.
I do not know how the people of St Albans or Cheltenham would vote or how the country would vote on this issue. I could be surprised and find that they wholly endorse our position within Europe, in which case any future Government could go forward with a robust mandate for referendum locks on transfers of power within treaties, because that would not necessarily mean that people want to give away more powers. People might say that they are happy with exactly the level of power that has been given away but that they do not want to give away any more. They might say yes to staying in but no to further transfers of power. That is why I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset: I think that one can be in that position. Indeed, that is the position we are in now, because we are not taking a vote on this-we are staying put but saying that no more powers should be transferred.
I would like the good people of this country to have a say, because they do air their concerns when one talks to them in supermarkets, pubs and cafés. They air their concerns when they hear about some of the nonsense legislation we have to put up with and when they hear that we cannot do anything about some issue because it is a result of EU legislation. I think they would like a say, but that does not mean that they cannot be persuaded. I say to hon. Members, "Give us the chance to put the argument to the people and let them decide. Don't be frightened of giving them the chance to make a decision because you think they'll make the wrong decision. It's their country and we're here to represent their views." I do not believe in not asking them their views. If we can have a referendum on the alternative vote, which was never raised on the doorstep prior to its being raised in
the House and which was not being advocated by a single party in the House, we should be able to have a referendum on something that was raised on the doorstep and on which some parties stood as a sole issue-Europe. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) that the Opposition Benches are empty because Opposition Members are not interested; I believe they are empty because they have been told to go off and play away at something different. It is the complacency demonstrated by those empty Benches that has led us to where we are.
In conclusion, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough for his ingenuity in getting the new clause debated on the Floor of the House tonight. I am sorry that the Whips and other hon. Members feel they have been kept here tonight because the usual suspects are making a noise and a row about Europe. But if we did not, I believe our constituents would say to us, "Don't ever say to me that you're unhappy about Europe, because when there was a chance for you to give us a say-at some point in the future not yet decided-you shut down that avenue, because you could." Tonight, I do not believe that avenue should be shut down. I believe it is the fear of knowing the answer that is shutting it down, not any logical reason.
John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): I can assure hon. Members from all parties that the Opposition Benches are not empty. Indeed, some of us feel roused to contribute to the debate, having heard the exhortations of the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), for example. It is an extraordinary saga. Every time one looks outside and sees the dark clouds and the moon hovering, Europe must be being debated again.
This is the party that, under Edward Heath, took us into the Common Market; the party that, under Margaret Thatcher, took us into the Single European Act and everything that flowed from it, including unlimited immigration from across the European Union; the party that, under John Major, signed the Maastricht treaty-on every occasion it is the Conservative and Unionist party of Britain that has deepened and strengthened our European ties, and yet when they are in power Conservative Members love nothing better than to debate these things. How many days was it last week? How many hours has it been this week, as they queue up demanding a referendum? Voters have had the option to vote for UKIP. UKIP stands proudly, clearly, as a voting option in my constituency and others, as it did at the last general election, and when it stands, the voters have the opportunity in their tens of thousands to flood to the polling stations to the rallying cry of UKIP. But such is democracy, they fail to do so.
With this Euro-fanatical Conservative party in power, we see yet again the rebellion from the discontented masses. They understand fully what is going on among their Front Benchers, because the Conservative party appeals to two different values. One is that of the little Englander, amply represented by my neighbour the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), as one of the few Members who have attended this debate and joined the traditional long-standing contributors to Conservative thinking on these matters. The other is the vested interest of big business: when it comes to the crunch, the Conservative party in its very blood, and its
Front Benchers at every opportunity, wish always to strengthen and deepen the ties with Europe. By giving space to its discontented Back Benchers, as it has done repeatedly in this Parliament, the Conservative party shows that it likes to announce to the British people that it has a great tradition of Englishness and Britishness-of separation from Europe-but when it comes to the decisions, every single time it is the Conservative party that throws us further and further, deeper and deeper into the European Union. This new Government, albeit a coalition with the Euro-fanatical Liberals, are doing the same.
The independent Office for Budget Responsibility outlined in great detail how, under this coalition Government, immigration from within the European Union to the United Kingdom in this Parliament will be not the same as under the previous, so-called federalist, Labour Government. It will be not less, but more-significantly more. Why is that? It is because the Conservatives' paymasters-big business, as documented in the Register of Members' Financial Interests for all to see-demand that the Conservative party in power strengthens those ties with Europe while talking a different game and filling the parliamentary agenda with opportunities such as tonight's. So, yet again, we will see vast amounts of new labour joining this country-
Mr Carswell: The hon. Gentleman is rather verbosely explaining why we cannot trust politicians with these matters. Is that not a further argument for an in/out referendum, in which the people have the final say?
John Mann: There is nothing verbose in these remarks; if the hon. Gentleman wants verbose he can have verbose, but that would be quite improper. These are succinct remarks on the inherent contradictions of the Conservative party, which can never, ever break from the pressures of big business, which demands that once in power, it strengthens those links. That is why 700,000 new EU migrants will enter this country in this Parliament. When the Conservative party talks about growth and trade, what it really means is cheaper labour, and worse conditions for workers in this country. That is the free market that the Conservative party represents: allowing competition at the lowest common denominator. No doubt, I will again be going on rallies at power stations, where British workers are finding their pay and conditions and ability to apply for their jobs undermined by the so-called European single market that the Conservative party took us into.
Mrs Main: I have listened to the hon. Gentleman's remarks with interest, but I have yet to hear his views on new clause 11 and whether he will be even remotely considering voting in favour or against. Would he elaborate on that?
John Mann: I am approaching my conclusion, when I will do that, but first there is another factor that ought to be re-stressed. There has been a lot of talk about what the people think. I will tell the Committee what the people think: the people think it is an absolute disgrace that, when the health service is being cut to ribbons and maternity units across the country are being destroyed, time is being taken up constantly discussing the Conservative party's obsession with the European Union rather than major issues.
New clause 11 should address whether what the Conservative party signed up to under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, in the spirit of Edward Heath, which allows unfettered labour migration into this country, is the way forward, or whether there should be restrictions that protect the jobs and livelihoods and standards of living of workers in this country. That is the debate that this Government are scared of, and that is why they like to pander to the pretence that there could be some debate about whether the country is in or out of Europe. This Government should be held to account for their failure to negotiate properly in Europe on that and on bankers' pay. They are wholly miserable in their efforts in doing so. That is what Parliament-
Jacob Rees-Mogg: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way in his brilliantly enthusiastic speech, but he is not being his usual even-handed self, because he accuses the Conservatives of allowing people to come from eastern Europe, but it really was the last Labour Government who let in most of them.
John Mann: Fair point. That is precisely why, on those demonstrations at Staythorpe with Unite and other unions, I was the only parliamentarian who spoke on behalf of the workers in my constituency and others. However, I know that I am not the only one; perhaps the hon. Gentleman would wish to join me on such picket lines in future, in protecting the interests of British trade unionism and British workers. That is the debate-on what is really needed in the future, in this Parliament and in Europe-that this unholy coalition alliance Government are refusing to allow to take place.
Those Back Benchers who wish to strengthen against the ever-onwards and upwards movement of big business in Europe should also create the opportunity for votes on these things, rather than simply going back to basics. Therefore, I call on them to join in the battle for a real debate on Europe, but not to the exclusion of the cuts in public services that this coalition, with these Liberal traitors, is bringing to this country, because that is the debate that the country wants.
Mr Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): At the end of that roaring speech, I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) is for or against the new clause. I shall just reflect because, for some of us, this is an important debate. Even the recent history of the Labour party seems to have passed the hon. Gentleman by: Kinnock's opposition; Kinnock being in favour-all the pastures of the past 30-odd years-but where are we?
I take the debate quite seriously. I have supported referendums on the European Union and its treaties for many years now. What started as a Common Market and is now a European Union touches and reaches into every level of our Government and our life, from employment laws to what hours doctors may work. These things are now determined elsewhere. I suggest that undoubtedly the most major constitutional change of the past 100 years has been the development of the European Union as an almost sovereign body, with a legal system that sits above our own regard for our constitutional verities.
The central proposition of the Labour party, which we heard much about just now and which most hon. Members respect the history of, was the vote, organising and the creation of the unions, so that the party might one day hold seats in the House and come to determine the shape of national policy. That was the great goal, and it succeeded. Yet, within a generation, Labour, which was cautious about the development of the European Union, has changed. Peter Shore wrote that great, very cautious speech, "A thousand years of British history". "We do not know how this will develop," said Hugh Gaitskell, "We have to wait and see." It was a cautionary speech. Of course it is true that it was characterised as demonic by the Conservative Administrations who were still negotiating to enter into the European Community, or Common Market as we called it. That is the background to why the Labour party wanted power, universal suffrage, the right to determine the conditions of the working people of this country and to distribute wealth.
Now, this new generation-the Kinnock age-has so integrated into the European Union that it has Front Benchers who believe almost with the passion of a religion that it cannot be challenged or contradicted. Let us consider the very words that are used-this clerisy of the Community, where these high priests of Brussels try to determine, and largely do determine, the laws under which we live. So I see this as a matter of principle.
I have watched the development of this new constitution over the past 30 years, from when we did not do referendums to when we now do them at the drop of a hat. At one time, they were meant to be consultative. We have already had a referendum thrust on us on the voting arrangements that we have had traditionally, because of course it is part of a coalition agreement, as the hon. Member for Bassetlaw mentioned just a moment ago. So there is no absolute bar to holding a referendum on a great constitutional issue. That is the proposition that I am putting to the Committee.
I make an observation from my own experience over the years that I have served here. The sovereignty of Parliament that we talk of is, in fact, shorthand for the sovereignty of the people. That is what the Labour party once believed in, and that is what animated and generated the clash of ideas about how a society should self-govern. When Peter Shore, who wrote that original great speech for Gaitskell, stood on the Opposition Benches to debate a referendum measure-a Bill, as it happened-before Maastricht in the dying days of the Mr Major's first Administration, he made the argument about that most prized thing: the self-government of the people of these islands, to determine their policies and their laws in the best interest of the people of this country. That runs beyond and before the Labour party was ever created, and it was the great driving dynamic of our constitutional development. It was unthinkable that we should pass to others the determination of employment, our banking regulations and every level of government that we can think of. That is why there is an urgency in this. It has done something very profound to our view of ourselves and this country's view of its constitution and its own people. It has degraded it.
I mentioned during the early stages of the Bill the question that people ask all around the place, irrespective of party-they are intelligent people, although not of course as formidable as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). They know not who governs them, who was responsible for this particular law and who was insistent on this change in long-tried and settled practice. How did we ever end up with an election system called a d'Hondt system, no less? Perhaps the hon. Member for Bassetlaw will explain to us the reasoning behind the former Home Secretary's insistence that that was a very necessary new development that made incomprehensible to us those who now represent us as MEPs.
We had one item in the Bill that truly we could have had a referendum on: one new Member of the European Parliament. The place goes to the west midlands, unless, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe said, further and better particulars come to note and it may go to another region. That is what we are fiddling about with.
The Bill is paper-thin, and I think most of us know that. It is here to salve a conscience. We gave a clear undertaking on these matters. It was the most joyous part of my election address to talk about the recovery of the powers over certain essential laws. We were then advised by the Prime Minister, when he was still the Leader of the Opposition, that this treaty had been passed. There was no remembrance that Mr Wilson had a referendum after the passing of a treaty on a renegotiation.
When we play across the Commons like this, we are actually talking about something that is precious to this civil and political society, to these islands. It is about our governance and our Government. If people no longer have confidence that we are able, when there is a settled will, to execute the great measures necessary for the recovery and reconstruction of this country, what is the purpose of this place? That is the challenge that every Member of Parliament faces. It is also the challenge for the Labour party, which is almost married to the European Union after the conversion of Kinnock. Except for that dour soul from Dunfermline, it accepts everything.
I listened to the hon. Lady, and to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe's exegesis on the marvels of the provisions, and his aspirations for how, with the new thrust and trust, we will somehow make a dynamic entity of the European Union for the benefit of the British people. That might be so; I do not know, but I have heard that story from Governments of both parties over more than 30 years. They are often good people who stand before us and bring forward these measures. They believe in them at the time. The unfortunate coincidence of the elapsing of time demonstrates how often they were wrong in their interpretations and understanding of the commitments that they entered into by prerogative power and supported by legislative process. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) consistently points out without hesitation or deviation, that is the fault of the Whips. I do not believe that we are simply biddable, but that is what it looks like to the outside world.
There is therefore a purpose behind this proposal. It is an expression of something that is alive not only on this side of the House. I do not want to disillusion the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, but this sentiment is shared across the Chamber. I see the same souls: they might say that they have converted, but, like the slaves in Babylonia, they got back to Israel. We have to return to this question: what is the purpose of this House? Who do we represent and why do we represent them?
There is merit in the fact that we have at least had the opportunity to discuss this proposal. It is not the perfect vehicle to achieve this aim, however. We are in the midst of a crisis. I have always supported the idea of holding a referendum, but that was slightly challenged when the former Minister for Europe, no less, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), proceeded round the country in a caravan. Members will remember that he was the only man in Britain who met two Eurosceptics. I think he gave us their names-Ken and Dave, or whatever. It was almost impossible, during the conflicts over the treaties, to go round the whole of the United Kingdom in his van. We asked for reports. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made great humour of the situation, but humour is not the same as intent. That is what this is about.
Behind all this, I sense a growing intent on the part of the British people to have a greater resolution than the flim-flam that we are dealing with in this Bill. I respect my hon. Friends for saying that it is at least something, but that is what we have heard about all the brakes. This party was united against the social chapter in the Maastricht treaty. In fact, the opposition to it nearly brought the then Government down. There was the threat of a Dissolution if we lost that argument. I remember the Chief Whip telling me that we would be decimated, and we faced that in that arcane and silly way that people do when they are under pressure: "Only one in 10; that's not a bad result." The truth, however, was that this party knelt, in government. That is the progress that has been made.
Trade statistics have been mentioned. I grew up in an age when the port of London was perhaps the greatest entrepreneurial port, with the greatest volume of trade. Times changed; labour relations changed. Entrepôts grew on the continent of Europe, and they are the means by which we now export. It was pointed out earlier that we had a trade surplus, but today we have a trade deficit with Europe. This might merely be a reflection of the changing patterns of the way in which we export. No one brings forward the figures.
These are the little stones that begin to build a wall, and the wall is growing. I believe profoundly that the people of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland ought to have a say on this. I shall approach the matter from the point of view of realpolitik, however. The very threat, and the very undertaking, of a referendum put fear and aghastness into the heart of Brussels and the other members of the European Community.
If we are to be able to manage our own economy, to recover our place and standing in the world and to become economically secure, we have to recover some of these powers. There is no doubt in my mind about that. Many of us on these Back Benches are now committed to seeing that that comes about. Let no one doubt it: there will also be people on the Labour Benches who will give a cheer for this proposal. There might well
be people in Ulster who will also give it a cheer. I caution the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), and I also say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that it was his expression of hope and belief that really undermined my confidence in his judgment after all the years that he has been in the House, given that he has seen this ratcheted, one-way transference of authority.
We are now challenged over our home affairs and justice system. The common law of England, Wales and Ireland is under threat. We are transferring much of our criminal justice system to another system that does not understand the common law because its civil tradition is different. I do not knock other people's systems of law. If it works for them, they must have it. But we know what has worked and given confidence to us across generations. I heard the flimsiest defence of how we were going to preserve that in the face of Strasbourg and Luxembourg. This is a big, big issue. It has haunted part of our debate. It is not seriously addressed. Opt-ins can take place and profoundly change who we are, even now.
I urge my hon. Friends to reflect. The rights that we are talking about are not our own rights. We are just citizens in this matter, as are those whom we represent. It is their rights that we should be mindful of. They are entitled to determine the course that we take in respect of these European matters.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr Shepherd), who for many years has been a voice in Parliament for democracy and civil liberties. I share many of his views on the issue. It is a shame, in some ways, that we are debating such a hugely important matter as whether we should have an in/out referendum in the context of the Bill, because that is not what the Bill is about, as I know the Minister would agree.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) on persisting and pushing new clause 11. I am one of the signatories to it, and I am glad that we finally got a debate. As someone said about two hours ago, the debate is giving us a great deal more time to discuss these issues than we would normally get.
I said earlier that I hoped hon. Members would keep talking until I got back from an engagement. I am grateful that they not only managed to keep talking, but are still talking. I was opening a new climbing wall at the Westway centre in London, and I was reminded there of a practical aspect of the European Union that people find so irritating. Some time ago the European Union working at heights directive was issued, which seemed sensible. Everyone assumed that it would apply to people working in industry, building sites and so on, but our officials-our zealots-always want to gold-plate. They thought that those who taught mountaineering should be subject to the working at heights directive.
It took nearly three years to bring that to an end and to ensure that the way we taught mountaineering and climbing in this country would not be ruined by a directive that insisted, for example, that certain ropes should not be used. Hon. Members who are mountaineers will well remember that. While the Committee was debating the new clause, I was reminded of a practical
example of where the European Union starts off with a good idea, a few people agree with it, no one is ever asked about the detail, and when it finally comes to be implemented, the officials, the bureaucrats and those who love to be able to impose things on other people strengthen the directive so that it sometimes goes way beyond the common-sense reason behind it.
John Mann: It was in the previous Parliament, as chair of the all-party mountaineering group, that I negotiated the end of the working at heights directive, or rather its subjugation in relation to mountaineering. Does that not emphasise the point that the regulations were easy to deal with-the meeting took five minutes-but the problem was how officials in Whitehall had chosen to interpret a straightforward directive that, in relation to certain professions, was extremely important?
The same happens with practically every directive. It is all very well saying that the problem is just the officials. They are not elected. Ministers and Members of Parliament are elected. Directives are always gold-plated by civil servants. My hon. Friend remembers how long it took to get the argument across and to get Ministers to understand it and realise that the way the directive was being applied was not sensible. In other areas where directives are implemented, people may not realise that until the last minute or until it is too late. The European Scrutiny Committee is a brilliant Committee with its current Chair and with the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) on it, but it can never perform the necessary scrutiny.
I support the new clause, although, as has been said, it is not ideal or what we would really like. It has been a long time since the people of the United Kingdom had the opportunity to say whether they support the direction of the EU and where it is now compared with where it was when I opposed entry into the Common Market. I accepted that the country had decided to support it, but, over the years, what people voted for then has changed, as we all know, and now we need that debate again, not only as to whether the country supports the direction in which the EU has come and where we are now, but where it should go in the future.
I may be wrong, but my guess is that the vast majority of the British people do not like the direction that the EU has taken and the fact that this Parliament and this country have lost control over many areas. As I have said, there is no point blaming one party over the other. Both major political parties have, in their different ways and not always in the way they intended, conspired to stop the real debate. We saw that with the Maastricht treaty and with the Lisbon treaty, on which the Labour party acted disgracefully, having given a commitment to a referendum. Then the Conservatives, who had given a commitment to a referendum managed to get out of it because the decision had been taken. But, as has been pointed out, just because the decision had been taken to sign it, there was no reason why the British people should not have been allowed a referendum immediately afterwards to decide whether they wanted to continue with the agreement that had been ratified.
Even the most avid supporter of the EU, of which there are many on the Labour Benches, would have to accept that when the EU and the Commission do not get what they want in a vote they simply find another way to have another vote, as happened in Ireland. That is why there is no confidence in the EU. I have a lot of respect for the Minister, who, certainly in the past, will have been seen as not necessarily a Eurosceptic but a Eurorealist, or some other term. He may feel that he is doing the right thing, but the reality is that no one in the country trusts any of the politicians in power, of whatever party, on this issue. Something seems to happen to people when they are elected to Government and go to Brussels. They experience some kind of transformation. For some reason, they suddenly become part of it all. In many cases they become more ideological about it than some of the other European countries.
A long time ago, when I was a Minister in the Home Office and went with the then Home Secretary to meetings in Brussels, we would have a clear line about what we were doing on a justice and home affairs position. We would argue passionately. France would argue the other way and other countries would argue differently. Then in the tea breaks or wine breaks, they would ask us why we felt so strongly on a particular matter. They would say that they did not particularly like it, but they would support it, although they did not really intend to implement it. There was a general feeling that it did not really matter to many of those other EU politicians; they were part of it because they wanted to be part of the club and the whole European project. But they knew jolly well that when they went back to their own countries they would do the bit that they wanted. We were the exact opposite. We would fight our corner, but we would then have to give in because the Prime Minister would decide he wanted something else in some other department in Brussels. Not only would we agree, but we would implement the policy zealously.
Mark Reckless: Does the hon. Lady agree that we have this evening seen an honourable exception to that? The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who was a Minister for Europe and might have adopted such a position having been there and seen that, said this evening that it is for the British people to decide.
Kate Hoey: I am sorry that I missed the contribution made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East when I had to leave the Chamber. We were both in Europe for a short period when my time in the Home Office coincided with his time in the Foreign Office, so I know his views on the matter and I am pleased that he has them.
I genuinely do not understand what we are afraid of, and neither do the public, particularly those who are strongly in favour of a referendum. What is the problem? We can no longer put it down to cost, because we are having this ridiculous referendum on the voting system, which most people are bored silly with-they yawn when it is brought up, even at political party meetings. I accept that it was set out in the coalition agreement, but there is no huge enthusiasm for that referendum, and yet we are spending so much money on it.
A referendum on the European Union would revitalise the political debate within this country. We would enliven things and go back to days of having public meetings. I
accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) said about the economic problems the country faces, but I do not think that having a debate on the EU would be a diversion. It would be a way of showing that there are other ways of running this country's whole economic policy. We would get that debate and get out there among the people, because I know that they feel strongly about it.
I will not speak much longer, other than to say that I have been quite proud-others will laugh-to be associated with the campaign on the in/out referendum run by the Daily Express. As some Members might already have mentioned, yesterday a number of us took 373,000 envelopes, which had been returned from across the country, containing the slips published in the Daily Express asking for an in/out referendum. Those were just the envelopes, so many more were sent via e-mail. I think that we should be proud of the fact that a newspaper has managed to arouse that debate, and I would not care whether it had been done by the Daily Express, the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, The Sun or even the Daily Mirror.
The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr Shepherd) talked about a growing mood in the country. We can sit here in isolation and ignore that mood, or we can grab it and lift it as an opportunity to get some decency and honesty back into politics. We should get that debate and have a referendum at some stage on whether we are in or out of Europe. I know that the Whips do not want Members to vote for this small new clause, but I say to Government Members that I have opposed my Whips on many occasions and am still alive and still here. To vote for it would send out a little signal that the issue will not go away.
Mr Cash: For me, the debate is not about the wording of the new clause, but about a question of principle. It is also about whether we are a democratic nation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr Shepherd) pointed out, and as many of us have argued for so many years, the question of why we are here in this House, ultimately, is entirely dependent on our relationship to the electorate. This is about democracy, not government.
We began our proceedings on the question of sovereignty some time ago, when we debated clause 18. In that debate, I made it clear-I believe that we won the argument-that the real question was whether this country would be able to govern itself or would end up being increasingly governed by judicial supremacy, and the European Scrutiny Committee report clearly demonstrated that point. For those of us who watched, for example, the recent BBC 4 programme on the Supreme Court, there is no doubt at all about the attitudes of some of the Justices in the Supreme Court and of many senior academics who are deeply influential in the Foreign Office and elsewhere. I know that the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), understands that extremely well; I have heard him say so.
There are serious questions about whether the judiciary seek to undermine-not deliberately, but by their language-the sovereignty of this House. So a referendum
is about whether sovereignty-the ultimate authority for the government of this country-belongs to the Government, the Prime Minister, No. 10 Downing street and the like, who are elected and accountable to this House, which in turn is accountable to the electorate. Of all those different components of our constitutional arrangements, untidy as they may be, the most important is the sovereignty of the people.
Indeed, under our constitutional arrangements, we cannot even have a referendum unless it is endorsed by Act of Parliament, but that is the moment when the people of this country speak to their representatives, who by mutual accord reply, "This issue is too big for us. We have dithered for too long. We have not resolved these questions. We have allowed your self-government and your Parliament to be subsumed into and absorbed by the decisions that other countries take, by majority vote, so that the laws passed by this House are no longer passed exclusively by Members of Parliament, but by the process of the Whips, the process of government and by the acquiescence and the Europeanisation of this country, which nobody can deny."
Anybody who has listened to these debates over the past few days will be in no doubt that, whatever this Bill purports to do-the window-dressing that it represents, the aspiration to hold referendums after this Parliament-there is a continuing process of Europeanisation on criminal law, criminal procedure, civil matters, the whole immigration process and the issues of citizenship. They are increasingly being taken away from this House and transferred to the European Union. It is a policy of transfer.
The talk is of the transfer of competences and powers. What about the political transfer that takes place on a daily basis? Only this afternoon, I was in a European Committee on the stabilisation mechanism. A total of £8 billion of British taxpayers' money has now been committed to the prospect of bailing out Portugal and Spain, for no other reason than that, during the interregnum between two Governments a few months ago, the outgoing Chancellor entered into an unlawful agreement and the incoming Chancellor effectively endorsed it. For the British people, £8 billion is now at risk in times of austerity.
The question is, who made those decisions? I wager that the people responsible include those in the Treasury. The legal advice that I asked the Minister to provide and the other advice from the Treasury has been denied to me. The answer will be published tomorrow. It was given to me only 20 minutes or so before these proceedings began, and it effectively states, "You can't have the answer to these questions, because if we give them to you it will be inconvenient for the running of government."
That is an absurd comment. I am speaking in terms of the vires of the treaty. It is a different question; it is nothing to do with what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It was a serious misjudgment. It was an agreement that cannot be justified by the legal base. The European Scrutiny Committee said in its
report that the agreement on that particular mechanism was legally unsound. That is what I mean. It has exposed the British taxpayer to a very significant sum of money.
However, that is just one example. The real question, ultimately, is one of democracy and trust. It is a matter of principle, and that principle is demonstrated by what happened in respect of the Lisbon treaty. We stood here in this House, month after month, debating the Lisbon treaty. I tabled perhaps 120 or 130 amendments. We united the Conservative party: for the first time since 1972, we had complete unanimity. Of those with a different view, only one is still in the party now-the others have all fled to other parties-and he is the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. He is entitled to his view and I respect him for the consistency with which he pursues it, however much I may disagree. The Conservative party was united in opposing every aspect of the Lisbon treaty and united for a referendum, and we voted accordingly. For reasons that have been put forward, but which I simply do not accept, that promise of a referendum was torn up.
Other promises with regard to the European issue-promises made in our manifesto-have not been sustained. These are serious matters. It is no surprise that the people of this country lose faith and trust in their politicians if such decisions are taken. This applies just as much to the Labour party or the Liberal Democrats. Broken promises are broken manifesto promises. Manifesto promises are the basis on which people ask to be elected and get into this House to represent the interests of the people who vote for them in the polling booth. If we break our promises, it is hardly surprising if the people of this country begin to feel a sense, first, of unease, and then of contempt for the political system.
This is constitutional reality, but also practical reality: it affects people in their everyday lives. We heard from the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) about the working at heights directive. We heard from the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) about the posted workers directive. We have heard about the working time directive, the nurses agencies directive, and so on. The EU affects every single corner, every single nook and cranny of our lives, and we appear to be powerless to do anything about it.
A few days ago I got the figures from the Library on the balance of trade between ourselves and the European Union. They are alarming. In relation to the 27 member states, between 1999 and 2009-it has got very much worse in the past 18 months-we had an imbalance of £5 billion. With the rest of the world, we have had an improvement of £11 billion. There is a message there: you cannot trade with a bankrupt organisation if you are a successful company. The European Union, with its low growth, its riots and protests, and its failure, demonstrates why a referendum is required, as the new clause says, on the question of
"continuing United Kingdom membership of the European Union".
I have profound views about the manner in which the coalition Government are dealing with this issue. As the Minister for Europe said in the debate last week, the
Government have a European Affairs Committee, two thirds of which is Conservative and one third of which is Liberal Democrat. I pointed out to him that that Committee clearly could not have a vote, because we would win every time and we would have the policies that we stood on in our manifesto. So who is wagging the tail? It is clearly the one third of the Committee that are Liberal Democrats, combined with the instincts of those on our side of the equation who want more Europeanisation, although they disclaim it. That is another problem for us.
In Prime Minister's questions a few weeks ago I asked why it is that at every turn, whenever an issue of integration comes up, we always go in the wrong direction. Why has repatriation been rejected? It is the repatriation of powers, using the well-known formula-notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972-that would enable us to re-grow our economy and answer the question that is now before the Chancellor of the Exchequer: why is our economy not growing? We can tell him that it is not growing because 50% of our trade is with the European Union, which is itself in deep trouble and has low growth. At the same time, we cannot grow our economy because we are strangled to such an extent by the red tape of Brussels. Those two situations can be retrieved only through a new relationship between us and the European Union.
This is not just a constitutional argument, but an argument of practicality. It is an argument of to be or not to be a democratic nation state, a great sovereign state and a successful country that represents the interests of the people we serve-not ourselves. As I have said so often, it is not our Parliament, it is their Parliament. They are entitled to know that if things have not gone right-things certainly have not gone right with Europeanisation-we have an absolute obligation to ask them for their opinion. That is democracy, that is trust and that is what will restore integrity to this House and the British political system.
Mr MacShane: I have considerable sympathy with the speech of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash). A year ago, his party was Cash and Carswell; now it is Clegg and Cable. His party has surrendered the authenticity of its position on Europe for the marriage of convenience with the Liberal Democrats. That is his problem, not mine.
I am not so sure that the European Union is to blame for the fact that we alone of the major European Union economies have zero growth, inflation of 3.6%, a shrinking currency and rising unemployment. This House and this Government could at a stroke tomorrow cut taxes, abolish national labour laws that they do not like and do whatever they think might turn this situation around. I gently suggest that perhaps it is the economic management that needs to be looked at.
I want to address the fundamental point that was made by the hon. Member for Stone and my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who has left her place. Should this democracy be based on plebiscites and referendums, or on the authority of this House? In recent days, the issue that the people of Britain have been in touch with me about is the selling off of Sherwood forest, our woods and our free forest lands to private interests. Perhaps I would like to respond to them by saying, "Let there be a referendum on this
issue." Previously, the issue about which people were in touch with me was the tripling of student fees, on which one of the coalition parties broke, in the most fundamental and flagrant way, a solemn promise that it had made and signed in public. We have no mechanism to have a referendum on that matter. I could also mention the education maintenance allowance.
I put it to the hon. Member for Stone and my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall that if they want a Britain governed by referendums, I can accept the intellectual argument for having one on the EU, but we must then have one on other issues that matter to the people of this country. If Members want referendums on the selling-off of forest lands, the cutting of benefits, the closing of Sure Start and the tripling of student fees, I am tempted to say crudely, "Be my guest".
In our democracy, which has been shaped, formed and hammered out over centuries, it is the 650 Members elected here-soon to be 600, because for the first time in British history we are reducing representation and claiming it as an advance for democracy, but I will leave that to one side-who have made the decisions, good and bad, that have been rendered to the people. The people have then decided at the next election whether they support the decisions that have been made. If we want a plebiscite and referendum democracy, we must have it for everything. Some people sincerely believe in that, and I respect their position, but let them stand up tomorrow and say, "I will vote to give the people the right to decide on the selling-off of forests, or the tripling of student fees". That is the fundamental problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) was right to point out the problem of the gold-plating of EU directives. Directives have arrived in this country and we have voted on them, and many of them have been in the name of business, to promote the single market and to allow British traders of every sort to function fully and freely in the world's biggest economic market. However, when directives are transposed into British law, they seem to double in size as every little worm and maggot in Whitehall gets into them and seeks to add his or her little bit of gold-plating. The House could resist that, but we have no mechanism for examining such problems when they begin to come down the legislative track. We receive the directives only at the end of the process, by which time it is often too late. I fully accept that complaint, which requires a different way of working and a process of engagement and argument.
I fully respect those who say that the answer is to quit the European Union. That is an honourable position. Their duty, it seems to me, is not to persuade the Daily Express and its pornographer owner that their cause is just- [Interruption.] There is a cry of "Shame" from a sedentary position, but on the whole, my belief is, "By how you make your money shall thee be counted." In the case of the owner of the Daily Express, he has made a great deal of his money out of the most hideous exploitation of women and young girls. It is for those who want to walk with that gentleman to decide whether that is the company that they want to keep.
The new clause is reasonable, but Members who vote for it tonight will have to accept certain consequences. It would fundamentally change our parliamentary
democracy. From this tiny little wooden shed with its nice green leather benches, we would be giving other powers outside our Parliament the right to call for votes, energise democracy and create support for campaigns as they wished. Some might say that that is direct democracy, but I am not sure that giving someone the ability to sign a cheque for £1 million, £2 million or £5 million, is any kind of democracy-direct or indirect-but that is for the Committee to decide.
That is a problem for the governing parties. They must decide whether to support new clause 11. I obviously hope that they will not support it, because I believe that the strength of our country and our democracy is that such decisions are made here in the House of Commons-things are not decided by offshore proprietors, pornographers or others with very large cheque books.
Mr Lidington: This has been a passionate debate. Although I am unable to accept new clause 11 on behalf of the Government, I admire the integrity, commitment and, as others have said, the parliamentary ingenuity, of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). As befits somebody who is assiduous in his attendance and fierce in his affection for, and loyalty to, the House of Commons as an institution, he has gone through the rule book and explored parliamentary procedure to ensure that an issue about which he cares so strongly has ample time for debate on the Floor of the Committee.
I want to do my hon. Friend justice by responding in detail on his proposal on its merits. The difficulty is not simply that new clause 11 seeks to do something that is not within the scope of the Bill as the Government have framed it, but that it raises a number of important political questions.
The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dawn Primarolo): You are correct, Mr Bone, that for a new clause to be selected, it must be in order. The Minister probably did not quite mean what he said.
Mr Lidington: I qualified my statement, Ms Primarolo, by saying, "as the Government have framed the Bill". The intended purpose of the Bill is to provide both additional parliamentary scrutiny and the ultimate sanction of a public referendum on decisions that would transfer powers and competences from this country to the EU. The Government's purpose was not to provide for the sort of additional referendum that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough seeks. It is indeed a tribute to his parliamentary skill that he has found a way, within order, to seek to address that issue.
The Second Deputy Chairman: Good say, Minister. The proposed new clause is in order. Whether the Government actually like it or think that it should be in the Bill is the purpose of this debate. I think we have clarified that now.
Mr David: I do not wish to intrude upon private grief among Conservative Members, but I agree with you absolutely, Ms Primarolo, and you are absolutely correct that there is no question of the proposal being out of order.
Mr Lidington: Assuming that the Bill gains parliamentary approval and Royal Assent in the normal way, it will apply during this Parliament from the time when it comes into effect. As I said earlier today, one illustration of that is that the treaty change proposed by Germany and being taken through EU institutions at the moment will have to be ratified by primary legislation rather than simply by a resolution of both Houses, as would be the case under the current legislation, which was introduced by the previous Government in 2008. What distinguishes this Parliament is that the Government have said, as part of their coalition agreement, that we do not intend to agree at European level to any proposal to amend the treaties or invoke passarelle clauses that would require a referendum under the terms of the legislation that we have been debating for a numbers of days now.
The referendums authorised under the Bill are intended to be final decisions. They will give people the opportunity to judge whether a particular proposal to give new powers to the European Union is in the national interest. One of the things that is troubling about the new clause is that it implicitly assumes that those who vote no to a particular proposition also want to challenge the UK's membership of the EU, but I do not think that that can be taken for granted. As other hon. Members have said, there is a risk that some people could be influenced in how they vote on the substance of a proposal by a calculation of whether it would be likely to produce the end result of an in/out referendum. Such electors might take into account his or her views on the in/out proposal and not just the pros and cons of the measure on which they are being invited to cast a vote.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough overlooks the problem of a possible succession of referendums on Britain's membership of the EU. It is possible to imagine that under a future Government-not this one-referendums on moving to qualified majority voting for common foreign and security policy and on joining the euro might be scheduled for two successive years. The new clause would leave open the possibility of an in/out referendum after one-or, indeed, both-of those referendums, because under his new clause a rejection of the first proposition would trigger an in/out referendum, which might result in the public deciding to stay in the EU. A second referendum on a treaty change might come forward 12 months later and also be rejected, and then, in the course of less than a year, we would find ourselves with two successive referendums on the UK's membership of the EU. That is not a sensible way in which to conduct our relationship with the countries of the EU.
Nor does the new clause address what would happen if there were two questions on a ballot paper in one day, which we debated earlier. Why should a positive vote for one treaty change proposition and a negative vote for a
second trigger a referendum? One cannot read into how people cast their votes on treaty change proposals what their view would be of the desirability of a referendum on membership. More fundamentally, however, the new clause does not capture the range of opinions held by the British people. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), whom I completely respect on these matters, said that she wanted people to be able to express a view on the direction that the EU was taking. However, that is not what people are being offered through the new clause, of course. They are being offered the opportunity not to express their view on the direction of the EU, but to say whether the UK should remain a member.
Kate Hoey: The Minister must know that it is precisely because of the direction of the European Union that people want the opportunity to say that they do not like that direction by withdrawing from the European Union.
Mr Lidington: Withdrawing from the European Union is not the only choice for people who are dissatisfied with the current arrangements. There are plenty of people around who want Britain to remain a member of the European Union, but to have certain powers currently exercised in Brussels repatriated to this country. After all, that was the combination of views expressed at the last general election in the Conservative party manifesto, which sought the repatriation of certain powers, but said:
"A Conservative government will play an active and energetic role in the European Union".
My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) made a strong point when he said that one of the disadvantages of the new clause was that it could weaken the chances of making stick under future Governments of a different political colour the new arrangements for a referendum on any transfer of competence and power to Brussels. It is very much part of this Government's intention that the arrangements embodied in the Bill should become a settled and generally accepted part of our constitutional order. No Parliament or Government can guarantee that any piece of legislation that they bring forward will be immune from amendment or repeal by a future Parliament. However, just as the previous, Labour Government's devolution legislation, which was vigorously opposed by my party at the time, has now become accepted across the House and is something that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister endorses and has frequently declared he is intent on making work better, so, I would argue, it will be possible over the course of time to persuade the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr David) and his party that the measures in the Bill are in the national interest and that they will make for a system of government and relations between Westminster and the European Union in which the British people have greater confidence.
Finally, I do not believe that the new clause will provide the additional safeguard during European Union negotiations that a number of my hon. Friends suggested it would. What will strengthen the position of United Kingdom Ministers in negotiations is the knowledge around the table among Ministers from every other member state that if any treaty change is to be agreed and ratified, it will have to enjoy the approval not only
of the British Government of the day, but of the British people, expressing themselves through a referendum as provided for in the Bill. I do not think that new clause 11 adds to the safeguards that we have provided. While respecting the integrity of the position of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough, I would ask him not to press his new clause to a Division.
Mr Bone: I am grateful for the Minister's kind words at the beginning of his comments, and I am genuinely disappointed that the Government have not accepted my new clause, which would have moved things forward for this country. There is little between us on this issue, so it is a shame that the Minister could not accept the new clause. I will seek to divide the Committee because of what we have heard today. This has been a good debate; indeed, I am surprised that it took off. I was expecting the Division, if we were going to have one, at about 6.30 pm, so at this appropriate juncture I again thank the Whips for arranging for this debate to take place and for allowing so much time. If it had not been for their help last Monday, that would not have happened.
We have heard from a number of hon. and right hon. Members. Let me deal first with the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) and the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), who both made their points powerfully. I disagreed with them, and I entirely hope that they are not in the same Lobby as I am when the Division occurs. Right at the beginning of the debate-it is some time ago now-we heard a powerful and thoughtful speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), who set the tone for the proceedings. We also heard a good speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), whose remarks cheered me up enormously.
The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) is always worth listening to, and again he did not fail the Committee this evening. He took a principled view-he is greatly in favour of the European Union-that we should have an in/out referendum. An equally able parliamentarian, my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), took exactly the same view that we should have a referendum, but a completely different view on whether we should be in the European Union.
My hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) took the opposite view to that expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). I thank my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans, but I think that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset expressed the most important concern in his thoughtful speech. I disagree with his conclusion that the new clause would be more likely to lead to a transfer of powers, but the issue, as developed in today's debate, has not mainly been about that technicality, but about whether we support an in/out referendum. If hon. Members support such a referendum, I urge them to vote for new clause 11.
Once again, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) made a remarkable speech. The particular point I took from what she said was that an in/out referendum would revitalise politics. As she rightly said, there would be public meetings up and down the country and the people would be involved in the issue again.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr Shepherd) kept the flag flying yet again, as he has done over the years. His speech went to the heart of the
issue, but I will reserve my last comment for my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), who has fought and fought again on this issue over many years. He summed it up very nicely when he explained that this is not an "in/out" referendum, but a "To be or not to be?" referendum. Are we to be or not to be a democratic nation state?
I urge all Members to make up their minds on the basis of whether they are for or against an in/out referendum. If they are for it, I urge them to vote for new clause 11. I also urge the Whips to allow this to happen, as promised in our manifesto.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the course of the last hour, President Mubarak has announced that he will not seek re-election as the President of Egypt-the culmination, but probably not the end, of the remarkable events of the last few days. Have you received any request from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, or indeed from any other Foreign Office Minister, to make a statement about the consequences of that decision, which will undoubtedly have an impact on British policy towards Egypt, and almost certainly on Britain's policy towards the middle east region?
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo):
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving me notice of that point of order. I have not
received notification this evening of any intention to make a statement but I know that all Members of the House, as others, have been following this very closely and I am sure that those on the Government Benches have heard his comments this evening.
That the Value Added Tax (Exceptions Relating to Supplies not Made to Relevant Business Person) Order 2010 (S.I., 2010, No. 3017), dated 20 December 2010, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21 December, be approved.- (Mr Dunne.)
That the Value Added Tax (Payments on Account) (Amendment) Order 2011 (S.I., 2011, No. 21), dated 10 January 2011, a copy of which was laid before this House on 11 January, be approved.- (Mr Dunne.)
That the Value Added Tax (Buildings and Land) Order 2011 (S.I., 2011, No. 86), dated 17 January 2011, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18 January, be approved.- (Mr Dunne.)
That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 15277/10, a report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on animal cloning for food production; and supports the Government's view that a ban or temporary suspension on cloning, the use of clones and the marketing of food from clones is disproportionate in terms of food safety and animal welfare.- (Mr Dunne.)
That, at the sitting on Monday 7 February, paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments) shall apply to the Motion in the names of Angus Robertson and Mr Elfyn Llwyd as if the day were an Opposition Day; proceedings on the Motion may continue, though opposed, for three hours and shall then lapse if not previously disposed of; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.- (Mr Heath.)
(1) the matter of the UK Government's energy policy as it relates to Wales be referred to the Welsh Grand Committee for its consideration;
(2) the Committee shall meet at Westminster on Thursday 10 March at 9.00 am and 2.30 pm to consider-
(a) questions tabled in accordance with Standing Order No. 103 (Welsh Grand Committee (questions for oral answer)), except that questions shall be addressed to, and answered by, Ministers in the Department for Energy and Climate Change;
(b) the matter referred to it under paragraph (1) above; and
(3) the Chair shall interrupt proceedings at the afternoon sitting not later than two hours after their commencement at that sitting.- (Mr Heath.)
To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.
The Humble Petition of Mr. Paul Francis Dodd,
Sheweth, that the Petitioner believes that the Government's recent announcement regarding Child Benefit is unfair; that the Petitioner is a married man with a daughter aged 2 years; whose salary is £44,500 p.a., which is just inside the threshold for a higher rate tax payer; that the Petitioner's wife gave up work to look after their daughter and has no income; and that from 2013 the Petitioner and his wife will not be entitled to receive Child Benefit.
Sheweth, that the petitioner believes that the Government's proposals have two flaws; that a family with both parents earning a salary less than the higher-rate tax threshold, which could total around £88,000, will continue to receive the benefit; and that, if both parents earn a salary that is half that earned by the petitioner, £22, 250, not only will they continue to receive the benefit, but they also receive two tax-free allowances for their salaries.
Sheweth, that the petitioner believes that revisions are necessary to the Child Benefit system; that the family income should be taken into account, not just the income of one of the individuals in a family; that the petitioner recognises that this is expensive, but he believes that it is the fairest way to judge a family's income and hence its needs for benefit; that, if this is not possible, then a gradual phasing out of the benefit for earners over the higher rate tax threshold would be very easy to implement; that it would be easy to reduce Child Benefit by one percentage point for every £1,000 earned over the higher rate tax threshold; that this would still leave a majority of the benefit for those earners, such as the petitioner, who only just enter this limit; and that it would also remove Child Benefit for those who earn over £144,000.
Wherefore your petitioner prays that your honourable House urges the Government to review its policy on Child Benefit.
And your petitioner, as in duty bound, will ever pray, etc.
Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): When the Secretary of State for Education gave evidence to the Select Committee before Christmas, he confessed that the funding of post-16 education is even more mystifying and complicated than that of the rest of the education service. As a sixth-form college principal until I became an MP at the last election, I am, however, a bit of an anorak about the funding of 16 to 19-year-olds' education, so I am afraid that some of what I have to say is a bit technical. Former colleagues have contacted me concerned about the proposals coming out of the Young People's Learning Agency that landed in colleges just before Christmas-an interesting Christmas card, some might say, but it suggested a not so happy new year for post-16 students.
I understand that the Department for Education has agreed provisional budget figures with the Treasury for the next four years but has not yet published them. It looks as though the total budget for education and apprenticeships will rise by 1% over the next four years, partly to provide funding for an extra 68,000 places, or 4% growth in the number of post-16 students. The YPLA is proposing a cut in entitlement funding from 114 guided learning hours to 30 guided learning hours. Guided learning hours are what YPLA funding buys. This represents a 75% cut in entitlement, which will translate into a 12% cut in overall funding for sixth-form colleges, and a significant cut for general further education colleges and school sixth forms. Sixth-form colleges are particularly affected because they concentrate almost solely on 16 to 19-year-old learners.
Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that places such as Nottingham, where a high proportion of learners study in colleges rather than in school sixth forms, will be particularly hard hit by these changes?
Nic Dakin: That could turn out to be the case, as the changes happen. One of the problems is that the YPLA has not yet made clear what all the impacts of the changes in funding will be. There is therefore a little bit of hope that this might not happen, and I am sure that the Minister will address that point in his response.
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): In Brighton, we have three sixth-form colleges, each of which faces a cut of at least 12% over the next four years as a result of the cuts to entitlement funding. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, once inflation and VAT have been factored in, we could be looking at funding cuts of up to 20% by 2014-15, which really is a burden too hard to bear?
Entitlement funding currently provides the money for, among other things, tutorial and guidance systems in colleges, careers support, some targeted support for weaker learners, and health advice. It also pays for
those non-examined activities such as sport, drama, music, volunteering and vocational experiences, which broaden the educational experience of young people.
Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con): I would like to raise the case of a student called Georgia, who is studying at Alton college in my constituency. As a result of the guided learning hours, she has had the opportunity to study creative writing and poetry, as well as something called "applying to competitive courses". She has also received one-to-one coaching for her Oxbridge entrance. As a result, she now has an offer from Girton college, Cambridge. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge that part of the whole picture involves trying to find the money to fund the young person's premium, which is analogous to the pupil premium. I am sure that that is something that we would all applaud, but is it not also important always to find space in the curriculum, and in the funding, for these enrichment activities that can put state-educated children on an equal footing with privately educated children, and that those activities receive the priority that they deserve?
Nic Dakin: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, drawing on a clear case study from Alton college, an excellent college in his constituency. He makes the point that it is crucial to strike the right balance and ensure that colleges can continue their excellent work in developing the whole person and allowing young people from a state education background to access the best universities. Alton, and other colleges up and down the land, have done this very well over the years. He also draws attention to what is happening to the money for disadvantaged students, which it appears is being creamed off. It is not yet clear how it will be distributed, and that is at the heart of this issue.
Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): A friend of mine who used to teach at a college in my hon. Friend's constituency told me of my hon. Friend's fine reputation in his previous role. My hon. Friend was talking about the funding cuts for 16 to 18-year-olds. I have here a note from the principal of Hugh Baird college in Sefton, who tells me:
"The very significant cut in entitlement funding for 16-18 year olds will make it a real challenge for many colleges...to give learners the excellent pastoral support, the personal and social responsibility and employability skills which they deserve and need to positively contribute to the economic recovery and society in general."
Nic Dakin: My hon. Friend makes a clear and cogent point and draws on another case study from another very good college, this time in his constituency. In many ways he makes the same point as the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) about how entitlement funding helps to develop the whole person and is crucial to the thrust of our education service and to what colleges have done so well for so many years.
Mrs Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab):
May I reinforce the point made in the two previous interventions and speak about social mobility? When I discuss the issue with the principals of Darlington college and Queen Elizabeth sixth form college in Darlington, they say that
although they are getting better and better at producing the right grades to get their students into good jobs and good universities, their students are still unable to access the same opportunities as other young people because they do not have some of the softer skills and wider experiences in life that young people from different backgrounds have been able to access as a result of their family's income. It is so important that our colleges are able to give young people those opportunities and experiences while they are at college.
Nic Dakin: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. She mentions two more very good colleges, both in her constituency. The point that she makes about social mobility builds on the points made earlier by the hon. Member for East Hampshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson). What entitlement funding has done so well is provide experiences that enrich and expand young people's experiences so that they gain greater confidence and are able to aspire to go on to greater things. The education system post-16, building on the building blocks of the pre-16 experience, has done that so well over recent years. The proposed cuts to entitlement funding call into question colleges' ability to maintain that momentum.
At the same time as entitlement funding has been cut by 12%, the maximum funding for each student has been reduced from 787 hours, or 1.75 standard learner numbers, in the jargon of post-16 funding, to 702 hours, or 1.56 standard learner numbers. That is a 10% reduction in that part of the funding formula. I warned hon. Members that the debate would get rather technical at certain points.
Some of the money saved by these measures will be returned to colleges and schools with higher numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds or with low entry qualifications, but details are not yet available of how the £150 million of disadvantaged funding will work. As the hon. Member for East Hampshire said, the lack of clarity and lack of understanding are causing concern in the sector. Those in the sector understand what is going, but they cannot see what might be coming back into the picture.
Transitional funding, which is being put in place to dampen the effect of the cut in entitlement funding, means that the maximum cut in funding per student next year will be 3%, but there is a lack of clarity about how this funding cut will be profiled in future. Many college principals are working on the assumption of a 3% cut each year for the next four years. Many are drawing up radical proposals to address the shortfall, which might be disastrous for the student experience and result in job losses in the sector.
Many colleges are telling me that if the cuts go ahead, they are likely to lead to a severe reduction in the amount of tutorial, guidance and enrichment available. That will probably be reduced to less than an hour's tutorial session a week for students, and nothing else will be able to be resourced. Colleges will be in danger of becoming nothing more than exam factories, unable to spend time on developing the whole student, a job that they are recognised as doing extremely well at present. Interventions from Members on both sides of the House tonight have evidenced the effectiveness of the job that our colleagues in the post-16 education system are doing on behalf of those students who, after all, are our future and the country's future.
It is likely that providers will now struggle to offer a broad range of extra-curricular activities that have for so long been a key characteristic of sixth-form education. Team sport, orchestras, drama productions, sign language, community volunteering, rocket science and magazine editing will all be put at risk.
Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that these cuts will be compounded by cuts to youth services, so opportunities for positive activities for young people without means will be cut off completely?
Nic Dakin: My hon. Friend makes a good point. What is happening in education should be put in the context of what is happening in services available for young people outside the classroom. I fear that without the provision of culture and sport in post-16 education, students will access these pursuits only if they or their parents can pay for them. That is the danger, and my hon. Friend emphasises that by drawing attention to the pressures on youth services at this time as well.
Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that colleges such as those in my constituency, Winstanley and Wigan and Leigh, might find the excellent links they have developed with employers jeopardised by the lack of funding and the lack of ability to send students out on visits, work experience and day trips to try some employment? In an area of high unemployment such as Wigan, those are particularly vital.
Nic Dakin: I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. Colleges are resilient and imaginative places, and I am sure that they will work hard to ensure that those student experiences are maintained. However, she is right that some of the funding for those activities comes from entitlement funding and that, if it is being cut by 75%, there is a need to square the circle, so colleges will need to look at ways of doing that. That might mean that class sizes rise or that there are other impacts on the system. However, she is right to emphasise the importance of vocational experience, sometimes quite short bursts of vocational experience within a package of learning as well as fuller training directly in the workplace, which will continue to be fully and properly resourced.
The size of the cut is unfair in comparison with the cut in funding per learner in primary and secondary education. It is also quite amazing that sixth-form colleges, rightly applauded by the Secretary of State and widely recognised as one of the most efficient parts of the education system, should be hit so badly. Surely that is an unintended consequence of a change in policy.
Will the Minister look again at the potentially very disruptive impact of the change to entitlement funding on different types of post-16 providers and consider ways of mitigating any unintended consequences? Will he provide information very soon on how much disadvantage funding will be allocated to each post-16 provider? Will he meet me and a group of college principals so that he can better understand the impact of the changes on those at the sharp end of understanding what is going on?
Finally, and slightly tongue in cheek, although I would welcome a positive answer, if he wishes to witness at first hand the excellence that the current arrangements resource, he might join me for John Leggott's spring
concert on 5 April to experience one example of what we have at the moment and what these changes might put in jeopardy.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Tim Loughton): I congratulate the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) on securing not only the debate but an audience, which is unusual at this time in the House's proceedings. I apologise that the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), who has responsibility for schools, is not responding to the debate, as would normally be the case. He is rather involved with the Education Bill at present, but I hope that I will be something of a second-best.
Tim Loughton: The hon. Member for Scunthorpe started his speech by openly and freely admitting that he was something of an anorak on the subject of 16 to 19-year-old education funding in this country, but I cannot admit to being even a cagoule in that respect. I will therefore take away his more technical questions and ensure that he receives a more detailed and considered answer from colleagues elsewhere in the Department-part of this is rocket science, as he said.
I also pay tribute to the many staff who are in the position he was in before bringing his great practical expertise to the House. There are many people involved in education in this area who do an excellent job up and down the country in difficult circumstances, as we all acknowledge, and play their part in the essential crusade to upskill young people leaving education for the increasingly competitive employment environment that they face.
I appreciate many of the concerns that Members on both sides of the House raised during what has been a good and rather more inclusive debate than is normal in Adjournment debates. The hon. Member for Darlington (Mrs Chapman) made a good point about the softer skills that are also important in educational experience, which we want to ensure are not lost. The hon. Member for Scunthorpe talked about the effect of enrichment skills on expanding the range of knowledge and confidence of young people. He also acknowledged that money will be returned to colleges to target disadvantaged students, a point to which I will return.
The hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), slightly predictably, raised the subject of youth services, in which she is something of an expert-she is making sure that the House is in no doubt of the fact. She knows that the subject is within my brief and that we will be having discussions on it soon, so there are various things that I will be able to discuss with her then. The hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) rightly mentioned the effect on high unemployment areas.
I will refer first to the spending review, which is the basis of the hon. Gentleman's concern in bringing the subject to the House's attention. I entirely appreciate the concerns about the current inevitable uncertainty, and we will seek to address that and produce clarity as soon as possible.
Bill Esterson: The Minister mentioned concern, so perhaps I can remind him of the concern that the cut we are discussing will have a combined effect with a number of other cuts. The cuts to college and sixth-form funding, when added to cuts to university funding and education maintenance allowance and the trebling of tuition fees, means that there is huge concern, particularly among students from less well-off families, about the ability to go into higher education at all. Will he respond to that point in his remarks on the spending review?
Tim Loughton: I am sure that I will respond when I get beyond the first paragraph of my comments. We are here to talk about a specific aspect of education, and as with the Secretary of State's approach in all other aspects of education, particularly at this time of scarce resources, we are determined to concentrate as much as possible on the disadvantaged and close the achievement gap, which has widened too far, and for too long. We have to have that particular focus-it is why we have come forward with the pupil premium and other particularly well targeted schemes-to ensure that those who are left behind or need extra support have a chance to be on a level playing field with other students. I shall comment on that in a moment.
In the spending review, we had three priorities: protecting schools funding; early years; and ensuring that by 2015 every young person can continue in high-quality education and training, so that they are better prepared for the world of work or for university. The latter has not necessarily received the attention that it deserves.
Margot James: The Minister refers to a 1.5% increase in funding. Both colleges-the further education college and the sixth-form college-in my constituency place great store by enrichment activities, such as music and other absolutely vital elements of a rounded education. Is it not the case that colleges are to have greater freedom over how they spend their income in future years? Can he see any reason why they will not be able to use some of the increased spending to fund the much-needed enrichment programmes that everyone in the House is so keen to see continue?
Coupled with a focus on targeting the most disadvantaged and helping to close that gap is a Government priority to devolve greater powers, autonomy and freedoms to educational institutions at all levels-to ensure that principals, heads, teachers and governors
are freed from so much of the prescription, bureaucracy and targets that went before, so that they can make the most appropriate decisions for their local student community. They, surely, are the people best placed to make those decisions. If it means concentrating more on enrichment activities, albeit with a tighter financial settlement, we must leave it to the judgment of those principals and others to make such decisions at the sharp end. My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue.
So, we are spending an extra 1.5% cash over 2010-11, so that a record 1.62 billion young people can have a place- [ Interruption. ] Sorry, I think that should say "million". We are not quite China yet. Teenage pregnancy is part of my brief, but we have not quite reached that point.
Anyway, we are spending an extra 1.5% cash over 2010-11, so that a record 1.62 million young people can have a place in education and training. That is 23,000 more places than in the current academic year. Within that total, we are increasing the proportion of funds directed at young people facing disadvantage and deprivation in order to help schools and colleges attract and retain those 16 and 17-year-olds who currently do not participate in education and training at all. We are also increasing the amount spent on foundation learning, so that those young people who were failed by the previous Government's school policies, which pumped in billions but still left many at 16 without the skills they needed to progress, can access the courses that suit their needs.
To do that, however, we have to take account of the economic situation. There is no getting away from that. Every decision that the coalition Government take is made against the backdrop of the difficult economic position that we inherited. Although Opposition Members would like to put those uncomfortable facts to one side, those of us in government have to deal with them, recognising that decisions on schools and colleges throughout the country need to take account of the dire position of public finances.
The enormous interest charges we are paying on our national debt, now standing at £120 million per day, mean that we spend more on servicing that debt than on all our schools and colleges put together, and that just cannot go on. Unless we bring the deficit under control, future funding for this critical phase of education will be endangered and future generations will suffer the consequences. That means we have to ensure that every penny we spend on 16-to-19 education and training brings real benefits to the learner, helps those who need help most and ensures young people are educated to higher levels than now.
We took the decision to reduce the requirement for enrichment activities for two reasons. The Government's first priority is to protect the core education programmes offered by schools and colleges-the whole range of courses, including A-levels, vocational qualifications and apprenticeships. It is this core that delivers the real benefits to all young people and enables them to progress successfully into higher education or employment. That is not to say that I regard the enrichment activities that the hon. Member for Scunthorpe has so eloquently praised as unimportant-far from it.
I hear what the Minister says. In some ways, it is sadly predictable in so far as it suggests that there has not really been a proper understanding of
what is happening on the ground, where there is genuine concern about the impact of the cuts, which could be quite difficult. Pastoral support and guidance is part of the entitlement funding, and that is very much part of the core of the education system as it stands.
Tim Loughton: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but he must understand that we have had to make these difficult choices. In an ideal world and an ideal economy, we would be able to service and finance a full academic and enrichment programme and the complementary aspects that much of that brings, but we do not have the luxury of that choice at the moment. As I have said, I am not in any way trying to undermine the importance of some of the things that he has suggested. The chess clubs, the debating societies, the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme, and many of the things that went on in his own college are indeed important. But at a time when we want to maximise participation by all 16 and 17-year-olds, alongside a need to respond to extremely difficult economic circumstances, providing a funding entitlement to those activities to all full-time learners cannot be a priority.
Damian Hinds: In acknowledging, as I think everybody does, that in this very difficult financial situation economies have to be found, does my hon. Friend agree that the conversation could be broadened to address some other elements? We could look at some of the cost drivers and things that go on in sixth forms today that did not take place when any of us were there-for example, the number of exams that students do and the growth trend in the number of one-year-only AS-level courses. I am not saying that I have a recommendation to make, but merely suggesting that some of these things could be part of the discussion about where to find economies.
Tim Loughton: I am happy to pass on those comments. Obviously, more detail will come out in the proposals. As a priority, we must equip the students going through this part of the educational process with the skills, qualifications and educational know-how that they need to go out and compete in the big wide world. These will be decisions for heads and principals to make at the sharp end.
I accept that tutorial provision for all is important, and that is why we have protected that, as far as possible, but at a time when we need to ensure that our funding of 16-to-19 learners is as effective as can be, we have to focus funding on those who need additional support. That is why-the hon. Member for Scunthorpe mentioned this-we have recycled the savings into areas of a higher priority where we know that more needs to be done.
Our second priority is to increase support for the most disadvantaged and less able young people; I alluded to this earlier. Only about a quarter of young people on free school meals in year 11 get the equivalent of two A-levels by the age of 19-half the level of those who are not on free school meals. I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's excellent track record while he was principal of John Leggott sixth form college. Perhaps I could now politely turn down, while very much thanking him for it, his invitation to the spring concert at John Leggott college at Easter. If I can possibly go the following year, I will endeavour to do so, if it is still going by then. I am sure it will be all the better without me.
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