There is a third route and we are already partly along that way—that is, an à la carte Europe, where each member state decides what degree of integration it is prepared to accept in view of its own national history, rather like France being a semi-detached member of

24 Oct 2011 : Column 83

NATO for 30 years because it believed it to be in the French interest, and NATO did not collapse as a consequence.

I say that we are already part of the way there, because at present, of the 27 member states, only 17 are members of the eurozone. Ten states are not, some because they do not want to be, and some because they could not join even if they wanted to. We are not part of Schengen, nor are the Irish. The neutral countries such as Austria, Ireland, Sweden and Finland have never been fully involved in defence co-operation because of their neutrality.

The problem at present is not that there is not an element of à la carte, but that there is a fiction in the European Union that that is purely temporary—that it is a transition and that we are all going to the same destination and the debate is merely about how long it will take us to get there. No, that is not the case. What we need is a European Union that respects the rights both of those who have a legitimate desire, in terms of their own national interest, for closer integration, and of those of us who do not choose to go that way. That has to be argued and negotiated, sometimes on the basis of considerable acrimony.

Mark Pritchard: My right hon. and learned Friend talks about renegotiating and repatriating powers. What powers and what timetable does he envisage?

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: As I said, the idea of an à la carte Europe is already partly there, but it should not just be a privilege; it should be a right. What we need, not just for the United Kingdom, but for all the member states, is a European Union where we will not stop France and Germany if they wish to move to closer integration and fiscal union—that ultimately is their business—but nor must they seek to impose a veto on the level of integration that we should have.

There is an irreducible minimum because, as I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, a member state cannot simply not participate in the single market, but that does involve substantial sharing of sovereignty in a way that a free trade zone does not. That point does not seem to have been acknowledged by many of the critics. If there is, as we have at present, free movement of labour, that is not consistent with a purist view of national sovereignty, but it is crucially in the interests of the United Kingdom.

Mrs Main rose—

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: I have already given way twice. I am sorry, I cannot give way again without losing my own time.

Those are the points of the real debate that we must take forward. It so happens that this is not just a theoretical option. There is a strong possibility that because of the chaos in the eurozone, there will be a need for some treaty change. That will require to be agreed unanimously, and that provides my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary with what is likely to be an excellent opportunity to take that debate forward and to argue that if other countries wish to go further, we wish to consider the question

24 Oct 2011 : Column 84

of the kind of European Union we and perhaps other countries such as Sweden, Denmark and Poland would be content with.

On that basis, I say to the House that we cannot constrain the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister in the incredibly difficult negotiations that will take place. To have a debate that might lead to a referendum on whether Britain will remain in the European Union or leave it entirely is such a massive distraction from the real concerns that this country and the rest of Europe have to address. [ Interruption. ] I am sorry, but I am entitled to my view, just as all my hon. Friends are entitled to theirs.

I am conscious that many Members wish to speak and so will conclude my remarks. There have been other occasions of this kind when people have had fundamental differences of principle. I recently read a quote that struck me as highly relevant to our debate. It was from a politician who belonged not to the Conservative party, but to the Labour party. In 1957, Aneurin Bevan, a great believer in unilateral disarmament, spoke to a Labour party conference that was likely to carry a resolution in favour of unilateral disarmament. He told his own party:

“if you carry this resolution and follow out all its implications… you will send a British Foreign Secretary, whoever he may be, naked into the conference chamber...And you call that statesmanship?”

It was good advice then and remains good advice now.

6.40 pm

Mr Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West) (Lab/Co-op): I can think of no other issue where the gap between the political elites and ordinary people in this country is so great. It is not the most important matter the House will ever discuss, but it is the one where that divergence is greatest. This divergence, and the feeling among the population of the country that their views are ignored, breeds and feeds cynicism about politics in general. The most cynical attempt to avoid that popular opinion was used in relation to the constitution that was not a constitution, because if it had been a constitution, it would have to have been put to a referendum. That was a breathtaking piece of cynicism and manipulation. No Member really believes that it was anything other than a means of overcoming the possibility of popular rejection.

It is therefore beholden on us to take seriously the fact that 100,000 voters have signed an e-petition. It was mentioned earlier that millions of Liberal Democrat voters would reject the proposal in a referendum, but I think that such a view is seriously mistaken, because there are probably no more than 100,000 people prepared to own up to being Liberal Democrat voters, so the number of people who signed the petition is greater than the number of Liberal Democrats in this country.

I think that disillusionment on this question has also been spread by the false prospectus the Conservatives gave to the country as they ran into the general election. There was a feeling in this country that a Conservative Government would stand up for Britain much more and take a more robust view on European matters, but the fact is that they have sold the jerseys. The overwhelming majority of people who voted for the Conservatives, believing that they would stand up to Europe, are now disillusioned, which is why every registration of public opinion indicates that there is a substantial drift of voters from the Conservatives to UKIP on this matter. I

24 Oct 2011 : Column 85

give the Conservatives the following advice for their own good: if they want to stop that drift to UKIP, they must stand up for what they said they would do during the general election. If they wish to say that they would like to do those things, but the Liberals are holding them back, they should come forward and say it honestly, rather than saying, “It’s actually much more difficult than we thought and we’re up to all sorts of sophisticated things that you are too thick to understand.” That is effectively what they are saying.

I am glad that this is not an in/out referendum, because I must confess that I would not have favoured either option. I am not in favour of voting in the referendum to remain in the EU, because that would be seen as a green light to ever-closer union, and I am not willing to be put in a position where the only alternative is to leave the EU, because I do not support that. I believe, as many of my colleagues on the Labour Benches once believed, that there is a third way—the way of reform. I believe that many of those who oppose the motion are doing so under the banner of reform, but are not actually all that serious about reform. They are committed to ever-closer union, but with a little tinkering.

Therefore, I support the motion because I think that the size of the vote tonight matters as a signal to the country that a substantial number of people are strongly committed to strong renegotiation when compared with those who take the view that it should be business as usual. As for those who say that the time is not yet right, I think that that is a disgraceful argument unless they tell us when the time will be right.

Michael Connarty: My hon. Friend was so opposed to the Lisbon treaty that I assumed that he had read it. Can he tell me where there is anything other than one clause that would allow an in/out referendum? There is nothing else in the Lisbon treaty on that?

Mr Davidson: I thank my hon. Friend for giving me an extra minute.

I also think that those who argue that this is simply a distraction would never want to discuss it anyway. They argue that it is not the right time or that this is only a distraction, but would they have said otherwise if the motion had been brought forward two weeks ago, or at some other time? I do not think so. They are in fact more interested in being part of the cosy club. This is an important debate, but as I said before, it is not the most important debate the House will ever have, and the EU is not the most important thing we will ever discuss.

Nadine Dorries: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Davidson: For another minute, yes I will.

Nadine Dorries: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one reason why British people are so engaged on this matter is that, in these difficult economic times, when we are giving £25 million a day to Europe, they want to see not only the repatriation of powers, but the repatriation of some of the money?

Mr Davidson: I agree with that. They would like to see that because what we need to do is move on from the debate we are having today. Whenever I see the three party leaderships lining up together, I think that they

24 Oct 2011 : Column 86

must be wrong, and I think that the vast majority of the public take that view as well. At least there is no conspiracy involving the nationalist parties, because they have not bothered to turn up. We do not know what their view is on whether Scotland would be part of an EU that Britain had already left, because that is one of the things they want to fudge and sweep under the carpet.

However, if we want out of the CAP, we ought to be discussing how we can do that? If we want to stop paying so much money to Sicilian gangsters and a variety of other crooks across Europe, how do we manage to do that? If we want to provide genuine bilateral support to those who are much poorer than us in eastern Europe, how do we do it without the middle men cutting chunks out of it? The same concern applies to the third world. How do we ensure that other European countries, individuals and gangs are not siphoning off some of that money? If we want to scrap the common fisheries policy and introduce something better, how do we do that? Those are the sorts of debates we need to have. In my constituency, how can we ensure that local people get local jobs without the EU telling us that they must be advertised Europe-wide? That is what we need to discuss.

6.48 pm

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): A few months ago the Prime Minister asked me after a debate to write to him about my views on the European Union, so I wrote him a pamphlet called “It’s the EU, stupid.” That was a reference not to him, but to Bill Clinton’s recognition that the economy is at the heart of the issue. In just the same way, I believe fundamentally, as I have set out in the pamphlet—I will quickly encapsulate some of the thoughts it contains—that this is first of all a matter of principle. The referendum issue has been going around since before the Maastricht referendum campaign. I voted yes, as it happens, in 1975, but since then we have seen the accumulation of powers and the broken promises, betrayals and prevarication. The argument is that it is never the right time to deal with these issues, but that is the problem, and the British people feel that they have been betrayed by a failure to deliver on those promises.

Steve Baker: I would have voted yes in 1975, but does my hon. Friend agree that the EU has gone far beyond that which is necessary to guarantee peace and prosperity?

Mr Cash: Yes, indeed, and I will go further: the EU has created a situation in which it actually damages our economy. That is the problem, and that is the reversal of the situation, with massive over-regulation—£8 billion a year, according to the British Chambers of Commerce—over the past 20 years in this country alone.

As I said earlier in my interventions on the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary, we are running the single market on a deficit that has gone up in the last year alone by as much as £40 billion, so it would be inconceivable for us not to take a rain-check and say, “We cannot just continue with this and pretend that nothing is going on.”

If ever there was a time to tackle the issue in principle, it is now, and that is what the motion is about: whether there is a case for renegotiation or for leaving the European Union. On renegotiation, we must establish

24 Oct 2011 : Column 87

the fact in line with the wishes of the people of this country—not because the Whips have said, “You’ve got to do this, that and the other” or, with great respect, because the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary have said so, but because we have a sacred trust, as elected Members of this House, to do what is right, in the interests of the British people as we see it for our constituents, and in the national interest. This is exactly that issue tonight.

The Prime Minister has given two speeches over the past year or so—one was about rebuilding trust in politics, and the other was about a European policy that we can believe in. I strongly recommend that people tonight, tomorrow or at some point read those speeches again and ask themselves, “What is going on in this debate today?” We know that the Whips have been strongly at work, but I had all that over Maastricht, we have had it over the years and it becomes something that we have to get used to. The reality is that we are doing the right thing for the right reason. That is the point.

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he not think that, because the debate has been generated by an e-petition, because it has been made possible by the Backbench Business Committee and because it is an issue that does not divide Members along party lines, it is totally wrong for both party leaders to apply the three-line Whip?

Mr Cash: I absolutely agree. In fact, I think that three parties are involved, and the point applies to all of them.

I should like to return to the Prime Minister’s statement today and to test it against what has been going on. He said to us: “Members of my party fought the last election committed to three things,” including, “stopping the passage of further powers to the EU.” The Foreign Secretary, in his article in The Daily Telegraph the day before yesterday, said that he objected to the Lisbon treaty, and he will remember that he, I and many Conservative Members fought, united together, against it line by line—every aspect of it—and fought for a referendum. Yet, we have been watching the implementation of further powers—I do not want to get into the semantics or legal niceties of the word “powers”, because I know them as well as anybody else in the House—and every aspect of that Lisbon treaty day in, day out, and many of the problems that we are now experiencing are a result of its implementation.

The Prime Minister went on to say that we have instituted “a referendum lock to require a referendum, by law, for…such transfer of powers”, and I have a ten-minute rule Bill on that tomorrow. It would reverse section 4 of the European Union Act 2011, which I opposed on the Floor of the House. I see the Foreign Secretary smiling, because he knows what I am going to say. The real test, as I said to the Prime Minister during his statement, is about fundamental change—constitutional, political and economic. That is the test that needs to be applied, and it was endorsed—by the way—by the Lords Constitution Committee only last year.

24 Oct 2011 : Column 88

Fiscal union, of which I shall explain more tomorrow, is such a fundamental change, but the Government quite deliberately ensured through section 4(4)(b) of the 2011 Act that there would be no referendum when the provision in question applied, in their terms, only to the eurozone and not to us directly. At the very time when we were being told that, however, I and others objected because we felt that such a provision would affect us enormously. We were told that it would not, but now we are told day in, day out how much it does affect us, and that therefore we must not do what we are doing tonight, for the very simple reason that, somehow or other, it will undermine our economic activity with the European Union. That is absolute rubbish. The reason why we are in such difficulties with deficit reduction is that there is no growth, and there is no growth because 50% of all our economic laws come from Europe. It also accounts for 40% of our trade, a point that the Foreign Secretary made, but the fact is that we have a massive trade deficit, as I have already described.

The EU is a failed project. It is an undemocratic project. This vote—this motion—is in the national interest, because it is for democracy, for trust in politics and for the integrity of this House.

6.55 pm

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): I am not sure when the Foreign Secretary has to leave, but he is going to a very important conference, the Commonwealth conference in Australia. Many people in this country believe that the Commonwealth was sold out when we joined the Common Market, and I hope he remembers that by 2050 the 55 members of the Commonwealth will have 38% of the global labour force, while the European Union, with its 27 members, will have only 5%. I hope he goes with that figure in his head to the Commonwealth conference, because then we might actually see much more attention paid to the Commonwealth.

This could have been a wonderful day for Parliament, for democracy and for the new regime—on which the coalition have to be congratulated—of the Backbench Business Committee, with its many keen members. This debate was brought about by a process involving people outside, in the United Kingdom—and let us stop talking about “Britain”, please, because when we do we ignore Northern Ireland, which when it comes to a referendum is going to be very important.

Let us not forget, as many Members have said, that this issue has reached us today not only because of the 100,000 e-petition signatories, but because of the many organisations that have brought together different types of petition and written to people. It is not just about e-petitions.

Millions of people out there are watching what we are doing today, but the three party leaders, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson) referred, have it seems almost—I am not sure whether I am allowed to use the word—colluded to ensure that Members do not have a free vote. I am therefore so pleased to hear tonight not just from my own side, but from people on the opposing Benches how many Members are prepared to say, “Party Whips are fine, because of course we are elected from our party, but sometimes the issue is more important than the party.” This issue is more important than the party, and that is why we have so much cross-party involvement in and support for the motion.

24 Oct 2011 : Column 89

Mark Lazarowicz: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Kate Hoey: No, I will not, at this point—and not to you.

A number of points have been made, and I want to make just a few short ones. On the idea that the issue is a distraction, I have to say that the European Union is the thread that runs though every part of every law that we make in this country, and we must recognise that and ask people whether we have gone too far.

The Foreign Secretary talked about repatriation of powers, which I want to see, but, on the threat of a referendum hanging over the Foreign Secretary, we know that the Commission hates referendums, and I remember him arguing—I was on his side—for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, when he stated how much more strength it would give to the elbow of the then Foreign Secretary. We want to repatriate powers, and, if the rest of the European Union knew that the British public were sick, sore and tired of the money being spent on Europe, of the bureaucracy, of the corruption and of all that, they would be much more likely to negotiate the repatriation of them.

Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): Does the hon. Lady agree that the one industry in this country that has suffered for the past 30 years under the European Union is the fishing industry? A referendum would right the wrong that has been done to that industry, and the destruction that it has suffered over the past 30 years.

Kate Hoey: I do not understand why my party, which wants a change in the fishery policy, are not allowing a free vote tonight at the very least, never mind supporting a referendum.

I get a bit fed up on this side of the House—I have said this before—about the way the media paint the matter as always being about Tory splits, attacks on Cameron, Tory diversions, and so on when a huge number of Labour supporters in this country want a referendum. That is why my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was rather ill advised to impose a three-line Whip. We need to have this debate out in the open.

What is everyone afraid of? It is ridiculous of those who are not in favour of a referendum to say that this is not the right time, because we all know that we would not have the legislation in place until the end of 2012, or probably 2013. We could not possibly have the necessary White Paper, or the details of what would go into the referendum until 2014, so no one should accept the reason that this is not the right time.

What causes the lack of confidence felt by the leaders of the main parties who are afraid of a referendum? We must choose whether to integrate fully into a pan-European system of government based in Brussels, or to seek a more international future based on trade and co-operation, not just with the EU, but with the rest of the world. It is time to stop being little Europeans; we must be internationalists. We have all had the Whips on our backs over the years. We have all survived, and many of us are still here. Despite what they have said, it is important that right hon. and hon. Members do what they think is right, what is right for their constituents, and what is right for the country.

24 Oct 2011 : Column 90

7.2 pm

Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con): It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey). I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee, and particularly my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), who is not in his place, on securing this debate. It is important, and the strength of support behind the online petition shows that people in this country care about it. I congratulate the Government on introducing the Backbench Business Committee.

Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): Some hon. Members have cited the feeling of people in this country. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Ipsos MORI conducts regular polling on the most important issues to people and that this month, as in several months, this issue is the 22nd most important, with only 3% of the population believing that it is?

Jake Berry: I am aware of that polling, and that is why I do not support today’s motion.

John Hemming: I understand that the e-petition has only 36,000 signatures, but a paper petition has more than 100,000 signatures.

Jake Berry: In my home town of Liverpool people would be burned for witchcraft for signing anything on the internet. The general petition had 100,000 signatures.

I am constantly told that the EU is not a doorstep issue, but when one scrapes the surface and goes out and talks to people, as I did in my constituency last weekend, one finds immense anger. People in my area regard the EU as remote, undemocratic and, more often than not, working against our national interest, instead of in favour of the UK. There is a perception among the people I speak to out there that Brussels is elite and is ramming through a federalist agenda while mere voters, such as people in this country, are onlookers. On the rare occasions that we have within the EU been given a chance to make our views heard, if we have voted the wrong way, Europe has simply dismissed our views.

Five of the last eight referendums in the EU have been against a proposition. When countries and people—for example, Ireland—vote against a proposition, they are told to vote again until the right result is achieved or, as with the EU constitution, we are told that it has only been fiddled around the edges with a change in only a few words or a couple of paragraphs, or that it has been changed and is only a treaty so there is no right to a referendum. That is why there is so much interest in today’s debate. The hon. Member for Vauxhall made a good point when she said the issue is not party political, or a matter of left or right, or not even Eurosceptics versus Europhiles. There is a huge appetite in this country for a genuine conversation about where our relationship with the EU should go.

That brings me to my views on the motion, which I will not support. It is absolutely right and proper to have this debate, and I am delighted that we are having it. I take this opportunity to put on record the fact that we must have a fundamental renegotiation of our relationship with Europe, but we do not live in a bubble, and we must pay attention to the crisis in the eurozone and to politics in our own country. The crisis in the

24 Oct 2011 : Column 91

eurozone is like a spark in Pudding lane. If we do not continue to support member states in supporting the euro and in sorting out the Greek problem, the fire will rip through the City of London and our entire economy. A vote today to put in doubt our membership of the EU for up to 18 months would fuel market speculation, fatally wound the eurozone and its economies, and have exactly the same effect here in the UK.

My second reason for opposing the motion is that the mainstream policy, which is supported by my party, to repatriate powers is the right way forward. Now is not the time to tell people that we are taking our bat and ball home. We must fight from within the EU to repatriate powers. There is a coalition behind that point of view beyond this Chamber. The UK Independence party fought the last general election on a policy of withdrawing from the European Union, but it did not win the election. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats together won with a mainstream policy of repatriation.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): Did UKIP not win more votes in more constituencies than the number by which we did not achieve a majority? My hon. Friend spoke about repatriating powers, but that is not Government policy. We heard the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary refer to their policy, but it is still to be agreed with our coalition partners.

Jake Berry: It is the Government’s policy. We heard the Prime Minister give commitments today on the referendum lock and future treaty negotiations. I and, I hope, my constituents take comfort from the words from the Front Bench. I will not support the motion today, but I am relying on those commitments, and I and my constituents want them to be honoured.

Ms Gisela Stuart: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Jake Berry: I am sorry, I do not have time to give way.

Failure to honour commitments on the repatriation of powers and the referendum lock will lead to further erosion of trust in this Government and this Chamber. I hope that the Government will continue to look at repatriating those powers.

7.8 pm

Mr Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Let me be clear: I do not support today’s motion because I believe that it is in Britain’s national interest for us to be involved in the European Union. As has been widely acknowledged by many in this debate and elsewhere, half of Britain’s exports go to the rest of the European Union, and 3.5 million jobs in this country are dependent on our trade with our partners in the European Union. My own constituency is a former mining constituency where manufacturing is now very important. If Britain were to withdraw from the European Union, or even substantially to renegotiate its terms of membership, it would be bad economic news for the people I represent.

Andrew Percy: I am interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman says. However, the argument is not about whether we are in or out of Europe but whether we have a referendum. If he is so convinced of his argument, why is he frightened to allow the British people to express their view?

24 Oct 2011 : Column 92

Mr David: I believe that our place is firmly inside the European Union. We had a vote in this country to join the European Union, and I see this as a natural progression.

Several Members have referred to those huge countries, Norway and Switzerland, and said that Britain could have a similar relationship with the European Union. I would make two points about that. First, neither of those countries is a major trading nation, whereas the United Kingdom is.

Mr Redwood: A very large number of jobs in China depend on exporting goods to the European Union. China is not a member of the European Union, so how do those jobs survive?

Mr David: The crucial thing is what happens to the jobs of people in this country. Many of the inward investors who come to this country from the United States of America do so because we are an integral part of the single market. If one puts in question our membership of the single market, one puts in question the economic viability of this country.

Secondly, with regard to Norway and Switzerland, let us not forget that although those countries have a good trading relationship with the European Union, the rules that it applies to them are imposed on them, whereas we are in the single market—an integral part of that market—and have a full say on the rules that apply to everyone.

The real question is not whether we support the European Union but what kind of Europe we want in future. The European Union that I want to see—as, I believe, do most people in this country—is not about uniformity and centralisation but is based on the principle of subsidiarity, whereby decisions are made as close to the people as possible. We want a European Union in which the single market—a single market that works to Britain’s national advantage—is completed. If that is to happen, it is no good our being on the sidelines moaning and groaning; we have to be there, ensuring that the European Union always works to our national benefit.

The European Union should not just be about a single market for business—it should also be a social Europe for people. The social Europe agenda is very important. Unlike the right-wing Eurosceptics, I believe that the European Union should offer something tangible for ordinary working people. Similarly, it is important for us to be concerned about the environment. Who in their right mind, these days, can believe for one moment that individual countries—medium-sized nation states—can successfully tackle the environmental problems that we face? We have to work together with other people, with other countries throughout the world, and, yes, inside the European Union.

It is also important that we address such issues as industrial policy. We must realise that we need to ensure that our small and medium-sized businesses develop over the whole of the European Union and that we need joint policies to ensure that there is maximum benefit.

Sheryll Murray: Will the hon. Gentleman tell us why he will not let the British people have a say so that they can decide that they want to support the kind of European Union that he seems to support?

24 Oct 2011 : Column 93

Mr David: I respectfully point out that there are such things as election manifestos. The Labour party, for example, has made it clear that this is the kind of Europe we want, and the kind of Europe which, if we are in power before too long, as I think we will be, we want to help to create.

We have heard a lot about money going from the United Kingdom to the European Union. Yes, there is a relatively small membership fee, but we do not hear about the fact that £1 billion of European regional development fund money that has been allocated to the hard-pressed regions of England is not being spent because of Government public expenditure cuts. Hard-pressed regions such as Rotherham, Doncaster, Sheffield, Preston, Scarborough, Barnsley and many others are losing out on European money because of the Government’s ideology. We want to make sure that that money is put to good use. We want to make sure that we have a pragmatic approach to the European Union and do not put blinkered ideology above all else. I am afraid that many people in this debate do precisely that.

Above all, if there is to be economic rehabilitation of this country, it is absolutely imperative that we have a growth strategy not only here in the United Kingdom but in the European Union. Forty per cent. of our trade is with our eurozone partners. One of the great ironies is that our Prime Minister believes in a very strict austerity-based economic policy, so his greatest economic soulmate is Chancellor Merkel. The European Union as a whole, and the eurozone in particular, needs a growth strategy. It is no good having austerity, austerity, austerity; we also need a growth strategy that will create the kind of demand that we need for prosperity for the future.

The real debate that we face in this country is not about whether we are in the European Union or out of the European Union; it is about what kind of Europe we want to see.

7.16 pm

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The big mistake that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr David) has made is to believe that Euroscepticism is a right-wing phenomenon. I have news for him: Euroscepticism is a growing movement, with people of all persuasions—right, left and middle—getting increasingly fed up with how this country is treated by the European Union. The proof of that is some of the petitions that came to the Backbench Business Committee and that stimulated today’s debate. He is going down a blind alley if he thinks that this is just a right-wing cause.

I have the privilege to represent the residents of the borough of Kettering.

Mark Lazarowicz: The hon. Gentleman says that people are concerned about how they are being treated by the European Union, and that may or may not be so. Does he accept, however, that the European Union is not some distant organisation over which we have no say? We are a powerful member state in the European Union, and we send MEPs, Cabinet Ministers and other Ministers there on our behalf. If we are not getting what we ought to out of the European Union, is not that due as much to how we are represented in Brussels as to anything else?

24 Oct 2011 : Column 94

Mr Hollobone: Many of us would like the European Union to be even more distant than it is. The problem is that its tentacles creep into all aspects of the British way of life. I think the hon. Gentleman will find that there are people in this country, from right, left and middle, who think it is outrageous that over the next five years, in this current Parliament, our membership fee will be £41 billion.

Nadine Dorries: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Hollobone: I will give way when I have told my hon. Friend that in the previous Parliament the membership fee was £19 billion; it has more than doubled.

Nadine Dorries: The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) touched on this point. If the House voted yes tonight, then when our Foreign Secretary, Prime Minister and Chancellor went to negotiate with our European partners, they would take with them the threat of the loss of £45 billion and would perhaps be treated slightly differently in the negotiations. Does my hon. Friend agree with that?

Mr Hollobone: I do agree. They could not really treat us much worse.

From my perspective and that of my constituents, whom I have the privilege to represent, the EU is getting its hands on more and more aspects of the British way of life. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) spoke about the effect on this country’s fishing industry, which has been destroyed by our membership of the European Union. Our membership fee has more than doubled. Nine out of every 10 jobs in this country go to foreign migrants, most of whom come from the European Union. These issues are not of concern only to right-wing people; they are of concern to every person in this land.

This debate is exposing an increasing disconnect between our constituents—the residents we struggle to represent—and the Front Benchers of Her Majesty’s Government and Her Majesty’s Opposition, who have tried to deny debate on this issue. One of the qualities of the Backbench Business Committee is that it chooses subjects for debate in this House that the Government would not otherwise allow. That is why the Backbench Business Committee chose this subject. We would not be having this debate if we had left it up to Her Majesty’s Government.

I have a confession for the House: I do not believe in ever closer union. I think it is wrong in principle and I think the British people do as well. I have another confession for the House: I believe that Britain would be better off out of the European Union altogether. I do not expect a majority in this House to agree with that, but I am privileged to put that on the record on behalf of my constituents in Kettering. I believe that if we were to have a referendum on in or out, most of my constituents would vote to leave because they have had enough.

Martin Horwood: Does the hon. Gentleman think we would be better off without the European arrest warrant, which brought home 145 suspects last year to face criminal charges in this country, and without Europol, which cracked the world’s largest online pornography ring last year?

24 Oct 2011 : Column 95

Mr Hollobone: As far as I am concerned, the hon. Gentleman and his Liberal Democrat colleagues are forcing this country not to have the right policy on Europe. If he wants to talk to me and other Members about justice issues, why does his party not do the decent thing and let us come out of the European convention on human rights? There are prisoners in this country whom we cannot repatriate to their country of origin because they claim spurious family life issues, which keep them here.

Michael Connarty: I hate to continue the process of lecturing, which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson) did not like, but it is the Council of Europe, not the EU, that set the convention. In 1949, 49 countries came together to bring about human rights for all in Europe.

Mr Hollobone: With the increasing ratchet of the terms and conditions of European Union membership, that is now a condition of membership for new entrants to the club.

John Hemming: I do not agree with ever closer union, but I do believe in remaining in the EU and will oppose the motion.

Mr Hollobone: The hon. Gentleman is perfectly at liberty to do that. Thanks in part to his good offices, we are having this debate about the future of Britain and Europe, which we would not be having without the Backbench Business Committee.

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): If so many people in our country want to leave the European Union, why did the only party to advocate such a thing, the UK Independence party, get only 3% of the vote in the last general election?

Mr Hollobone: In my election literature in Kettering and in my campaign speeches and hustings, I made it quite clear that I am in favour of Britain leaving the European Union, and that if there were a referendum I would vote to leave. The majority over Labour in Kettering went up quite substantially as a result. The problem with the European issue at general elections is that there are a lot of other issues to discuss and it gets lost in the noise, in part because of the establishment view on the European Union, which often suppresses public opinion on this issue.

What has most worried me in the course of the past week is the attitude of Her Majesty’s Government. I know that we cannot talk about the amendments that never happened, but one of those amendments called for a White Paper on how this country would repatriate powers from the European Union. Her Majesty’s Government were not even able to support that. Is it any wonder that, on the ConservativeHome website today, a poll suggests that two thirds of Conservative party members do not believe that the Government have any intention of repatriating powers from Europe? I have to say to those on Her Majesty’s Government’s Front Bench tonight, “Shame on you.”

24 Oct 2011 : Column 96

7.23 pm

Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone). He made a point about the European convention on human rights and was corrected by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty). The convention has nothing to do with the European Union and we should not confuse our concepts. The hon. Gentleman also talked about a membership fee. I do not know why he considers our contribution to the European Union to be a fee. The European Union is a political, geographical and economic area, and we play a part in all three aspects. The Foreign Secretary was quite right to say that because of our involvement in the European Union, we have influence with Syria, are able to negotiate with Iran and have greater power.

I am glad that the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter) has stayed in the Chamber, because he was perfectly right in his short history lesson. He used the eloquent phrase that the European Union, starting with the Common Market, began from “the embers of the second world war”. He was perfectly right about that. He also talked of sovereignty, which keeps popping up in this debate. The right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) referred to sovereignty shared. When Ted Heath took us into the European Community, he talked of a “pooled sovereignty”. That is as true today as when he said it.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also talked about various aspects of the European Union, such as Ireland and Austria being neutral states. The essence of the European Union is unity in diversity. We may have different views and perspectives, but we are united in that economic, political and geographical space.

We have talked about trade and the single market. The Conservative party is a party of trade and of the single market. The Prime Minister mentioned saying in his discussions on Sunday that the single market would always stay with the 27 member states. He was perfectly right to say that.

I have to take issue with the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash), who is no longer in his place—that is not his fault because he sat here for long enough. When I heard his arguments about the deficit and Europe, I wondered what he was talking about. Does he want a McKinley tariff wall? Does he want to stop people buying Volkswagens, Audis, Fords made in Germany, or iPads, which are made not in America but in China? What does he want in a free-trade area, where there is the free movement of goods and people? How can we go back to the era of tariff walls?

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con) rose—

Sir Stuart Bell: The hon. Gentleman can sit down because I am not giving way to him.

Teesside is the third largest port in our country. We face out to Europe and we export to Europe. The point has been made many times, including by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr David), that 50% of our exports go to Europe. Why did Nissan come to Sunderland? It is because it has the Tees and so can export to Europe. Many years ago, I heard Hilary Marquand say that in Europe we take in each others’ washing. That is perfectly

24 Oct 2011 : Column 97

true. We trade among ourselves and that trade is a rising tide that, as John Fitzgerald Kennedy said, “lifts all boats”.

The hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) touched on a significant point, which I put to the Prime Minister. He mentioned that the 17 eurozone members at the weekend elected their own president, the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy. The 17 members of the European Union that are in the eurozone will have their own meetings, outwith the 27 countries of which we are a member. Mr Van Rompuy said:

“Rest assured that we will narrowly and closely inform all the preparation of the summits we shall have in the eurozone, and we shall advise of the results.”

As I said carefully in my question to the Prime Minister, Mr Van Rompuy will have Germany on one side and France on the other, so where will we be? We have opted for a two-tier Europe and we have opted out. I am sure that the Prime Minister will do all that he can—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. Martin Horwood.

7.28 pm

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): This is an important debate. In a sense, I commend the 100,000 people who brought it about for bringing these issues into the open, not least because it has allowed Conservative Members such as the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter) and the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) to find their eloquent, pro-European voices. Many of us are perhaps guilty of having let the Eurosceptics dominate this area for far too long.

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): I think that the 100,000 people who signed the e-petition would like an answer to a very simple question: the Liberal Democrats promised an in or out referendum, so why are they not supporting one tonight?

Martin Horwood: The hon. and learned Gentleman has anticipated my next sentence. There has been a lot of talk about manifestos in this debate, so I will tell the House exactly what the Liberal Democrat manifesto said. It stated:

“Liberal Democrats…remain committed to an in/out referendum the next time a British government signs up for fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU.”

We support that now, we supported it at the general election and we supported it at the time of the Lisbon treaty, when such a fundamental change was actually being discussed. What is more, we put the matter to a vote of the House at that time, and many hon. Members who are now rising in criticism voted against it, including the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) and, actually, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), who succinctly asked earlier, “If not now, when?” Well, the answer was then, and I am afraid he missed the chance.

Mr Jenkin: I recall that debate about referendums at the time of the Lisbon treaty. One got the impression that the Liberal Democrats wanted to say they were in favour of a referendum but not vote for the amendment that might actually create one. It was a cynical manoeuvre

24 Oct 2011 : Column 98

and just the kind of thing that has brought the House into disrepute with the British people.

Martin Horwood: I thank the hon. Gentleman, but I have with me the list of how Members voted on our proposal for an in/out referendum at the time when we said it was appropriate, and I do not think his name is on the list of the Ayes. A few Labour Members did break ranks, however.

Andrew Percy: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Martin Horwood: I am sorry, I will not give way again, otherwise I will be out of time.

May I also remind some Conservative Members of what was promised in their own manifesto? It promised that any proposed future treaty that transferred areas of power or competences would be subject to a referendum lock. Of course, they actually got that in the European Union Act 2011, which we all voted for only a matter of weeks ago.

Andrew Percy: Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Martin Horwood: No, I will not, I am sorry.

Let us look at some of the options on offer in the motion. We have the renegotiation option, which, frankly, is a fiction. What kind of negotiation would take place if we actually tried to do that? What price would Monsieur Sarkozy or Frau Merkel extract in those negotiations for the disruption and risk that would be posed to the working of the Union? Why would the renegotiation succeed if the other 26 member states did not support it, and why would they support it if the only issue of debate was Britain’s terms of membership? That is why it is such a nonsense to extract renegotiation from any other fundamental shift in relationships that would be happening at the time.

Stephen Phillips: Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Martin Horwood: I am sorry, I have taken my two interventions.

What I believe all factions of Eurosceptics are really calling for in this debate is withdrawal. That is what they really believe in, let us be honest about it. They perhaps want membership of the European economic area, maybe without the complexities of European Councils or the political complexities of the European Parliament, and I assume without complexities such as the border controls of the Schengen agreement. Let me tell them that there is good news for them. There is one very beautiful country that has achieved that exalted status. One country is a beacon for the Eurosceptics. One country is a member of the European economic area but not of the European Union or Schengen. It is Liechtenstein. That is the level of influence that the Eurosceptics are demanding for this country. They would give up our influence on the European market and our influence as a member of the EU on negotiations from climate change to world trade. They would condemn us to the sidelines of Europe and do profound damage to the interests of this country.

24 Oct 2011 : Column 99

I am old enough to remember a Europe where military, communist and fascist dictatorships outnumbered democracies. One of the greatest achievements of the European Union is that we have between us—27 sovereign states and 500 million people—created a peaceful, democratic federation of which we, as Britons and as Europeans, should be profoundly proud. I am very proud of that. I believe that this is the wrong motion at the wrong time, calling for a referendum that would not work and that would do profound damage to Britain’s national interests, and I think we should throw it out tonight.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. Please resume your seats. We have had 23 speakers so far, and considerably more Members than that still wish to come into the debate. To accommodate as many as we possibly can, the time limit is being reduced to four minutes, still with injury time for two interventions.

7.34 pm

Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): I want to address the politics of this question, and in doing so pose the question why this issue, above all issues, has a sulphurous effect on our politics. I also wish to thank Ministers for getting us off the hook tonight by imposing a three-line Whip, which disguises the changing politics in the House since I have been a Member and signals that we need to rethink our position.

Why does Europe have such an evil, sulphurous influence on our politics? I am not nearly as hopeful as the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), who thinks that we are all sailing into the sunshine. Given the stresses caused by the stupidity of a single currency, I worry about what will happen to democracies in mainland Europe as countries’ living standards are forced down in an attempt to make their budgets balance.

The real reason why Europe has such a sulphurous impact on our politics is that, as we now know from the records, there has been an exercise in deceit from the word go. We know that Ted Heath, in presenting it to the British people as merely a common market, was signing up to the political project that we see now. We need not just dwell on the origins of the problem, because in the previous Parliament my party’s Government said that they would offer a referendum on the constitution. Of course, what we did not notice was that they were going to decide whether it was a constitution, and they decided that it was not. They said that they would have a referendum on it, but then said, “Oh, it’s rather too late now for the people to have such a vote.” Over the years, there has been a growth in cynicism among the electorate about whether we as parliamentarians are ever going to deal seriously with the issue, and that is what we ought to address tonight.

Mr Graham Stuart: I know that the right hon. Gentleman is very fair-minded, so I put it to him that there is a massive difference between the Labour Government’s promise on the constitution/Lisbon treaty and the Conservative party’s leadership saying, once the cheque had been cashed and the treaty ratified, that holding a

24 Oct 2011 : Column 100

referendum on it was pointless. It was not a betrayal, it was recognition of the betrayal carried out by the Labour party.

Mr Field: I disagree with that. Part of the reason for rearranging our procedures in the House and giving the Backbench Business Committee more power was to try to strike a new relationship with the electorate. What has happened? We are now having a debate that the Government presumably did not want us to have, and they are railroading their Members into supporting them with a three-line Whip. The same is happening on our side of the House.

The truth is that the Government have scored an own goal. The second big change in the House in the years I have been here, along with the cancerous effect of Europe on our democracy in this country, is that the Conservative party has changed radically. People watching the debate tonight need only look at the number of Conservative Members who wish to participate and the number of Labour Members who wish to participate. When I first came here, if someone raised the issue of Europe regularly they were cast as being slightly bonkers or very bonkers. Now we see that the Conservative party has genuinely changed on the issue. Thanks to the Government’s ham-fisted approach in imposing a three-line Whip, the country will not see how significant that change has been and how in tune the Conservative party now is with both Conservative and Labour voters in the country.

I make a plea to Members on my own side of the House. We are getting it wrong on the issue of the representation of England and appear to be a party controlled by our Scottish colleagues. Increasingly, the question will be how England is represented in this Parliament, and so far we are on the wrong side of that debate. Again tonight, by trying to force Members into the Lobby in support of the Government stance, we are in danger of alienating many Labour voters.

When I first stood for election, the turnout was 85%. Last time, it was 60%. How have we managed to turn off 25% of the electorate? It comes down to our conduct as politicians. We were going to make a small move by having debates that we, Back Benchers, could control, but the Government decided it would be better to clobber us with—

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order.

7.39 pm

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), who has long made measured contributions to such debates, but I want to draw attention to my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway), who is not in the Chamber. He made the speech of the night so far by bringing his integrity and judgment to the fore at the expense of his political office in the Government. The House should respect him especially for that.

The fact is that this debate is beginning to show a pattern. Members who reflect the widely held public sentiment that our relationship with the European Union is not quite right and that something needs to change are all in favour of a referendum, whether that means a modest renegotiation or, like my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) says, leaving the EU

24 Oct 2011 : Column 101

altogether. Members who have spoken against the motion are determined to keep the relationship the same, at least for the time being.

I fully respect my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who says that he wants to repatriate powers, but as with St Augustine and chastity, he wants repatriation, but not yet. We know that public opinion overwhelmingly shows a strong sentiment for a fundamental change in our relationship with the EU. Unfortunately and sadly for the House, on an occasion when we could reflect our voters’ genuine concerns on this vexed subject, which has riven politics and both parties over many years, we will vote perhaps 4:1 against what we know most of our constituents would prefer.

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): Does my hon. Friend accept that although the country is undoubtedly interested in all matters EU, it is probably more interested in issues such as growth and jobs? Does he also accept that a referendum at this time would simply create uncertainty, which would hardly be conducive to attracting the foreign investors that we need to help with growth and jobs?

Mr Jenkin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point, but this issue has come to the fore because it is about not only democracy and consent, but growth and jobs. If the coalition came into being for anything, it was for the deficit reduction programme. That is its raison d’être. It might not have escaped her notice that that programme is in trouble, because the economy is not growing. There are many reasons for that—the US, the crisis in the eurozone, and our country’s indebtedness and excessive taxation—but one fundamental reason is that we are overburdened with European regulation. That is why a majority of businessmen in this country now say that the advantages of the single market are outweighed by the disadvantages.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I spent 10 years in the European Parliament and watched powers transferred from Westminster to Brussels, making business more expensive and introducing more regulation. If we want to free up our economy and move forward, we need substantially to renegotiate. The motion gives us a chance to send that message to the Government and to strengthen Ministers’ hands when they go to Europe to do so.

Mr Jenkin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point.

We know from experience that we cannot rely even on the assurances given to us by our European partners. In 1992, we thought we had opted out of what was then called the social chapter. We thought that would protect us from the working time directive, but by the end of that Parliament the EU had circumvented the opt-out in typical fashion: it used a different treaty base to force the directive on to our statute book, against the wishes of our Parliament, by making it a health and safety programme.

The same thing is happening with the agency workers directive, which the Government have bitterly opposed because they know that it will price more young people

24 Oct 2011 : Column 102

out of the labour market. We now have above-average youth unemployment in this country when it used to be below-average.

Martin Horwood: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Jenkin: I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I have given way twice.

The same thing is happening in the regulation of the City of London. If there is one thing that we should never have agreed to in principle, it is that the European Union and Michel Barnier should take over the regulation of the City—our biggest single tax generator. That was driven by a misplaced notion that Bonn, Frankfurt, Paris and the City should be given equal status as global financial centres. That would be disastrous for the City.

We should oppose the Tobin tax on principle, because at the end of the day, it is another tax that takes money out of the pockets of ordinary people, but you wait, Mr Deputy Speaker, the financial transactions tax proposed by the EU will be forced through on some spurious treaty basis.

Sir Stuart Bell indicated assent .

Mr Jenkin: The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell) agrees that that will be forced through on a spurious basis to cover the City. To coin a phrase, we can’t go on like this. Now that the EU is moving into a phase in which huge decisions, such as the decisions of the 17 on fiscal union, are being taken without the requirement of a British signatory on any treaty, we are losing the veto, which was the foundation of our EU membership and which made it acceptable.

Therefore, it is now time to renegotiate. It is urgent for our economy. If we need a referendum to force the Government’s hand, that is what I will vote for.

7.46 pm

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): About halfway through this evening’s debate, it might be helpful to remind the House that the motion states:

“That this House calls upon the Government to introduce a Bill in the next session of Parliament to provide for the holding of a national referendum”.

Do hon. Members remember national referendums? All three parties promised one in their 2005 election manifestos, and each came up with its unique way of reneging. The motion states that the referendum should be

“on whether the United Kingdom should

(a) remain a member of the European Union on the current terms;

(b) leave the European Union; or

(c) re-negotiate the terms of its membership in order to create a new relationship based on trade and co-operation.”

I must confess that when I first read that, I thought it would be extraordinarily difficult for anyone to disagree with a single word of it, whether they were for or against the EU.

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): On the subject of reneging on promises, is not the crux of the matter this: if we live in a democracy, the people should have a voice?

24 Oct 2011 : Column 103

Ms Stuart: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Moreover, whatever people think about referendums—whether they think they are good or bad—the political parties on both sides of the House have started to promise them, but once in government, they come up with incredibly ingenious ways of changing their minds.

I recommend that the one third of hon. Members who were not here in 2008 watch the Foreign Secretary’s speech on Second Reading of the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008—the Foreign Secretary mentioned that it is on YouTube. It was a brilliant speech. It was so funny I even bought a copy. It is quite interesting to see why he has changed his mind. For an illustration of a 180° turn, watch that speech.

European Union debates become kitchen sink debates. Rather than put arguments on the substance of the debate, hon. Members put arguments for or against. For the Lib Dems, returning one criminal to the UK becomes the reason why we need an EU-wide arrest warrant and criminal justice system; on the other hand, the EU is bad because one old lady is run over in a constituency in the north-east because of the working time directive.

Let us for a moment forget about that and talk about the nature of democracy and the nature of democracy in the House. For better or worse, the House has decided that it should become a far more participatory democracy. We have said that we will ask the people much more and have such things as e-petitions. If we are to have e-petitions, we had better start taking them seriously. We cannot say, “Some are more frivolous than others. If they suit us, we’ll take them on board; and if they don’t, we’ll knock them on the head,” because they are all serious.

The introduction of the Backbench Business Committee was good for democracy in the House, but there are things that we cannot do—the Prime Minister’s statement, which was one of the weakest I have ever heard from a Prime Minister returning from a European Council, showed the weakness of the changes made. We no longer have pre-European Council debates, whereas previously we would have had a day to discuss it; the Foreign Affairs Committee, as I understand it, no longer visits one of the troika countries during the six-month period of a presidency; and we have no specific debates on the EU, and whenever anybody wants to discuss it, we write them off as narrow-minded little Englanders who just want to get out, but it might be that they do not like the current arrangements or that they want someone to make the case for them.

It is presumptuous of the House to think that it knows what the people would say. We should not take for granted what the people would say. Even if I were to accept the Government’s argument that now is not the time, what is the case against having a referendum at the same time as the EU elections in 2014? I assume that for once—it has not happened since I have been around—we would have a European election during which we actually talked about Europe. We could have a referendum on such an occasion. In the name of democracy and having trust in the people, which we all say that we do, we should vote for the motion tonight, because if politicians do not trust the people, why on earth should the people trust the politicians?

24 Oct 2011 : Column 104

7.51 pm

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): There have been many powerful speeches already rightly saying that this debate is about democracy. Democracy is fundamental to the House—the mother of Parliaments, an example to the world—which has been through a bad time. It has been humbled by its failure to listen carefully enough to the people and because too many powers of self-government have been needlessly given away to Brussels. The people not only want us to listen, to have this great debate and to have a free vote to express their opinions and views, but would like to feel that the people in this House, charged with the duty of governing, have the power to govern. They believe that the Government should come here and answer to us and that we, from both sides of the House, should hold them to account. If they do a good job, the public reward them in a general election, and if they do a bad job, they sack them. However, what we now see happening, because there is too much unaccountable European power, is the breakdown of the fabric of consent that is fundamental to a democracy.

If hon. Members were to go to Greece today, they would see what happens when that consent starts to break down. Rich Greeks now think that their Government have no right to tax them because they are on autopilot from Europe and they do not like what it is doing, and poor Greeks think that the Government have no right to remove some of their benefits because they think, again, that they are on autopilot from Brussels. In Portugal, Ireland or Slovakia, we see that the European mess can change Governments—regardless, almost, of what the people think—but that when the people put in a new Government, it makes absolutely no difference to the policy that the country is following, because it is all on autopilot and has been preordained by the IMF, the bankers and, above all, the EU bureaucrats and assembled member states.

We need to ensure that we—those of us with a heart and a conscience—send a loud message to our constituents tonight that we are democrats, that we think that the public were right to demand this debate, that we admire the Prime Minister for making it possible through the petition system and that we would like the Whips to withdraw so that a proper expression of opinion can be given. We want our Government to understand that if too many powers are taken away, we will no longer have the authority or opportunity to govern. Already, we have to say too often to our constituents, “I cannot help you with that because it is a European directive. I cannot assist you with this because it is an unaccountable European programme.” We can no longer change the law in the way that we wish because it is preordained by some Brussels decision.

This House was great when every law that applied to the British people was fought over in this Chamber and in Committee and satisfied the needs of the majority. This House was great when the public knew that when they had had enough of rotten Government, they could change not just the people, but the policies they were following. This House was great when it had full control of all our money and did not have to give away tariffs and taxes to foreign powers to spend in ways of which we do not approve. We need to wake up. We need to do what the British people want us to do. We need to take responsibility for governing this country. We need to

24 Oct 2011 : Column 105

enact the laws. We need to debate and argue about it in here. Brussels has too much power. The British people need a say. Let us have a vote.

7.54 pm

Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): I shall be voting for the motion tonight because I do not want to be part of what has become a three-party conspiracy against the people. It is an abomination of democracy that the three parties, all of which have promised referendums and then denied the people those referendums and which are now forcing us to vote against a referendum, decided to impose three-line Whips on their followers to vote for Europe. It is behaving like Europeans. The EU is the construction of an EU elite that does not listen to the people: it knows where it wants to go, and it is not bothered what the people think. We cannot have that attitude in this country.

We have to show the people that they can have a referendum. When we had a referendum 36 years ago, people voted for a very different institution—for a trading relationship—but it has now become a European monolith with ever-increasing powers. It is moving towards ever closer union and is claiming to control economic policy as well. It is a very different institution and far more expensive. Budget contributions are £7 billion net a year, rising to £10 billion fairly soon. The CAP costs us £16.7 billion while the common fisheries policy costs us £4.7 billion. The British people must have a say on whether they want to make those excessive contributions. Why should the three parties be denying them?

It would have been sensible for all three parties to agree to give us a free vote so that we could hear the sensible, clear, un-Whipped decision of Parliament. That might well have been in favour of a referendum, but I do not know. It would also have been sensible for the Government to have had a referendum in reserve because it would have strengthened their position in the negotiations with Europe that the Foreign Secretary told us were to come, but they avoided that. I cannot tell how this euro crisis, which is bedevilling us all, will work out—nor can the Prime Minister for that matter—but I question whether it is in our interest to keep the euro going. It would be more sensible for Greece to devalue and come out, and perhaps for some of the other Club Med states to do the same, because it would allow them to expand and grow, whereas at present they face 10 years of deflation. That would also put up the exchange rate of the German—or northern—euro, so that it would become less competitive and take a smaller share of our markets. That would be a logical outcome.

We are going to struggle to use the big bazooka, as the Prime Minister put it, to keep Humpty Dumpty together—I am not sure how we would do that—but we have to bear it in mind that the people of Europe also want referendums. There are a series of policy studies based on the 2009 referendum showing that in Europe, 63% of people—from a sample of 27,000—wanted any future decisions to be taken by a referendum. This has been an interesting debate. It has been interesting how little praise for Europe there has been. It was interesting, too, that the Foreign Secretary defended Europe by praising with faint damns and turned down the weapon that the House was offering. I hope that we have tonight a big vote in favour of the motion. It would send a signal to Europe of what the people of this country

24 Oct 2011 : Column 106

think—not the elite, but the people—and would send a signal to the people that they can trust us and that we have their interests at heart.

7.58 pm

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): I, for one, shall be supporting tonight’s motion for one simple but important reason: the very nature of our relationship with the EU has fundamentally changed since we joined it in 1975, yet the British people have not been consulted on that change. Instead, they have consistently been denied a say. Perhaps tonight, we have an opportunity to put that right.

It is a great shame that all three political leaders are whipping this vote in the way that they are. Some of the arguments that have been used to try to defeat the motion are illustrative. There has been no shortage of red herrings and Aunt Sallies as to why we cannot have a referendum on our future relationship with the EU. The first is about economics. A long line of speakers have talked about how important Europe is to us economically and how things would get so much worse if we left the EU. However, the debate on the motion is not about that; it is about whether we give the British people a say about the nature of our relationship with the EU. That argument is therefore a red herring. Indeed, the fact that our balance of trade with Europe is negative weakens it even further.

We have had the red herring about timings: “This is not the right time.” However, I cannot remember when, in the last 36 years, it has been the right time. We have consistently been told, “This is not the right time.” I would turn that on its head and say that, with Europe in a state of flux, this might be a good time to renegotiate our relationship. I find it strange that, once again, the line is: “This is not a very good time.”

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the right time to have a referendum was on the Lisbon treaty, which was in all three parties’ 2005 manifestos? Frankly, I would have enjoyed campaigning for a no vote to that treaty, rather than watching the previous Prime Minister surreptitiously go down to Lisbon and sign it virtually in secret.

Mr Baron: I am sure that the majority in the House can agree with that view.

Let us look at some of the other red herrings that have been discussed this evening. There is the argument that if the motion was passed and we had a referendum, that would somehow weaken the Foreign Secretary’s hand. I completely disagree with that. A Foreign Secretary or Prime Minister going to negotiate would be emboldened by knowing that the voice of the British people had indicated the direction of travel and how they wanted the relationship to progress.

Then we have had the argument that says, “Why bother with the motion? We’ve already got an à la carte Europe”—that is, people are already opting in and out of this and that, and so on. However, that argument does not stand up either, for the simple reason that what is happening, under the very noses of the British people, is that our sovereignty is being salami-sliced, week in, week out. We may talk about a referendum lock on future treaty changes, but to a certain extent that is

24 Oct 2011 : Column 107

tilting at windmills, for the simple reason that there is no treaty on the horizon; rather, what is happening, week in, week out, is that key competences and powers are being transferred over to Brussels. One example is in criminal justice, with the European investigation order.

Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): That is a valuable point. Is it not the case that legislation regularly comes forward within the extensive competences that the European Union already enjoys? The European Union is occupying ground and legislating in matters that should be the preserve of this House.

Mr Baron: Absolutely, and my hon. Friend is well placed to see that for himself, sitting as he does on the European Scrutiny Committee. Key competences and powers are transferred across to Brussels almost daily, yet the political leaders in this place seem not to recognise that fact.

The political elites across Europe—not just here—should understand the growing frustration with the current situation. We joined what was essentially a free trade area; it has turned more and more into political union. People do not like that. They want to be consulted, but they will be denied that freedom of choice if Members in this Chamber defeat the motion this evening. That, in my view, has to be wrong.

The time to put it right is now. This is the motion that some of us have long believed is right and that was going to happen, but because of U-turns and deliberations by party leaders we have been denied this say. The political elite need to understand that at the end of the day they must answer to their electorate. They cannot justify ignoring the electorate when there has been so much fundamental change in our relationship with the EU. I would urge hon. Members—particularly those who may still be undecided—to support the motion this evening, if only in the name of democracy.

8.5 pm

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab) rose—

Hon. Members: Groan!

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. He has not said anything yet.

Mr MacShane: In the spirit of the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), tonight I shall vote for parliamentary democracy and against plebiscites, and I urge all hon. and right hon. Members to do the same.

8.6 pm

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): It is amazing how united the Conservative party has been so far today. We had a Eurosceptic statement from the Prime Minister and then a Eurosceptic speech from the Foreign Secretary, so it can only be the Liberal Democrats who are inveigling us down the path of unrighteousness and taking us away from supporting the motion. The Foreign Secretary made six points that must have been written for him by the Liberal Democrats, because he is

24 Oct 2011 : Column 108

far too clever a man to have thought of them for himself, because they do not really add up. I shall go through them.

The Foreign Secretary made two points that were essentially trivial—too trivial for a man of his standing. They were, first, that there was no manifesto commitment for a referendum. However, manifestos can deal only with what is known at the time; they cannot deal with things that have not yet arisen. The crisis in the eurozone and the changes that could come from it were not known with clarity at that point, so it is now right to think beyond the manifesto to what the next steps are. That point can therefore be discarded.

The Foreign Secretary then said that we had passed an Act of Parliament to deal with when we could have referendums, and so we did; but again, this House knows many things, but it is not omniscient. It cannot take care of every occasion that may arise when a referendum may be a good idea or every occasion when the British people—whom we should trust—may want one. So, those two points go.

The other two points that do not add up to much were, first, that a three-way referendum is confusing. However, that is not a problem because the motion calls for a Bill in the next Session, which can deal with any confusion. We can, in our wisdom, work out how to phrase a referendum—or series of referendums, if necessary —that will be understandable.

Martin Horwood: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and we always enjoy his speeches, but will he clear up some confusion about the proposed three-way referendum? Will it use the alternative vote system or first past the post? The motion is not entirely clear.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me an extra minute—it is kind of Gloucestershire to give something to Somerset for once. That issue can be dealt with in the legislation. Indeed, we could have two referendums. As it happens, it might make more sense to have the second referendum after the renegotiation is completed.

The fourth point that did not work was that the EU was all or nothing. However, it is already not all or nothing: we already have opt-outs and so forth. There are therefore two remaining points—as those who are good mathematicians will have worked out—that we need to look at. One was that we are dealing with this issue in a crisis and this is therefore the wrong time: “When a man’s house is burning down, you send in the fire brigade.” Quite right. But then, when he wants to hire someone else’s house nearby to find fresh accommodation, they can set the terms of the tenancy. That is the position that we are in with the European Union—a very strong negotiating position, which we should maximise.

We should also note that we cannot solve our financial crisis until we have freed ourselves from the yoke of European regulation. Only this weekend, we have seen that Tesco is going to take on fewer part-time people because of a directive from Brussels. Are we really going to deny our citizens growth because Brussels wants to put a further yoke on them?

Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): Is my hon. Friend aware that one of Tesco’s most profitable areas is the part of eastern Europe that is in the European Union?

24 Oct 2011 : Column 109

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Tesco, great company that it is, is also very popular in Thailand, whose application for membership of the European Union I am currently unaware of.

The Foreign Secretary made a final point that we would lose opportunities by going for a referendum now. Well, of course we would not; we would gain them. We are negotiating on the budget for the next few years on the basis of an absolute majority and a one-vote veto. This is not the intermediate budget. Our position is quite strong.

As I see it, we have a wonderfully united Conservative party, upset by the Liberal Democrats. I admire the Liberal Democrats. They are good, honest people, but, when push comes to shove, getting a proper relationship with the European Union is more important than the coalition. If the Liberal Democrats want to go into a general election saying, “Let’s have more rules from Brussels and from Mr Barroso”, let them try it. We shall see how many seats they win on that basis. It is for us Back Benchers to say to Her Majesty’s Government: “Stiffen your sinews, summon up the blood and imitate the action of a tiger, for that is how you should behave towards our European partners, not like Bagpuss.”

Hon. Members: Hurrah!

8.11 pm

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): When I made my maiden speech, Ann Widdecombe had spoken just before me and she got a cheer. At the time, I said to myself, under my breath, “Follow that!” I am afraid that I shall have to do the same thing now.

The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) mentioned red herrings several times. I am afraid that there are rather too few herrings around our shores on account of the common fisheries policy. It is a pleasure to speak in the debate on the motion tabled in the name of the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), and I congratulate him on bringing it forward. I shall certainly be voting for it this evening.

It is abundantly clear that the call for a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union now has mass support across the country. A recent YouGov poll showed that 61% were in favour, with only 24% against. Among Labour supporters, 53% are in favour of a referendum, with 33% against. I hope that, together with other comrades, I speak for that 53% majority of Labour voters.

There is no mystery as to why our political leaders are so opposed to holding a referendum. It is clear that they fear doing so because our electorate might vote for Britain to withdraw from the EU. If that happened, I suspect that there might be a domino effect across the whole European Union. I am, however, mystified as to why our leaders are so frightened of such an outcome.

Mr Sam Gyimah (East Surrey) (Con): No one can really know what will happen in a referendum. In 1975, the public seemed to be against the EU, but they voted by 2:1 to join. None of us really knows how public opinion will fall in a referendum.

Kelvin Hopkins: I entirely accept that point, but I believe that the British people have become wiser about this matter since 1975. At that time, every single organ

24 Oct 2011 : Column 110

of the media was in favour of a yes vote; a no vote had no support in the media at all.

Mr Leigh: Surely the point is also that, in 1975, the hon. Gentleman had a vote, I had a vote and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), who is sitting next to me, had a vote. I do not know whether Mrs Bone had a vote—

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): She was too young.

Mr Leigh: Indeed, and Mrs Leigh certainly did not have a vote, along with 84% of the present population. Do they not have a right to vote?

Kelvin Hopkins: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I was the agent for the no vote in Bedfordshire in 1975, so I have a track record.

Is our political class frightened that, if the British people voted to leave the European Union, we would no longer be a member of the common fisheries policy? Are they frightened that we might regain control of our fishing waters, stop the fishing free-for-all and see our fish stocks recover? Is it frightened that we would no longer have to subscribe to the common agricultural policy, and that we could instead choose to subsidise our farming, as and when, and where, we considered it appropriate and necessary? Is it frightened that we would no longer have to contribute to the European Union budget, at a cost of many billions a year, and rising? I cannot for the life of me see why such developments are so frightening.

There is also the old chestnut about Britain’s economic dependence on the EU, and the number of jobs that people say could be lost. We have heard a great deal about that tonight. The reality is that we have a massive trade deficit with the EU. In 2010, we bought £53.5 billion more from the rest of the EU than they bought from us. It is laughable that the EU could start a trade war with the UK, when it needs us so much more than we need it.

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend feel comfortable being bracketed with those such as the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) who want to take away the rights of workers and recalibrate arrangements more towards employers?

Kelvin Hopkins: I want this Parliament, not Brussels, to decide our employment laws. I have every confidence that the British people will vote in a Labour Government next time, to restore powers to trade unions and to working people. That is what I shall always fight for.

If we were to leave the EU, we should also find ourselves not bound by EU competition rules, so that we could, for example—and uninhibited by Brussels—buy trains from Bombardier, rather than from continental producers. We could also stop EU rules being used to promote the privatisation of the NHS. So what is there to fear? Rather, I think that there would be great advantages to being independent of the EU, and I have not heard a compelling argument to the contrary. I am going to vote for the motion tonight. This is the beginning of a long campaign, and I look forward to its successful end.

24 Oct 2011 : Column 111

8.17 pm

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): It is a pleasure to rise to support the motion tonight. The House will know that I am not a “usual suspect”. Loyalty to the Conservative party runs through my veins, having been a member for 26 years. Those on the Front Bench will know that, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) had his problems with grammar schools in 2007, I supported him. I also stood shoulder to shoulder with my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague) in 2001 when he was performing his historic role of saving our currency from the single currency that was being foisted on our country. He was traduced, lied about, ridiculed and attacked, and that was just by people in our own party. He was vindicated, however, and we have yet to hear a substantive apology from many of the people who advocated joining the single currency.

It is more in sorrow than in anger that I vote for the motion tonight, because I support the Government and the fantastic work that they are doing on schools reform, on welfare reform and on getting down the appalling deficit left by the previous Labour Government. So I need no lectures on loyalty from some people. I defer to the Foreign Secretary, but I regret the unfortunate rhetoric that he used this morning about parliamentary graffiti. If I may be cynical, I fear that it has been a long road to Damascus from Richmond, Yorkshire, but I hope that I am wrong about that.

I say to my colleagues that we can have a proper, mature debate on the future. This is not like the theological, semi-religious schisms of the 1990s. There is a settled Eurosceptic consensus in our party, and we now need to think about where we are going and how we are going to get there. The motion is helpful. It would have given the Prime Minister the wind behind his back. It is flexible, and it does not seek to fetter discretion. It is most certainly not a “better off out” motion. We could have had a well-informed, reasonable debate between the respective positions.

Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful, personal statement to the House on his position on the motion. Does he agree that the public want to see less Europe and more Britain, and that the only way to achieve that is through supporting the motion and giving the British public a democratic vote on our future relationship with the EU?

Mr Jackson: I could not have put it better myself.

Hon. Members have made the point that a person has to be over 54 years of age to have had the opportunity to take part in a plebiscite on our future in Europe. If we can have a referendum on fiscal powers for Wales, on the north-east Assembly, on Scotland, Northern Ireland, Greater London government and other issues, why can we not have one on one of the most important philosophical differences about our approach to the European Union in a whole generation? It is not right.

Nadine Dorries: We have heard many Members say this evening that now is not the right time. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a disingenuous argument because this motion does not impose a referendum now, but at some time in the future. Those hon. Members who say that now is not the right time are, as I say, being incredibly disingenuous about the motion.

24 Oct 2011 : Column 112

Mr Jackson: Absolutely; I agree with my hon. Friend. When is the right time? Net contributions of £9 billion are not loose change in our politics. We are on the cusp of a potentially new, more deeply integrationist treaty and an irreversible hard EU monetary union with profound ramifications for the future of this country, particularly for the City of London.

I have to say to the Foreign Secretary, who is now on his flight to Canberra, that he once described the euro as

“a burning building with no exits”,

but he seems happy now to provide new mortice locks for the windows and the doors.

The House of Commons should be allowed a free vote and an unfettered debate on this issue. The Government have no mandate to whip the vote as they have this evening. No one has a mandate since all the parties effectively reneged on the Lisbon treaty prior to the last general election. I have to say, as a former Whip, that this has been a catastrophic mismanagement for my party. We should have been able to show to our people that we were mature and that although we had logical differences, we would respect each other so that the integrity of Parliament would have been improved as a result. Instead, we have had the heavy-handed whipping that we have seen tonight.

We can no longer exclude the people of this country—in the era of Twitter, Facebook and the internet—from the decision-making processes. We cannot infantilise them and make them look foolish as if only we, with the political elite and the plutocratic, bureaucratic elite of Europe, know what we are doing and they are too stupid to understand because they are the little people. It will not do any longer. The people’s voice will be heard.

I gave my maiden speech in June 2005. I said then that

“all political power is merely a leasehold held on trust and…it can be removed at any time. The people of Peterborough put their trust in me…I promised not to let them down”.—[Official Report, 6 June 2005; Vol. 434, c. 1078.]

It is a leasehold; we cannot sell the freehold of our birthright, our democracy and the freedom of our country.

I have no intention of breaking the bond of trust I made with my constituents in Peterborough. If we cannot debate the biggest constitutional issue of our generation here in the very cockpit of democracy in the House of Commons, why are we here? That would make manifestos a sham and elections meaningless. For me, constituency and country must come before the baubles of ministerial office. I will keep that faith with my constituents and, with a heavy heart, I will vote for the motion and take the consequences.

8.23 pm

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): My starting point is that there are good democratic reasons for those in favour of our continued membership of the EU, albeit a reformed EU, to support a referendum. I believe that it is precisely the refusal to give people a say on the EU that is leading to greater public disillusionment with it. It is precisely that that leads people to think that the EU is an elitist project which is done to them and

24 Oct 2011 : Column 113

which is not in the interests of the majority. I do not agree with that position, but I think it right that it should be debated.

I believe that the EU has enormous potential to spread peace, freedom and security, to promote and protect democracy and human rights—at home and throughout the world. It has the potential to be a true pioneer in the transition to low-carbon economies and living more rightly on the planet. I believe that to fulfil that potential, however, it has to change direction and put greater democracy and greater sustainability at the heart of its objectives. I think having a referendum would enable us to debate the end-goal or purpose of the EU. At the moment we have lots of debates about whether we want more or less EU without answering the question, “To what purpose the EU?”

For many Conservative Members, the answer will be that they want the EU, if they want it at all, to have far more of a free trade focus. For my party, we think it has too much of a free trade focus, but that is not the issue. The issue here is the right of the people to say what they want, the right to have that debate and the right for us to differ, as necessary, but none the less to have that debate about the advantages and, indeed, some disadvantages of the EU.

In my experience, many of today’s European citizens are simply no longer sure what the EU is for. In my view, the ambitious free trade project at the heart of its original treatise has become an end in itself. Debates about the future of the EU have been dominated by the idea that the overriding goals of European integration are economic and that the progress of the EU should be judged in terms of economic growth and the removal of market barriers alone. As a result, the EU has failed to address fundamental questions of political culture and strategic purpose and has therefore also failed to inspire the mass of citizens with a sense of enthusiasm and common cause, thus calling into question its own legitimacy.

In order to tackle the new threats and challenges we face today and to deliver a fair, sustainable and peaceful Europe into the 21st century and beyond, the EU must undergo radical reform. It must become more democratic and accountable, less bureaucratic and remote. It also needs to have a more compelling vision of its role and purpose, and a referendum would provide an opportunity to debate precisely those issues. To try to shut down that opportunity is, I think, very dangerous. It is possible to be pro a reformed EU and in favour of a referendum.

I agree that there are plenty of areas where the EU needs reform. The common agricultural policy is in many respects an environmental disaster. The common fisheries policy ends up with enormous over-fishing and the scandal of discards. Unaccountable corporate influence over decision making skews the outcome of many decisions. There is an extraordinary arrogance, for example, in dressing up the Lisbon treaty as something different from the repackaging of the constitution that it really was.

I believe that, more urgently than ever, we need the EU to fulfil its potential for strong environmental policy and for securing energy policy and energy security into the future. If it is to do that, however, it must have the consent of the British people. We need to make the case for a reformed EU. We should not be afraid of making that case. I believe that if we make it strongly, we will win it, which is why I support tonight’s proposal for a referendum.

24 Oct 2011 : Column 114

8.27 pm

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this very important debate. It is, in fact, a historic debate because it is the first that has been triggered by the public through the petitions system. I believe that that system is a wonderful one; it is absolutely right to hold this debate today. I also think it right in principle that this House should debate issues of particular importance to the public, of which this is one.

I shall oppose the motion, which fills me with disappointment. I would have liked to come to this debate to speak about the frustrations I feel—many of my colleagues have spoken about theirs today—over many of the decisions taken in the European Parliament, which I would have preferred to see taken in the British Parliament. There has been a trend for decisions to be made in the European Parliament since 1975. I should have liked to concentrate on that, and to speak in favour of a motion rather than against one.

I am a Eurosceptic and always have been. In 1975 I campaigned for an “out” vote. I remember one of my colleagues saying that at the start of that referendum we thought we would win, but in the event we lost by a ratio of 2:1, and that is a lesson that I have not forgotten. Perhaps my greatest contribution was that in 2001, during a Save the Pound rally in Monmouth at which the current Foreign Secretary was speaking, I was hit on the back of the head by an egg that was directed at him. I “took one” for the Conservative party.

Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): The motion is tragically timed, because it pits against each other the equally valid causes of ensuring that security and stability are maintained during a great euro crisis that will affect us here in the United Kingdom—even the discussion of a referendum on leaving the European Union will contribute to that instability—and giving the people the voice that they have been denied for so long in the determination of our role in Europe. It is a shame that that conflict has arisen today, but it makes our referendum lock and the conditions surrounding it all the more important.

Glyn Davies: I agree with my hon. Friend. I am in conflict with many of my colleagues who have spoken today about timing, and I am very disappointed not to be flying the Eurosceptic flag that I should like to be flying. I remember how appalled I was when the last Government reneged on what I saw as a promise to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. That was the right time, but I believe that it may well come again and in similar circumstances.

Two issues matter greatly to me. One is the type of referendum that we are discussing. I think that if a referendum is to be held and is to engage the public, there should be two options rather than three, as the motion suggests. A “preferendum” would be a mistake because it would not be clear enough, and I therefore cannot support the motion. The second issue is timing. I think that to have a debate on a referendum would be a huge mistake while we in Britain must deal with huge financial and economic issues, along with another massive issue—the social dislocation felt by so many of our young people. A referendum on our future relationship

24 Oct 2011 : Column 115

with the European Union would constitute a severe distraction from the two real missions of this coalition Government.

Ian Paisley: The hon. Gentleman knows that it would take at least 18 months to reach the point at which a referendum could take place. If this is not the right time, is 18 months from now the right time? As for the questions that would be asked in the referendum, that will be resolved during the negotiation period and in the Bill Committee. All the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman can easily be accommodated, and I appeal to him to change his position.

Glyn Davies: I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I think we should be much clearer about both those issues before proceeding with a referendum. We need to know exactly what the position is. We should not say, “We are in favour of this”, as if we were some sixth-form debating society; we should say, “This is what is being proposed”, and then say whether we are in favour of it or not. What we need is a clear-cut question.

Many people have asked when will be the right time, but we cannot say when the right time will be. We have a Foreign Secretary and a Prime Minister who will conduct negotiations with the European Union, hopefully in order to restore powers to the United Kingdom. There may well be another treaty, as there was a Lisbon treaty, and in that event we as a Government would not renege as the last Government did. We would hold a referendum on an issue that the public could clearly understand, at a time when the people were ready to debate it. I hope that this debate will not lead to a referendum, because I do not think its focus would be clear, and clarity is what we need.

There has been a great deal of discussion about a free vote and the involvement of the Whips. I want to make it clear that I made up my mind as soon as I saw the motion. I had been looking forward to a motion on this issue and had been keen to speak in favour of it, but when I saw it, I concluded that it had been a mistake because it divided Eurosceptic opinion. Long before any Whip contacted me I resolved to vote against it, and to try to catch Mr Speaker’s eye. I am glad to say that I did catch Mr Speaker’s eye, and I am grateful for the opportunity to speak.

I believe that one day, following a serious negotiation, there will be a referendum on our relationship with the European Union, and that that referendum will ask a clear question enabling the public to say yes or no about our relationship with the European Union. I look forward to that day, but I shall be voting against the motion tonight.

8.34 pm

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): This is an interesting debate, and I apologise for having missed a few of the contributions. It is also a strange debate, however, in that many of the arguments being proposed in support of the motion do not, in fact, support it. My good friend the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) is not in the Chamber at present. He talked about the £40 billion trade deficit, but anyone who voted for the Common Market voted for that to happen,

24 Oct 2011 : Column 116

as, unfortunately, it is inevitable in a free market economy. For instance, 73% of our chemical industry is now owned by companies that are not based in the UK, and that will end up against us in the trade figures.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) is also no longer here. She urged us to put our own logical or ideological assessments before the instructions of the Whips. I have always done that, which is why I am going to vote against the motion. It is not logical to vote for it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson) has slipped away. He is not so much a friend as an ongoing further education project for me. I pointed out to him that the only way to get any of what he wants is to invoke article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, which states that we can leave the European Union. That has been put in place very deliberately. However, article 49 states that any country that leaves will be dealt with as if it is a new applicant, with no automatic right to rejoin and no special advantages. All this nonsense about renegotiating, repositioning and working on reform does not apply, therefore, and only a straight in/out referendum would be relevant. We could act upon that, but everything else would be left entirely to chance and to negotiations in the European Council and the European Parliament. That is the reality.

Andrew Percy: Surely the hon. Gentleman accepts that we can agree a new treaty that does exactly what many Members on the Government Benches wish. We can leave it to the treaty to achieve that.

Michael Connarty: Let me give the following advice to the hon. Gentleman, and to the Scottish National party Member who is present, the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). The SNP thinks that if Scotland votes to separate from the rest of the United Kingdom, it can walk straight into the EU, but that is not the case. Scotland would get into the EU only if it agreed to one major condition: it would have to join the eurozone.

If the UK wanted to get back in, we would have to join the eurozone too. That is the reality, because that is now a condition for entering the EU, and it has been since before the Lisbon treaty. The position is as follows, therefore: we would have to decide in a referendum whether we wanted to be out of the EU, and if we wanted to go back in after that, we would then be at a great disadvantage because a decision would not come into force until after two years. It would have to be ratified by the other states; it would go ahead only if the European Parliament were to agree to it; and there would then be a vote to agree it in the Council under qualified majority terms. We are therefore tied up in knots by the Lisbon treaty, which I have described as a tipping point.

I am glad to see that the mover of the motion, the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), is back in his place. He argued that the closure of an accident and emergency department in his constituency was down to the European Union. If there is such a closure in a Member’s area, the people who can deal with it are sitting on the Government Front Bench. The hon. Gentleman should ask SNP Members about that, because of what happened after their party was elected with a clear majority in the Scottish Government elections.

24 Oct 2011 : Column 117

The first thing it did was overturn a proposal to close two accident and emergency units: one in Monklands and the other in Ayrshire. That illustrates the power of Government in this context. Such issues are nothing to do with the European Union, therefore, so the hon. Gentleman should not have made that point.

Some Members have also said that the call for a referendum expresses the settled will of the people. I respect, and am very fond of, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), but that is a very misleading claim to make. If we get 100,000 people writing in to say we should have a vote on a referendum on capital punishment, that would be more likely to be carried than the vote on this referendum. Are we really saying that 100,000 signatures would trigger a debate and vote in the House on a referendum on capital punishment? This is not about the settled will of the people, therefore. It just so happens that a lot of people have sent in some signatures on blogs, and I do not want to pay particular attention to them because I think that it is important that, like the Tunisian people, we respect parliamentary democracy.

Dr McCrea: If this referendum were held and its result clearly expressed the settled will of the people, would the hon. Gentleman be willing to accept that?

Michael Connarty: I voted in the 1975 referendum, and I voted yes. I did not vote in favour of the Common Market; I voted in favour of the aspirations that were so well described by the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter). Do we really think we have lasting peace? How long ago was Srebrenica? What state are the Balkans in at present? Do we really think the search for peace is finished business? It is not finished business by a long way.

I also voted yes because I knew there was a better way forward that was not on offer at that time. That was introduced by Delors, when he brought in the social chapter. That is what I joined the EU for—social agreement. I support most of what would be offered us in the justice and social packages; they would guarantee them for our people as well as for all the people throughout Europe. These are things that are done by negotiation.

Several hon. Members rose

Michael Connarty: I do not have time to give way, as I have given way twice and I know how the system works.

It is clearly important that we consider what the European Union is about. There are things to give up, such as our obsession with not wanting people in Europe to have the same rights when they are on trial. We are opposing translation rights and the right to legal representation—this Government are opposing them at the moment. How can anyone justify that? Europe has to be a better place to live. If it was not for the social chapter—

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con) rose—

Michael Connarty: The hon. Gentleman knows the rules. I have given way often enough and I have had my extra two minutes.

We need to think about Delors and what happened when the package for the social chapter came in. It protected the people I represent from Thatcherism in its

24 Oct 2011 : Column 118

worst aspects; it was a chance to rebalance Europe and bring about a social Europe. So much has been said about that. I respect the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway), who decided to resign as a Parliamentary Private Secretary, as it is right that people should be able to put their principles before someone’s attempt to give them a little bag-carrying job. I am not sure that he would be resigning quite as quickly if he was a Minister. The problem is that no Ministers have been saying that they will resign their ministerial position over this matter.

The Liberal Democrats say that they would vote for a referendum only on a fundamental shift, but there has been a fundamental shift. It has been away from voting Liberal, and their voting with the Government will damage them. I am sorry about that, but the Liberals did say that they would do something. The European Union still protects the three red lines: defence, tax and foreign policy. What we need to do in this place is give more power to the Backbench Business Committee and the European Scrutiny Committee to stop the Government voting things through in the Council, which they do at the moment.

8.41 pm

Mr Douglas Carswell (Clacton) (Con): For 40 years, we have left Europe policy to Ministers and to mandarins—to a tiny Whitehall elite. Look at the collective mess that they have made of it. We have a fisheries policy with no fish; red tape strangling small businesses; financial regulation that suffocates the City; and now we are being asked to spend billions of pounds bailing out a currency that we never even joined. We have lurched from one bad deal with Brussels to the next, and from one disastrous round of negotiations to another. That is the price we pay for leaving it to Ministers and mandarins to decide our Europe policy. It is time to trust the people. Today, every Member of this House faces a straightforward choice. They can either vote to give people a referendum on the EU or they can vote not to trust the people.

Mr Charles Walker: Would my hon. Friend like to expand on that point?

Mr Carswell: I shall try to do so over the next three minutes, and I am grateful for that thoughtful and erudite intervention.

This is a matter of principle: is it right, in principle, to put the question of EU membership to a popular vote? Too many people in Westminster—in SW1—try to second-guess how the voters may vote in a referendum and then work backwards to decide whether or not they favour a referendum. Instead we should start from the principle: is it right for the people to decide? Yes it is, and I believe that this issue qualifies for a referendum. The issue is of massive constitutional significance, it divides all three parties and it cannot be adequately settled in a general election.

Referendums can no longer be dismissed, as they have been for many years, as somehow alien to the British tradition. We have had dozens of referendums since 1997, including a national referendum on the alternative vote.

Richard Drax: Does my hon. Friend accept that the reason why we are having more and more referendums is that the people who put us here simply do not trust us?

24 Oct 2011 : Column 119

Mr Carswell: My hon. Friend makes an important point. There has been a mood change in this country away from what one might call “deferential democracy”, where people leave it to the 650 people here to make public policy, to a new kind of democracy, where people want more choice and they want politics to be done by them, rather than to them by a remote elite. Some people in my party and in our own Whips Office have not truly understood that sea change.

If we are to have a referendum to decide how we elect Members of Parliament, surely we can have a referendum to decide whether or not those we elect should make the rules under which we live. Today’s motion has been put on the Commons agenda by the people. It is to this coalition’s immense credit that it has introduced a mechanism to allow voters to trigger debates—some 100,000 voters have triggered this debate. But we cannot say that we want to renew democracy if we shy away from the outcome of what the people say. We cannot claim that we want a new politics if we then use old-style whipping tactics from the 1950s to crush debate—or, rather, we could do all that but then we would have the credibility of a Greek Government bond.

Today’s vote is about change. I am voting for an EU referendum because I want change—change not only in our relationship with Europe but fundamental change in the way this country is run. I am not voting for a referendum in the hope that it will take us to some insular, mythical island past: I am voting for an open society—a truly global country. Ultimately, this is not about flags, anthems or identity, but about whether it is right for millions of people to have their lives arranged for them by deliberate design of technocrats. It is about democracy.

I ask each Member to cast their mind back to the day they were first elected to this House. I ask them to recall that sense of pride mingled with awesome responsibility when the returning officer read out the winner’s name. Most hon. Members will have felt in their bones that entering this House was one of the most exalted and greatest moments in their lives. Look at how today we are scorned. “MPs don’t keep their promises,” say the cynics. “You say whatever you say to get elected,” they cry. Today is our chance to show the cynics that they are wrong.

All three parties until recently promised the people a referendum on the EU. There is no point in clever wordplay or in reading the clever brief from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials—most people understood that we were going to give them a referendum. That is what MPs in all parties wanted the people to believe and it is the impression that we deliberately conveyed. This evening, we have a chance to keep our promises, to honour our word and to keep faith in our country. I will vote to let the people decide and I urge other hon. Members to do so. My hon. Friends the Members for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) and for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) are indeed honourable and it is a privilege to be their colleague on the Back Benches.

8.46 pm

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Given what I want to say, Mr Deputy Speaker, I might, with all due respect, if I had had a choice, have preferred not to follow the hon. Member for Clacton (Mr Carswell).

24 Oct 2011 : Column 120

They say that if you hang around this place for long enough nothing should surprise you, but recent antics do surprise me. The other week we were subjected to manoeuvres par excellence by the Government Whips and business managers to block discussion on a clause put forward by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) on the subject of freedom of speech in a Bill laughably called the Protection of Freedoms Bill. Tonight, the Government Whips—indeed, the Whips and business managers of all three main parties—have conspired to put a three-line Whip on a Back-Bench business motion, which effectively means that Parliament is being invited to talk about Europe but not to vote on it. So much for the mother of Parliaments!

Let me make it clear that I am not anti-European and that if I vote for the motion tonight I shall find myself in the Lobby with some strange bedfellows, including some people who, frankly, I think are mad. If there ever were an in/out referendum, I would almost certainly find myself arguing the case for trade and jobs in Europe. I think that is where I would end up. However, I also recognise that there is growing demand for reform in Europe. It is Lib Dem policy to have an in/out referendum, and most people understood it to be the Prime Minister’s policy to have a referendum if there was any significant change to the Lisbon treaty. Indeed, no one who has heard the Prime Minister over the past three years could think he was anything but a referendum man. And our esteemed Foreign Secretary once thought these issues were so important that he fought an entire general election on them.

Tonight, however, in a little Back-Bench business debate where the normally unimportant little people are expressing their views—views that strike a remarkable chord with the British public—the muscle men, the U-turn merchants and the bully boys, the Ministers and the would-be Ministers, are all out to force their say. What they are saying is, “All you little Cinderellas can go to the ball, but you can’t dance.” All the grand talk from this Government about greater respect for Parliament and Back Benchers, and the role that they have played in setting up the Backbench Business Committee, amount to nothing if the Government show tonight that they are scared to debate the topic.

A Back-Bench business debate is just that. It is about taking the temperature. This is not an Opposition day. We are not dealing with Government business. In a simple little Back-Bench business debate, I think I am entitled to vote how I damn well like.

8.50 pm

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): It is a great pleasure to participate in tonight’s historic debate. We have heard many great, passionate speeches from both sides of the House, but none more so than from the Government Benches, many Members seeing this as an opportunity to strike out against over-whipped government and to seek a return to more democratic values.

I consider myself to be a Eurosceptic, so I find myself in a strange position: I will vote against the motion, but not because I have been leant on by any Whips. I came to that conclusion prior to the first call. It is an insight into the co-ordination of Whips that you tell one at length, then another one rings you up anyway. They could get more co-ordinated.

24 Oct 2011 : Column 121

To follow on from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), it is a shame that tonight has gone the way it has, though it is unfair to say that the Government have not allowed debate. From a party political management perspective, it may have been naïve to do what the Government have done. They brought the debate forward to today, the Prime Minister through his statement was able to participate, and the Foreign Secretary led for the Government. Far from stifling debate, therefore, the Government at the highest level have engaged with it. Whether that was wise party management I leave to others to judge, but I think it probably was not.

In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Mr Carswell), who gave a powerful speech, I believe in parliamentary democracy. I do not believe parliamentary democracy puts down the small people. I know my hon. Friend has strong beliefs, which he has espoused over many years, including a belief in direct democracy. He has an agenda for direct democracy. He does not believe in the representative democracy that I believe in.

I do not believe that we are delegates. I am not about the percentage of my constituents who believe a particular thing. I should be out there listening to them, and I was out there on Saturday at my street surgery. The previous weekend I spent all day going round the villages listening to people and hearing from them, but it is not my job to do whatever the percentage majority tell me to do. My job is to come to this place and do the best I can by the people whom I represent.

Mark Reckless: Can representative democracy work only if we keep our promises to the electorate? On this issue, all three major parties promised a referendum and we are not giving it.

Mr Stuart: With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, that is one of the great myths that has been peddled. He does a disservice to the party. As I said in an intervention earlier, I honestly believe that the Prime Minister was not reneging on the promise on Lisbon when it had been ratified. If I had promised a board meeting before a payment goes out and someone else pays it out, the cheque is cashed and I do not hold a board meeting to discuss the cheque that has already been cashed—I am not reneging on anything; I am simply recognising the reality. I do not believe that the Conservative party or the Prime Minister reneged on any promise.

The manifesto on which I and my hon. Friend stood in 2010 made no promise of any referendum whatsoever. What it did promise—I say this gently to my colleagues tonight—was to bring in a referendum lock if there was to be further treaty change. I recognise and my hon. Friends point out that some powers leak and leech away without a treaty in prospect. The passage of a European Union treaty, however, was historic in this Parliament and this democracy. There will come a time when a treaty triggers the provision, and it will not be far off—I do not believe that the Government can slip vast powers under it. The truth is that that time is coming and we are winning the argument. The last thing we need to do is fight among ourselves. We must recognise that we are carrying the British people, who are more Eurosceptic, with us.

I continue to believe that we are better off within the European Union, although I am open to persuasion that we could be better off out. Some colleagues who

24 Oct 2011 : Column 122

believe that passionately are using today’s debate as a Trojan horse. I respect their view, but I think that the three-part nature of the motion is confusion and that the suggestion that we can somehow mandate the Government to renegotiate is false. I do not see how we can do that. The Government must lead and get the best position they can. When they come back with a treaty, as I am sure they will in the not-too-distant future, it will be put to the British people. That will be the time to do it. I do not think that it is disingenuous to talk about timing.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): My hon. Friend touches on a central point, which is that not all of us feel that we would be better off out of the EU. Many of us want the common market we signed up for, more free trade and less of the baggage. Is that not the direction of travel in which we should be headed?

Mr Stuart: I agree. Colleagues might say tonight with a wry smile that they, too, like the Prime Minister, believe in nudge theory. They would say that the motion, the strong debate and the number of Members who will be in the Aye Lobby will tell the Government how seriously members of our party feel on the matter, and they may have a point. My constituents, whom I have sensibly been talking and listening to, are not telling me that this is top of their list of priorities. At the top of their list are jobs, employment and the need to ensure that we do not put people in the dole queue, particularly young people, as one of the Labour party’s toxic legacies was to leave so many young people not in education, employment or training.

Our duty is to move very coolly on this subject. The time will come when we will have a referendum. We should not pass the motion tonight. We should absolutely listen to our constituents, who are telling us that they have priorities above and beyond the obsession in certain parts of the Conservative party with Europe above all other issues.