I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill requires a national referendum as a pre-condition of the ratification of certain treaties. The essential thrust of the Bill is contained in the 65 words of the first clause, which provides that a referendum should be called in the event that the powers of this House to regulate the affairs of this country are diminished.
To calm the disquiet of some, may I make an observation about what the referendum does not do. It does not call into question legislation that has already passed the House. Therefore, the original Communities legislation is not at risk, nor is the amendment to that original legislation which we commonly know as the Single European Act. The referendum would refer and relate specifically and only to those events that take place after the passing of this Bill.
The Maastricht treaties, which are central to the concentration of our ideas on what we are discussing, signify a further significant transfer of powers from this country and the ability of Members of this House to regulate the affairs of our people. It is an extraordinary treaty in as much as it contends for a new political organisation—the union of Europe—in which, on 1 January 1993, we become citizens of a new political organisation. That also applies to Her Majesty the Queen. It would effect that which the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), in his Bill, and the Levellers themselves no less have not succeeded in effecting—it would reduce the Queen to a citizen. That is contrary to our constitutional traditions. I cite that not because of its great importance, but because it shows the extent to which the treaty is a new political organisation. My contention is that no such profound constitutional change should take place without reference to the people.
Involved in that concept is the idea of where sovereignty in this country lies. I have always maintained, as do many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, that sovereignty resides with the people; we are the expression of that sovereignty. When we rise and defend the House of Commons, we defend not ourselves, our privileges or our prides, but the pride, individuality and privileges of our fellow citizens. Each one of us here assembled is here only because we have been sent forth to represent our fellow electors. We are no different from them, other than that they have reposed in us confidence that we will address ourselves to the political business of our nation.
I belong to a union—the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is a political allegiance which I gladly give. It is one of sentiment, one of passion, one which has been fashioned over the course of centuries. That is to be set aside because the Treaty of Union seeks to make me a citizen of elsewhere. I would be a citizen with a profound and essential difference: I could not control the laws, in whole areas, by which I would be governed.
I make that point because it is essential to our nation's understanding of what our rule of law is. We maintain that every citizen of this Union should obey the law—a law that, in the end, we have formed, fashioned, made and defended. If we wish to change it, we know the processes by which to do so, and we hold Governments accountable to that effect. When we repose confidence in members of the Government Front Bench, the laws that they suggest we make are within our call. If they get it wrong, we may change them. Where in that Treaty of Union is the mechanism by which we may change the law? If we cannot change the law, how do we expect to insist on obedience from all of us? As I have said, we are no different from anyone else; the law applies to us just as it does to our fellow electors. When each one of us was elected in 1987, we were given the trust to maintain, control, alter and fashion law. Under the Treaty of Union, we have no such powers.
Of course, it will be argued from the Front Benches that the process has been a while in the making and that it has been sanctioned by the Single European Act—which is true. I am sure that in a more scrupulous age we would have argued that, on such a profound constitutional change, the electorate should be consulted. I shall cite two instances of that, because we used to believe in this House in what was called the specific mandate. I refer to the specific mandate because it was the reason why we did not need to resort to a referendum.
One of the two great constitutional fights of the past century was the great Reform Bill of 1832. There was no doubt in the mind of the Parliament that voted for that that the matter would be resolved at an election. There was a clear distinction between the views of Mr. Peel and those who promoted the Bill. The electorate was able to choose. Similarly, in 1910, although the argument for a referendum was mooted, there was no doubt that the divide between the parties was sufficient to give the electorate an opportunity to judge those issues that were most in their interest.
Those are clear and important examples of what I call the specific mandate. Indeed, the argument for a specific mandate echoes through the history of the 20th century. Mr. Baldwin, elected in 1931 with a confident and strong majority, said that his Government had to go to the country in 1932 on the question whether there should be tariffs—an incidence that he shared with Balfour 20 years before. He lost that election and, in the way of such matters, the exercise has never been repeated. We now reside in this House on the concept of more general than specific mandates.
The question would not go away, because in the ultimate sanction of entry into the Community, as it was originally proposed, many in the House recognised that it was so fundamental to the way in which we had historically done our business that we would be taking away the power by which we regulated some of our decisions if we accepted the body of law already established by the Community.
Let us put aside that consideration and think about some of the essential claims made at that time. Harold Wilson, in his White Paper, was at pains to emphasise that, ultimately, there could be no change within the laws of the Community except with the sanction of a British Minister responsible to his House and thus accountable to every one of our electors. That was an essential selling point of the new relationship with the European Community.
Notwithstanding that, for the internal reasons that the Labour party thought necessary, but with the support of a great many others, a referendum was held. It actually settled the issue for almost 10 years, until the Single European Act. That was one of the great benefits. Some in my party object to referendums. They say that they are an affront to parliamentary sovereignty. I tried to deal with that question by showing that, in fact, parliamentary sovereignty is the concentrated expression of the sovereignty of the electorate. Therefore, how can it be an affront to the sovereignty of the electorate if it is asked specifically to judge an issue of great constitutional importance?
The other point often made is that it would be intolerable for a Ministry to have a referendum in which the electorate flew against the Ministry's advice. Would not the Ministry be forced to introduce policies with which it did not agree? Is not that an intolerable burden to place upon Government? Much has been made of that argument. Mr. Churchill threw it across the Floor at Mr. Balfour; and Mr. Powell enunciated it in early 1969, although he later changed his mind.
The answer to that argument is that we have all been in this House when Governments have been forced to change their mind, even on a principal policy on which they were elected—or claimed to be. I need only cite the embarrassment of myself and others on the question of the poll tax. The Ministers who said that the poll tax was absolutely essential and that it was the flagship are still in their Ministries. It is tolerable to continue in government only if Ministers recognise the virtues and the duties imposed upon them as Ministers of the Crown. It is not an answer to say that it is an intolerable burden; the proof of our history has demonstrated just how tolerable it has been to sufficient numbers of Members of Parliament.
A leading article in The Independent today suggested that a referendum might be appropriate on a single currency. We can pursue that debate, and I do not doubt that hon. Members will do so today. I want to make it clear that my simple objection is to the political union. I have tried to sketch out the way in which the people of this country will be bound by laws and rules that are made elsewhere by unelected officials and a Council of Ministers that is accountable to no one—no Europewide electorate, and not even us ultimately. Even if our Minister today went to argue his corner within that unelected, undemocratic forum, and even though he may say that 100 per cent. of the citizens of the United Kingdom are opposed to whatever it is, if it is the view of others by qualified majority vote—on a whole range of issues set out in the Treaty of Union—it will become the law of this country. What can we do about it? That is the great bleak with our tradition that requires that Maastricht should be scrutinised.
Is there not something even more sinister in people talking in abstract terms about Britain becoming part of this political union? People may have the impression that we, the 12 countries and perhaps more, are all pals together. The truth is that the real powerhouse of the Common Market lies in Germany. It has just annexed East Germany. It is central to the activities of all the nation states that are falling apart in eastern Europe. Political union spells something much more sinister, and that is German domination. We fought for six years against it in the second world war. If hon. Members allow this political union, they will allow the Germans to win now when they lost in 1945.
It is true that the dominant economic power in Europe is Germany. With the advent of the Community and the unity and greater cohesion of Germany, Germany seems to be the dominant central European power. My fear and an argument made over the years is that the periphery will gravitate towards the centre. Therefore, Britain, as a peripheral part of the Community, will be marginal within the great tides of central European perceptions.
I was about 20,000 short, Madam Deputy Speaker. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said. Whether or not Germany seeks to dominate Europe, it will, like it or not. Geographically it is at the centre and economically it is the most powerful. The German character is such—I happen to be half German, so I can speak from experience—
The truth will out—they cannot go on a picnic without running it. That is within the German character. One must prepare oneself for it. If we do not say no now, Germany will inevitably dominate a political union. Nineteen ninety-six is too late. We are locked into the exchange rate mechanism and all that goes with it to ensure that we have a fixed exchange rate. That will inevitably lead to a single currency, whether we like it or not. By then a referendum will be far too late.
I am glad of my hon. Friend's intervention. The purpose of the debate is not to identify Germany or any other country as a threat; it is to concentrate our minds on what is right for us as a people in terms of our Government and institutions.
Most hon. Members agree that we want the closest possible harmony, friendship and co-operation with those countries to which we are adjacent. There can be no doubt about that. The process by which we have conducted our foreign affairs during the past 20 years or so shows a great will to work in harmony to lay to rest the fears of 40 or 50 years ago when we had to mobilise the nation to fight a war for national survival. We could mobilise our people and win that war. It was a people's war because the House of Commons had no doubt that we had to defend our liberties. At the end of the day, our freedoms and liberties are secure so long as we, the people, secure them through our institutions.
I want to give an instance of what happens when we opt for qualified majority voting and what it does to our institutions. We all know that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has effectively become a branch office of Brussels. When the Minister stands before us and claims some sort of casual relationship, and therefore parliamentary responsibility for his deeds, we all know in our hearts and many of us in our voices that it is transparent. It is a charade.
There is a consensus in this country that the common agricultural policy is wrong. It costs the consumer great sums. It does not satisfy the farmer. It causes problems for the general agreement on tariffs and trade. It interferes with our overseas foreign policy. We have many friends abroad who form part of our commonwealth of nations. What has happened to their agriculture? Is it aid to those less fortunate than ourselves that we will not buy their sugar because it is at a free price and on an open market? We do not hold it to be so. Yet the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, with a clear majority across the House, would tomorrow be forced to scrap that policy and introduce a policy that better meets the needs of our consumers, our farmers, our world trading position and our foreign policy. We cannot do that because we, the House of Commons and the people of England, are bound to accept the nostrums and perceptions of other people.
I have nothing to say against the nostrums and perceptions of other people, because what is appropriate to France and Italy is for the French and Italians to judge. They must defend their institutions or submerge them in what they want. I will not let go by the nonsense that the former Foreign Secretary paraded through the House to its shame and, I believe, to his—the idea that sovereignty can be pooled. It has been observed that sovereignty means constitutional independence only and, like virginity, once lost it is gone. The former Foreign Secretary is of a belief that sovereignty can be pooled. If it is pooled, how do we control the laws under which we live? I asked him that, but I have had no answer to the question.
I return to the debate that took place after the Maastricht conference. I want to make an observation about a major constitutional change, such as those that in the past have required Governments to go to the country on the specific instance. Was there a ministerial broadcast to tell us the nature of the changes? No, there was a party political broadcast that required no reply and that lasted for five or 10 minutes. Did the Labour party have an opportunity to give its clear adherence to all the contentions now contained in the document for political union? No, it did not. Was there an opportunity for the Liberal party to tell us its wilder dreams for submerging its own regard for British citizens? Was there any opportunity, therefore, to tell the people of the consequences, the meaning, how the power was transferred and where it was? Not one.
During the debate I listened extremely carefully to the Leader of the Opposition. Indeed, there were eight spokesmen on both Front Benches, but not one touched on the constitutional issue. Why? It is the very issue that brings us here, the very basis on which I am elected and the very equality of citizenship. Not one word. It was important to the history of us all.
I am a Conservative Member of Parliament because of the actions of many working-class people within the Labour movement who worked to extend the franchise. I am not even sure that my grandfather could vote in the 1910 election. We forget too easily that many of our people just did not have the vote. When Mr. Asquith grew worried about the idea of referendums, his argument was that if there was a referendum on the vote for women, it might lead to dreadful consequences; a referendum might extend the vote to people like my grandfather. It was too awful to contemplate. That is the cosiness that has brought the House into some level of disrepute.
It is important that we march by what our people want. We determined the matter across the Benches of the House, as I heard from the Leader of the Opposition. He knows what the power of the vote is. Yet, despite the struggles of the early Labour movement that brought the vote to me and my family, what did he have to say about the power of the vote? Not one word. The Labour movement grew out of proselytising—telling people that by obtaining the vote they could change the politics of this nation, that they could exercise control over the institutions, that they could divert the resources of this country towards ameliorating the conditions of the people of this country. What is our answer to that question? Certainly there was none from the leader of the Labour party.
The hon. Gentleman knows that I have the great privilege of representing the constituency of the first leader of the Labour party, James Keir Hardie, who came here to change the law in favour of ordinary people. Does he not agree, however, that there is now an obligation on Her Majesty's Government, who signed this bundle of documents that I hold in my hand, the plenipotentiary of the Foreign Secretary, to issue before the election a clear guide to the extraordinary combination of 350 new or rewritten articles and to tell us what it all means so that any party or any citizen can take a view, if that is necessary, before the new Parliament is elected?
It is a duty incumbent on any Government to set out clearly great changes as they affect an electorate. I agree that there should be a White Paper either before the election or after the election. It is clear from the statements by the Leader of the Opposition, with his disregard now for the vote and how he can change policies within this country, that there is to be no issue in the election about whether Maastricht was right or wrong. There is an essential argument for why a referendum should take place: that there should be a clear exposition that this, and this, and this will now be determined elsewhere, well beyond our call, and that notwithstanding this diminution of the power of the people and of this House, the Government and the Opposition of the day, if necessary, should recommend it to the people because there is a greater advantage, as yet unspecified, in losing self-government.
Both Front Benches hold forth—what I am saying rises above all parties—that there is a great gain in continuing and extending a new constitution. That is most extraordinary. As I said about the Maastricht debate, of eight Front-Bench spokesmen not one mentioned our constitutional arrangements, yet we are here only because of our constitution. The Leader of the Opposition does not even deign to say a word about why it is necessary to reduce the power of our people to control their affairs and the laws under which they live.
I believe most solemnly, and the House should, in my view, believe most solemnly, that there ought to be a direct exposition to the people of this country of what these changes amount to and why they are necessary. The people should be invited to give their advice upon it. That is the substance of the Bill. I have tried to be brief in outlining, perhaps with some passion, why I think that the Bill is important and why it should be passed. None of us had this treaty before us during the Maastricht debate. What we had was a variety of drafts. The Luxembourg drafts secretly flew in the window of the Library.
My hon. Friend says at 1.30 on the day of the debate. Those drafts were available to our national newspapers. I made a point of ensuring that both The Guardian and The Independent, because they declare that they do not have a party allegiance, whatever that means, should have copies of the original Luxembourg draft.
Months went by, but did I have any analysis of the basis of the treaty? If I did not have it, how can the electorate out there have it? That is the freedom of the press, the freedom of Mr. Andreas Whittam Smith to suppress information, the freedom of Mr. Preston to suppress information because they take a view of the world, since they know that the views of the public are not worth having. What they have decided is a greater vision—a vision that they do not wish to share with us—that should be promoted through the editorial columns of their newspapers and that they should exercise—
No, I do not accept that it is just the chattering classes. I just say that the dominance of the press means that its editors try to drive public opinion towards conclusions that they take for granted. That is unsatisfactory.
Why is it that The Independent, in possession of the draft treaty, could not advise the electorate that great issues were at stake? No, the game was much better to say that the British Government objected to something. All that can be presented then is a series of clashes. That of itself is informative. When I consider their solemn pledges about the freedom of the press, which I wholeheatedly support and which I have tried to introduce legislation to support, I find that when it comes to identifying great issues it is not for the hoi-polloi of the House of Commons or the people of this country to be troubled with the great stirrings that underlie these constitutional changes. [Laughter.] It is extraordinary that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) should laugh as though there were something curious about what I say. If he could point out where an analysis of these drafts was published at any time until within a week before the treaty was signed, I should be grateful for his comfort and advice. Of course he cannot do so. The curious point about this is that they believe that they take a broader view of life and know better than those out there. That is fair and fine if one argues one's corner—but who argues the European corner? The Government no longer do so. They merely announce that they have had a triumph—game, set, match is the flavour of the month. But game, set, match about what? What did we win? How did we win?
The forming of a constitution is not a question of winning or losing. It is a deliberate act, the careful weighing of the balances and the checks. There are people in this country who profoundly argue, through Charter 88, that our present checks and balances are inadequate. They argue for change. But do we argue for change? There is a constitution on the table. It is not the Charter 88's constitution. It is called the Treaty of Union. Every newspaper should ask what that means. It is a simple question. Can we change our laws under it? Again that is a simple question.
Neither The Independent nor The Guardian can address that issue; nor do they wish to do so. I have singled out those two newspapers, but the same charge can be laid against others. I chose them because they maintain that theirs is a balanced and independent view and that they come to conclusions. Therefore, I believe that they have a greater duty to inform the public of the great issues of the day. Highlighting them would enable us to have a debate. Why, therefore, in this electoral process are we unable specifically to discuss or refer this issue to the electorate? We are unable to do so because of the binding down and the consensus of opinion between the leaderships of parties. There is therefore no opportunity for the ordinary citizen to make a judgment.
In the midst of one of the most superb speeches that I have heard on this matter for a very long time, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he agrees that 1 he statement that was made at last year's party conference by the chairman of the Conservative party—that we, the Conservatives, trust the people—should be shown to be the reality not only in the context of a referendum but by a free vote in the House when the Bill comes before us? Does my hon. Friend agree with both those propositions?
On account of the most profound constitutional changes that have been mooted, I believe that there should be a free vote. It is very difficult within the terms of Burke. I hear many of my colleagues say, "But we were elected and all that we owe to our constituents is our judgment. We cannot be bought by our constituents because we stand aside and weigh the evidence." All that would be true but for the three-line Whip and the guillotine. We do not owe our duties and allegiances in too many instances to our electorate; we owe them to the Whip. If we owe them to the Whip, how can we stand in front of the electorate and say, "But your views are honourably judged"?
I refer again to the Maastricht debate. There was a three-line Whip. I go back to the Single European Act. There was not only a three-line Whip but a guillotine. The House knows my views on the guillotine. I see that the Leader of the House is moving towards the view that guillotines are a natural, inevitable and desirable consequence of the way that we do our business. The letters that I have received shout with frustration about our political process and the fact that no longer do we seem to represent the people out there and properly express their views. How can we if we truncate great debates into three hours on a guillotine? How can we turn to our constituents and say, "I have looked at it and considered it. I have heard the arguments"? Not a bit. We have had the innovation of Baker Bills, with guillotines on all stages. It is a disgrace, and the public know that it is such.
However, passionate one may be about these matters, it is the duty of the House to be cautious of the consequences of legislation because it can send us to prison —the most solemn thing that it can do within our processes.
Legislation demands the old processes and procedures of the House: the First Reading to give notice, then a pause; a Second Reading to consider the principle of the Bill, as we are doing today, and a further pause; the Committee stage, where we consider the contentions and legal arrangements of the Bill; and then it comes back to the House and is further considered. In those processes, the public may get in touch with us and argue their corner. That is terribly important for giving validity to the rule of law, because then no one can say that a Bill was smuggled through in an afternoon.
I am fortunate in having one of the great begetters of the guillotine movement in my party—my right hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones)—who required 65 guillotines during his tenure of office. I have always thought that misjudged, because in the doing of small things, as we think at the time, we corrupt the greater principle—attestation, as Burke would say, that our electorates give either consent or acquiescence. If we truncate our debates and do not weigh their views, we are contemptuous of our electorates and they, in turn, are contemptuous of us.
I have never known the standing of Members of Parliament to be so low. I see people shudder almost as we pass and say, "You are only in it for what you can get". [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) makes a shudder in other ways—with administration, trepidation and inspiration. Nevertheless, the point is that we have broken that trust, no one else.
The insistence of the business managers is that we must be able to legislate endlessly—no self-denying ordinance there. The Baker Bill is the final nail in the coffin of a series of tendentious and difficult Bills where great principles were rushed through in a day.
We are elected every four or five years; our authority is clearly fresh. People feel that they have an idea of where we stand. During the course of a Parliament, our connection and the issues change. What people thought that they may have been voting on in 1987 is not necessarily what they think they are voting on today. The coming general election will be about a variety of issues—the economy, the national health service or whatever—but not about Europe. If Europe is mentioned in a party's programme, it will be as an aside—some general expression by which the public can diagnose no true intent. It is believed that, in that way, we can cover over the issue if there is an argument. That is why I make the point that there should be a specific reference to the electorate.
I say as a last note to the House that our people should "not go gentle into that good night" but should rather "rage, rage, against the dying of the light" that requires us to live under laws that we cannot change or control.
I think that the House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) for introducing the Bill and giving us an opportunity of addressing the most important issue that has come before us during the lifetime of this Parliament, which will shortly end.
The House will also be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the clarity and passion with which he argued his case. Of the many points that he made, with which I am substantially in agreement, one of the most telling was about obedience to the rule of law. We obey the laws of our country, even those with which we profoundly disagree, because we know that the representatives of the British people have made that law and that it is always open to them to change that law, and that behind the representatives of the British people stand the British people themselves.
One of the things that distinguish such a law from one made under European authority is that we cannot change European law or repeal it. Therefore, the link between Ministers, Members of Parliament and the electorate is broken. Laws are made in Europe by unaccountable, unelected officials and by a Council of Ministers making majority decisions. I would not be satisfied even if the European Community were to transform its institutions so that all its laws were made by an elected European Parliament. I would not accept it, because those Members of the European Parliament are not the representatives of the British people. We would be only a small minority in that Parliament. No one should have the right to pass laws that are binding on the British people unless they can be dismissed by the British people. That is a fundamental law and should be a fundamental principle of our constitution.
I thank the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills for the concise form and penetration of the Bill. He has managed, in a few words, to address two major points, the first of which is the role of the referendum, which offers one of the few possibilities to remedy a fundamental weakness in our constitution. We have no written constitution and no procedures to protect and entrench features of our national and constitutional life. Everything can be changed by a simple majority. Many other countries, as we know, have quite elaborate procedures requiring a majority of two thirds for changes in constitutional matters and arrangements, often backed up with public referendums.
We have no such defence. Indeed, previously we did not need them, because only this generation of British parliamentary representatives has contemplated handing to others the great prizes of national independence, self-government and the rule of law under our own elected representatives. It would not have occurred to a previous generation to hand to others that which we prize most greatly and have given to other countries throughout the world in the past 50 years. That is the novelty of the proposition, against which, because we did not think it conceivable, we have no defences. A referendum is a major constitutional device for defending the rights of the British people and our constitution.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the referendum will not be a defence unless there are clear rules to prevent one side from pouring millions of pounds into its campaign, which in 1975 resulted in a prejudiced, biased, unfair provision of information for people to make a judgment? It is important to ensure that the referendum is genuinely a defence and not a device.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Veterans of that great battle in 1975 will be well aware of the inadequacies of the arrangements that were made and the vast weight of money that helped enormously to distort the results of the vote. I am certain that we are now sufficiently experienced to devise new and more effective rules to ensure that if and when a referendum takes place it will be far fairer and will therefore give people a much better
chance genuinely to express their views. The other point that I find so helpful and so pertinent is that the Bill addresses the most important issue of this Parliament—the Maastricht treaties. It does not deal with all treaties but with those of the European Community and those that might amend or extend them. In particular, it deals with those treaties that might
further diminish the Authority of the Queen in Parliament to regulate the affairs of the United Kingdom.
That regulation of our affairs is, of course, an all-embracing term and includes the power to legislate, the right to raise taxes and authorise expenditure and the right to determine the internal and external policies of the United Kingdom.
I shall deal with just two major questions. The first that must be asked, because it brings out the relevance and importance of the Bill, is whether the Maastricht treaty diminishes the authority of the Queen in Parliament, of the House of Commons or of elected Members of this House. Does it or does it not?
I preface my remarks on this issue by saying that no one can read the Maastricht treaty without concluding that it is a major extension of the Community's authority over the United Kingdom. I shall not dwell for too long on why it has made a major shift from what was previously the dominant view that Europe should be a Europe de patrie to the new, clear, open, naked confession that it is to be a federal union or a union of Europe, but the shift has taken place. The historical factors that have most influenced the change are, in my view, the reunification of Germany, the fear of German leaders of their own power if it is not bridled by those of a European federal state and France's fear that unless Germany is so bridled, it could possibly again become a danger to France. That has produced the extraordinary historical change in the thrust of French foreign policy. That and the Germany thrust have given tremendous weight to the drive towards a federal union.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with what seems to be the most widely held opinion among federalists in Europe that perhaps the most significant thing about the Maastricht treaty is that it does the very opposite of that which the right hon. Gentleman is now describing, because it builds on European political co-operation which, as he knows, is intergovernmental? It seeks to entrench the common foreign security policy and interior justice matters as intergovernmental and therefore does precisely the opposite of what he says.
My best answer to the right hon. Gentleman is to remind him of some of what is in the treaty. I understand that it was the Government's aim as far as possible to make certain aspects of the Maastricht treaty reflect intergovernmental arrangements rather than those of the main treaty of Rome with all its supernational apparatus. I understand that that was the aim, but it has been only very partially accomplished.
Let us consider the question in which the right hon. Gentleman is perhaps most interested, that of foreign and defence policy. But first, what about the general thrust of the treaty itself? Article A states:
This Treaty marks a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer Union among the peoples of Europe".
Incidentally, it was only the British who knocked out the words "a federal vocation" and replaced them with "ever closer union". No other country fought for that, but that is a minor point.
Secondly, article B states:
shall set itself the following objectives
and it proceeds to list a number, including that of asserting
its identity on the international scene, in particular through the implementation of a common foreign and security policy including the eventual framing of a common defence policy".
The treaty goes on:
The Union and its Member States shall define arid implement a common foreign and security policy … The Member States shall support the Union's external and security policy actively, unreservedly, in the spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity … and shall refrain from any action which is contrary to the interests of the Union or likely to impair its effectiveness as a cohesive force in international relations.
In international organisations and at international conferences where not all the Member States participate, those which do take part shall uphold the common position.
As we know, the Council decides, especially on the subject of joint action. I understand that it is not entirely a matter of majority voting, but only where joint actions are agreed. Once joint actions are agreed, that is what happens. But let us read the treaty against the background of the general declaration of intent which is to establish a common foreign policy.
I agree that the issue of defence is still less developed than that of foreign policy, but the treaty states:
The common foreign and security policy shall include all questions related to the security of the Union including the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which might in time lead to a common defence.
That is a major extension, and I do not think that it is open to serious dispute.
Foreign policy is one of the matters that distinguish a state. If we have now joined a union which claims an international personality and interests which must be defended by a common security and foreign policy, clearly it is claiming to be a new state. It is a quasi-state, if not an entirely established one. The direction is quite clear. As if to make it certain that it is not misunderstood, the treaty states at the end that there shall be a further intergovernmental conference in 1996 to push further the purposes of the union. We know very well that the pressures that were partly resisted in the recent negotiations in Maastricht will be resumed with ever-greater force in the years ahead.
Foreign and defence policy is one of the characteristics of sovereignty. If one is not in charge of one's external relations and of defence, that is an enormous transfer of power and an enormous surrender of sovereignty.
Although my right hon. Friend and I have parted company on a number of issues related to the European Community in recent years, during the earlier years of my parliamentary career he and I stood side by side in the great defence debate which once troubled our party. On our defence of NATO, we were of identical mind.
The North Atlantic treaty, which is to do with the defence of the nations that have subscribed to that treaty, applies in the case of an attack on any one member of the treaty organisation. In that case, all the forces of all the countries will be committed to a central military command. Is not that conceding the absolute sovereignty that goes along with defence? If that is the basis on which my right hon. Friend is arguing now, surely we conceded such sovereignty in 1949 when we signed the North Atlantic treaty.
The North Atlantic treaty was a treaty of enormous importance and I agree with my hon. Friend that we should play our full part in it. It laid on those nations who signed it the obligation to come to the aid of each other if they were attacked or under threat of attack. However, my hon. Friend has failed to see the distinction between conventional treaties, of which NATO is one, and treaties of a very special kind such as those on the European Community. To me, the essence of the argument is this. After 40 years of NATO we are utterly free, without any difficulties, to withdraw from it or to amend it. For example, when de Gaulle came to power, the French fundamentally changed their view about the unified command. They expelled the headquarters of NATO from Fontainebleau, so that it moved to Brussels, and withdrew their armed forces from the combined command without any sanction being brought against them.
I add one further point, which goes to the heart of the matter. Our obligations under the NATO treaty have not led to the imposition of a single piece of legislation on the British people, whereas through the treaties with Europe —my hon. Friend must recognise this—for the first time in our history, we have handed over to others the right to make the laws of England. We did not do that with NATO and we have not done it with any other treaty.
To add power to what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, may I point out that NATO does not contend that it is irrevocable and irreversible? These key phrases should stick in our gullets. The EC document is trying to bind future generations as well as this generation. There is a fundamental difference between irrevocable and irreversible treaties and the ordinary treaties that we have entered. The treaty needs reading, and it would have helped if the Labour Front Bench team had read it before committing the party so vehemently to it.
The hon. Gentleman has made clear the uniqueness of the European Community treaty and what it means for Parliament. I am grateful to him for reinforcing my point.
No, I will not, because I must make progress.
Other policies besides foreign and defence policy are involved. We may differ across the Floor of the House on the policies that we adopt towards immigration and asylum. Those difficult questions are the subject of considerable debate and must be decided by the elected representatives of the people of the United Kingdom and not by any European authority. The new provisions in the part of the treaty dealing with home affairs policy threaten transfer of such powers, and that is not acceptable. It is one of the essential features of national sovereignty, independence and self-government that the Government, of Britain in this case, should have the right to decide who should come into this country, to live and to work here, and to settle here. We should not hand over that power to the European Community.
The third feature that is crucial to the reality of sovereignty is that the country has a currency of its own and a central bank responsive to the elected Government. The Maastricht treaty, which is on economic and monetary union, is deliberately and openly designed to bring about the unification of the currencies of Europe into one single currency. I doubt whether any hon. Member does not recognise that if that happens, we shall be abandoning all possibility of regulating the British economy within our own country. We shall have lost exchange rate policy, interest rate policy and control over our national bank. Through the limitations on the public sector borrowing requirement and other policies, we shall be subject to external government in respect of how much we are able to borrow. It is one of the signs of a state that it possesses a central bank and a currency of its own, and it is impossible to govern without them. That power will be transferred from Britain to the European Community.
I want finally to emphasise the point about the creation of a union and the citizenship of that union. We do not know what that means. It has never been explained—it was hardly mentioned in the debates that we had on the Maastricht treaty—but I assume that it means something and I assume that it means that, as citizens, we have not only rights but obligations, or that those obligations would follow rapidly from the acceptance of such a citizenship of the union. Do British citizens realise that they are becoming citizens of a European union? Do they realise, that, as a result, great privileges are being given to the population of the European Community in respect of entry to this country? I do not think that they have woken up to that fact.
These are the features of a sovereign state and these features are being acquired by the European Community. Having, I hope, established the nature of the process which Maastricht carries so far forward, and having shown that it would
diminish the Authority of the Queen in Parliament
and of the House of Commons, I hope that we can move quickly to agree that, in such circumstances, there must be direct consultation with the British people and that we must have, directly, their authority to proceed in this way.
It would be an outrage if the British people, who have defended their liberties and independence—after all, self-government is the first freedom—were to find themselves deprived of these great rights by a process of signing a treaty and obtaining a simple majority in the House of Commons. It would have the most deplorable effects not only on Parliament but on the people's view of the House of Commons and their elected representatives and it would undermine the rule of law, because law would no longer be based on a legitimate process of government and legislation by the representatives of the people. I warmly endorse the Bill and 1 hope that we shall give it our approval this afternoon.
One of the most difficult challenges for a Member of Parliament is to try to refute the eloquence and persuasion of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), especially when added to that is a passionate and thoughtful speech by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore). However, I shall seek to do so because I think that the Bill is misguided and that it would be an error for the House to give it a Second Reading. In favour as I am, generally, of guillotines and the timetabling of Bills, I think that this Bill is an exception and I hope that it will be considered at great length today, and in Committee if it gets that far. It is important that all its provisions should be analysed in great detail.
It is disappointing, to say the least, that my hon. Friend should ask for a referendum on this issue. Following the Maastricht negotiations, the Government delivered a result that was in the best interests of Britain and sought to take account of people's real fears about the growth of a federal state in Europe and about too much power being conceded to the European Communities.
The agreement was forged following a considerable amount of public debate and after the House had debated the issues on many occasions. It is fallacious to suggest that the public and the House did not know what was going on. In the six months preceding the Maastricht agreement, we talked of little else. The House and the public had plenty of opportunities to understand what was involved.
A paradox is inherent in the constitutional purism of which we have heard today. Wherein lies sovereignty? Are we really kidding ourselves that we shall achieve something by being isolationist? I imagine that many of those who support the Bill hope that, if the matter were put to a referendum, the British public would say a firm no. Do they really believe that by going it alone and not taking part in the economic and political development of the European Community we shall enhance our sovereignty? What sort of world are we living in? Do those who support the Bill really believe that we shall be able to influence our exchange rate, interest rate, rate of inflation, public expenditure and prosperity if we do not take part in the European Community?
It is because I believe passionately that Britain's membership of the European Community will deliver a better standard of living to the people whom I represent that I support our membership of it. I am no starry-eyed European—nor am I a constitutional adventurist. I want those whom I represent to have a higher standard of living. The bottom line must be the prosperity that Europe can deliver. That is why I generally support movements towards greater economic and monetary union.
That is true of all referendums, and I do not rule out referendums on all subjects, but we have every right—indeed, we have a responsibility—to be selective about the issues that we put to a referendum.
Throughout history, rederendums have been called for and not held. There are plenty of examples. At the end of the last century, the Liberal Unionists wanted a referendum on home rule for Ireland. Like Stanley Baldwin, Joseph Chamberlain wanted one on tariff reform. Even Winston Churchill called for a referendum on whether the coalition Government should be kept going until the Japanese were defeated. We have had calls for referendums on numerous issues, but most have been rejected. It was not until the mid-1970s that referendums started to be held: on whether Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom, on devolution in Scotland and Wales, and—the only real example of a nationwide referendum—on the subject of our remaining in the European Community. If one starts holding referendums, where does one stop? The more referendums we have, the greater the demand for them will be. People will want them held on more and more subjects. Why not have a referendum on the bomb, on hanging and on numerous other issues, and not merely on constitutional issues?
Referendums are not part of the evolution of our parliamentary democracy. It is no part of our tradition and system of government that, on every issue on which there is contention in the House, we give the people an opportunity, through a referendum, to express their views. We are charged by our electorate with the responsibility to try to divine the common good. The electorate has opportunities—as it will have within a matter of months—to pass judgment on whether we are right or wrong.
The hon. Gentleman will be surprised to learn that I understand and agree with much that he is saying. He represents a particular area, and the alternative method to a referendum would surely be for him to obtain from his electorate a mandate on certain serious matters. Can he tell us what mandate he or his predecessor obtained for the approval of the Single European Act and, presumably, the endorsement of both the application and the agreement that the Prime Minister obtained at Maastricht? Can he tell us that chapter and verse?
I have spelt out clearly to my electors in Chichester exactly where I stand and what I want. If the hon. Gentleman doubts it, I remind him that, in 1978, I tabled the first early-day motion calling for rapid progress towards economic and monetary union, which was signed by numerous hon. Members, many of them now Ministers. Twelve years elapsed before what I called for then was achieved and that may seem rather slow progress, but no one can accuse me of not stating my position clearly to my electors and not seeking a mandate, and I predict that I shall get a reasonable mandate from my constituents on this issue when I put it to them shortly.
What are my objections to a referendum in this context? First, referendums are often defective because they are snapshots of public opinion and public opinion moves on. I believe that, on the EC and its development, opinions have changed not just among the public but in the House. As the arguments have been heard and as negotiations have proceeded, and as my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have reassured the public and explained more clearly why it is in the public interest to forge such an agreement, public opinion has changed. Many people who were understandably hostile to everything connected with the Common Market now realise that it is in our interests.
The ordinary man in the street, who had many of the reservations that I still have about the European Community, now has a much more favourable opinion of it. He shared my concern about the common agricultural policy, about wasted expenditure within the European Commission and about every aspect of life being controlled from Brussels. I still have those concerns, but I know that it is better to be in there, preventing things from happening, than to stay out.
The ordinary man in the street has moved on. Let us take the man in Thanet—Thanet man. Thanet man has moved on. He was very concerned about the European Community having federal powers that were too great, but Thanet man realised once the agreement was forged that it was far better to support the Government, to come onside and to work within the European Community and give greater credibility to the structures provided to represent him than he had in the past. Thanet man is now on the Government's side, and it would be a great disappointment if a referendum on this issue, or the opening up of divisions on this question, should once more lead Thanet man into a period of uncertainty and fear, given the great opportunity that we have to go forward to greater prosperity and representation in Europe.
I am dazzled by my hon. Friend's concentration on Thanet man. As the only representative of the species present today, I want to make two points. First, although I accept the part of my hon. Friend's argument that says that the caravan is moving on, one of the reasons why it is moving on is that we had a referendum on the Common Market, as it then was, in 1976, which clarified many people's views. Secondly, bearing in mind that referendum and those on Scottish and Welsh devolution, I do not see why my hon. Friend should be so alarmed as to think that the evolution of referendums should suddenly halt in the 1990s and why he should be so afraid to test the complexities of Maastricht against the views of ordinary people in this country. I support the Bill because I believe that those ordinary people should be asked to express their opinions through the only mechanism available.
My hon. Friend makes his position clear in his usual persuasive way. I remain concerned about referendums because they are a snapshot of public opinion. Moreover, my hon. Friend would be on stronger ground if he said that there was a case for holding a referendum before the introduction of the legislation that gave effect to the Single European Act rather than on this issue. Other right hon. Members, including right hon. Ladies, who have been present in this debate to support the Bill did not at that time propose a referendum on the Single European Act. It ill behoves them to support today's Bill.
I believe that the more we have referendums, the more it brings into question the sovereignty of this House. It undermines the repute, standing and influence of this House if we consistently put to the public issues about which we are elected to decide. What question will be asked? We all know that a particular result can often be achieved by the way in which the question is put. There is no certainty that, in respect of this Bill, the question could be phrased in such a way as to divine a fair test of public opinion.
However, I have not yet made the most persuasive argument against referendums generally. I believe that the most persuasive argument is that they are, and can be, a cruel hoax and confidence trick on the public because they often extricate a particular issue from their consequences and from the totality of Government policy. By putting a particular issue to a plebiscite, one can deliver a result which may be disastrous in terms of overall policy. That is very important because, on issues such as that contained in the Bill, we must consider the issue in terms of management of the economy, future influence over our own affairs and our own influence in the world. We cannot consider the issue simply in isolationist terms as a referendum would necessarily regard it.
My hon. Friend is making a brilliant and very persuasive case about the dangers of referendums because, as he said, they can be snapshots of public opinion; they can concentrate wrongly on particular issues and people can be misled. Does my hon. Friend believe that it is wise for us to continue the practice of having general elections, because the same arguments can be made about them? In view of my hon. Friend's valid criticisms, should we not stop having general elections?
I would not go as far as that. Perhaps my hon. Friend fails to understand the point that I was making before he intervened. In a general election, people have an opportunity to consider all Government policies, while in a referendum people have an opportunity to consider only one, but one that might have implications for the rest of the Government policy. That is why there should generally be a self-denying ordinance exercised in respect of referendums.
What was achieved at Maastricht offers enormous opportunities for this country, both politically and economically. It is crazy to suggest that somehow we could go it alone, be better off and have magical self determination politically, economically and in international affairs. It is not right to leap enthusiastically into a constitutional federal structure. It is not right to proceed without some suspicion or cynicism about the ethics and practical objectives of the European Community. Unless we are prepared to play our part in Europe and to be, in the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, at the heart of Europe, we will not be able to deliver to the people we represent the standard of living that they deserve or meet their aspirations and provide for them the influence in world events and forums for which they had elected us to this place.
I am in favour of our having that influence. I am in favour of moves beyond what has been agreed. I hope that within a matter of weeks, after the next general election, we will move to the narrow rate band of the exchange rate mechanism because there is a strong economic case for that. We have to keep up with the timetable leading to the possibility in 1997 of our voluntarily, with other countries, signing up to a single currency. As a result of the criteria set down by the agreement, we will have had to have been in the narrow rate band for two years. That means that we will have had to have been within that band by 1995. In effect, whatever party is in government will have about 18 months to take that decision. It would be better to take that decision sooner rather than later because there will be a mass inflow of capital and a more immediate and sharper decline in interest rates and inflation.
My hon. Friend has emphasised the importance of being at the top table to argue the case for Britain and to persuade the other nations to adopt more of our methods. He referred to the common agricultural policy. Is he aware that on 1 January the last vestige of the way in which this country manages its agricultural affairs disappeared with the ending of the sheepmeat variable premium scheme? Over 15 years we have influenced the way in which the CAP is conducted only in a minuscule way.
There is a good deal in what my hon. Friend has said. I represent a large agricultural constituency. My farmers may not like what I have to say, but I am deeply concerned about the operation of the CAP and the amount of money that we provide for its various schemes. However, it is not enough simply to withdraw from the CAP, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) would agree. We must have an alternative system.
If the public were asked in a referendum, "Should we come out of the CAP?" the majority might well say yes. However, if we also asked, "Are you in favour of paying more to farmers through a national subsidy deficiency scheme?", they would probably say no to that, because that would cost more money.
I understand what my hon. Friend has said, but I am sure that she is not suggesting that if we were to pull out of the CAP we would not, in some way, support our own farming industry. Is she suggesting that we should do away with any form of deficiency payments? If she is prepared to preside over the consequences for British farming of supplying our own food, she must take responsibility for that. However, bearing in mind the kind of constituency that I represent, she will understand that I cannot agree with that.
My hon. Friend has a long history of supporting the European Community cause. Therefore, I found it particularly interesting to hear him say that he felt that the CAP was little short of a disaster. If he did not use those words, that was the impression that he gave. If he is right, why should a common industrial policy, common social policy or common currency work any better?
Many aspects of the European Community have worked extremely well. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) might agree that there are benefits from customs union and the Single European Act and the single market. I do not know whether he would go as far as to accept that there are benefits from regional aid, but I believe that there have been benefits. I believe that the economic success of the exchange rate mechanism for this country and for other European countries, which has provided more stability and certainty, has been a real economic advantage.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport may not agree, but there are areas about which I believe, as passionately as my opponents disagree, that it is in our self-interest and in our financial interest to be in there at the head of the discussions and to exercise influence over the issues which, at the end of the day, will affect the standard of living of our constituents.
For those reasons, it would be an error of judgment to give the Bill a Second Reading today. This is not an issue upon which to have a referendum. Referendums have their problems. If we were to grant the Bill a Second Reading today, it would be a slap in the face for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his ministerial colleagues who have achieved so much in balancing the fears arid aspirations in respect of the Maastricht agreement, in extending British influence within the Community and in opening up the economic and political opportunities that the agreement presents. All that would be brought into question. In view of our commitment to the European Community, having already had a referendum on the issue, if we were to have yet another on every aspect of progress in Europe, it would be widely misunderstood in the Community and greatly resented in this country in particular.
For all those reasons, I have misgivings about the eloquent and sincere views of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills. I hope that the House will put the matter behind it and, instead, will place greater emphasis on playing our part in Europe rather than adopting the scorched-earth policy of thinking again and trying to prevent progress towards fulfilling the aspirations that many of us still share.
The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) is to be congratulated at the very least on giving us a chance to debate a constitutional issue. We have far too few opportunities to do so. I thought that it was a shame that the hon. Gentleman, in his eloquent speech, did not dwell on the constitutional implications of his Bill, but used it as a vehicle to bash Europe.
That there are two issues is demonstrated by the fact that, so far, we have had anti-Europe, pro-referendum speeches. We have just listened to a pro-Europe, anti-referendum speech, and right hon. and hon. Members are about to hear a pro-Europe, pro-referendum speech. I have little doubt that, later, we will hear an anti-Europe, anti-referendum speech. Perhaps that analysis illustrates that there are two issues for consideration—not just the European one.
I start by offering an opinion that is shared by a great many people in this country. I cannot claim that it represents the majority view, because I do not know that—perhaps because we have not had a referendum on the issue.
What has wounded Europe most in the 20th century at any rate has been nationalism. What has killed the most people in Europe in the 20th century has been nationalism. The worst expression of nationalism has been totalitarianism. There are no important examples in which co-operation between democratic nation states has led to anything other than eventual peace, good sense, and joint developments in not only economic and military terms but cultural terms.
I was born just after the last war, and my generation has seen opportunities that were not available to my parents' generation. My father, now sadly deceased, was born in central Europe in 1904. He told me fascinating but frightening stories of the first world war. My mother, who fought in the Warsaw uprising, has told me horrific stories of the second world war. Those stories—they are not made-up, but factual—are founded upon the divisions that occurred in Europe because of narrow, nationalistic feelings.
The greatest threat to the peace and stability of Europe today, and perhaps of the world, exists in that part of central and eastern Europe where there have been welcome moves to democratisation. I hope that those countries will become successful democracies and that they will be welcomed into—or at least come under the umbrella of—the European Community. I applaud the initiative of the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) in creating the know-how fund, which has done much to help, for example, the people of Poland—a country in which I take a particular interest. However, if we fail to help the countries of the Baltic, and the Balkans in particular, to democratise, there will be an outbreak of nationalism that will cause great debility in Europe.
Nothing but good can come of intergovernmental co-operation, and the more co-operation the better. We heard an outburst of, if not anti-German feeling, caution about Germany. I share with many in this country—I say this frankly, and it should be said in the House from time to time—misgivings about the collective temperament of the Germans. However, we will not ensure that Germany remains our partner if we become isolated from that country. Germany is the most powerful nation in Europe in economic terms and it will probably become the most powerful in political terms. Insulating ourselves from Germany is more likely to lead to a repetition of the horrors of the earlier part of the century than the avoidance of them. If we are members of the same economic, political, and defence union as Germany—I do not use the word "union", which appears in the Maastricht treaty, with any reluctance—we will ensure the future peace of western Europe.
Some hon. Members do less than justice to the people—even to the Governments—of such countries as France and the Netherlands. No country has a more noble European history than the Netherlands. No country has greater determination not to be part of Germany than the Netherlands. We do ill service to our view of France and the Netherlands, for example, if we pretend that they are in some way less interested in their own sovereignty and security than we are in ours. I venture to suggest that the 11 other members of the Community have, if anything, better reasons for protecting their own sovereignty and national interest than we have, because they suffered even more in the last war at least than the United Kingdom.
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is not just nationalism that is the problem, but nationalism without democracy? I was glad that the hon. and learned Gentleman suggested that we should encourage eastern European countries to move toward greater democracy, but does he agree that they are concerned about the direction that the European federation is taking? That would cut at the roots of the freedom and democracy that those countries sought and want to sustain.
I do not understand the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question. As to the first part, we would have a greater problem if there were nationalism without democracy—but we would still have a problem if there were nationalism even with a measure of democracy. I remind the hon. Gentleman and others who hold a strongly anti-European Community opinion—and of course I respect their right to that view, but disagree with it—that paragraph 1 of article F of the Maastricht treaty states unequivocally that
The Union shall respect the national identities of its Member States"—
every one of those words counts; "Member States" count as much as "national identities"—
whose systems of government are founded on the principles of democracy.
The implication seems to have crept into the debate that, in some way, the European Community might tolerate one of its member states abandoning democracy, for whatever reason. I do not believe that is the case. It is entrenched in the treaty that one of the prerequisites for belonging to the European Community is to be democratic. That is of itself the highest demonstration of its values and virtues.
The Community is an organisation of member states in union, each with its own sovereignty intact. It creates, too, a different type of constitutional structure. We may have to look for a word different from "sovereignty" to describe that structure. I do not, however, believe for one moment that we have abandoned our sovereignty or that constitutional theorists seriously have a case for thinking so either.
The European Community therefore presents an overwhelming political and economic case. It does ill to the debate if, as we heard earlier, it is turned into a discussion about whether we should have a single currency. We will have a single currency. The luddites on both sides of the House might as well recognise that fact once and for all. There is hardly a respected business person in the country who does not want a single currency and—despite the braying of their backwoodsmen—the Government appear close to recognising that.
I agree with much of the tone of the hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks, but surely he is guilty of introducing a major non-sequitur in talking about the entrenchment of democracy. In Britain it is the House and our freedoms that defend our constitution and guarantee our democracy. If legislation is to be Communitywide, as indeed it is under the single market, and if there is to be a single currency—which the hon. Gentleman just espoused—a single economic policy and a single commercial policy towards third countries, does that system need something which is centrally democratic in order to entrench democracy in it? In effect, the union would then become a new democratic nation that transcended existing nationalities and the existing democratic institutions of this and other countries.
With great respect, the hon. Gentleman is guilty of muddled thinking. The entrenchment of democracy is an internal matter. Each member state has its democracy entrenched in its own constitution, except in the case of the United Kingdom. I believe that we should have a constitution in which democracy is entrenched. Our democracy is entrenched in the conventions of the House and—
And in the rituals of the House, as the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) says—but that is a fuzzy way in which to entrench something as important as democracy.
The Maastricht treaty reinforces our determination to retain democracy in Britain by telling us that if we abandon democracy, we will no longer be members of the European Community. That is good for Britain, which—it will come as no surprise to the House to hear me say this, as a Liberal Democrat—has the greatest democratic deficit in Europe. [Interruption.] I will resist the temptation that presents itself to Liberal Democrats on Fridays, to talk about proportional representation.
I support the Bill because it is right that when great constitutional issues are debated, the public should be consulted. The Bill is a consultative measure only. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills is wrong in his view of what the British public would be likely to say. However pro-European one is—even if one is a federalist—there is nothing to fear from consulting the British public about the European Community. There is plenty of evidence from opinion polls and elsewhere that they would support the Community.
I did not say what would be the outcome of the referendum. I am assiduous in saying that that is a judgment for the people. My conclusions are perhaps self-evident, but I have reached no conclusion about what decision the public would make. That is the essence of the Bill. It gives authority and, therefore, confidence to the movement forward in Europe. If vie do not hold a referendum, we shall be for ever stymied in the present arrangement, in which there is no clear affirmation from the people that we have followed the correct process.
Perhaps my comment was more appropriate to Conservative Members generally than to the hon. Gentleman.
I turn to the important principle underlying the Bill. The House need never fear the public of Britain, unless it ignores them. The Bill does not insist that Parliament should follow the advice of the public in a referendum. Such advice would of course be given following a lengthy and fair campaign on the issue, but there is no doubt that that could be achieved.
There are plenty of countries around the world where referendums take place and we even have a little experience of them in Britain. We can trust the public to give honest advice after the issues have been explained to them.
There is currently far too much speculation about public opinion. It happens on an almost daily basis, sometimes even twice a day. We now have not only polls but polls of polls. They are perhaps a result of our failure to consult the public properly on many different matters.
The Government of the time were right to consult the people of Scotland and of Wales about proposed constitutional changes affecting those parts of the United Kingdom, and it is a great pity that those precedents have not been followed more often. There should be another referendum on decentralisation in Wales, where my constituency lies. I believe that if such a referendum were held today, there would be a different result from that of 1976.
It would not be right to hold a referendum on matters that concern merely controversial Government policy. But it is essential, if the House is to command anything like public respect—there is little enough of it for us at present—that we consult the public on matters that are judged, preferably independently, to be of constitutional significance. The Bill is only one in a large bag of constitutional tools that we ought to entrench in a written constitution.
We should have a Bill of Rights, proportional representation and an elected second chamber. We should have independent appointment of judges, and a constitutional court having responsibility for deciding whether a matter affects our constitutional arrangements in such a way that the public should be consulted in a referendum.
I hope that in what remains of the debate, there will be more discussion not only of the European issue, which is of course vitally important for Britain, but of the wider principles that the hon. Gentleman has included in his Bill, which are worthy of much greater discussion.
No, you need not apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am delighted because at least it allows me to speak on the subject, which I have been unable to do until now, despite the fact that there have been two debates on the Maastricht summit on which the Bill is centred. That illustrates the fact that important issues facing the United Kingdom are not given enough time for debate in the House, or at least not for people like me.
I genuinely congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) on introducing the Bill, which, I say from the outset, I support, and on the manner in which he did it. I am also immensely impressed with the manner in which the House has reacted. There has been far too much yah-boo politics, especially in the past few weeks. There are far too many irritating practices—to put it mildly and gently—on and between these Benches. It is refreshing that for once everyone has sat back and listened to the arguments. We all undoubtedly listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, but I for one was perfectly prepared to listen to the counter-arguments; thereby one learns a little more about the issue, and I have.
The Bill is centred on the Maastricht agreement. The memory dims and I suspect that that is exactly what the two Front Benches want to happen. We will come back after the general election—whenever it is—and say to ourselves that the Maastricht agreement was not so bad after all.
The Government and the Opposition would be joking if they thought that, but I have a feeling that that is what they are thinking. A number of us are not prepared to allow the Government or the Opposition Front Bench to take that view.
What was decided at Maastricht was as clear as crystal and I shall not forget it for a long time. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills put it succinctly when introducing the Bill. He said that the matter is of some constitutional importance and I agree. It is not like this, that or the next Bill which comes before the House. Although Bills are extremely important to the interests that they affect, the important point is that I and other hon. Members can affect them. I can speak either for or against them. However, that may not be the case with the range of legislation, proposals and whatever else that may come out of the European Community—proposals which will, I fear, come at even greater speed and quantity if the Maastricht summit is eventually agreed in the House.
The agreement is definitely a question of the governance of the United Kingdom and is no less than that. That is why my hon. Friend for Aldridge-Brownhills was correct to introduce the Bill. I start from the same premise as my hon. Friend. I was sent here by no other device than the people of Beverley, who decided that I should come to the House. I represent them for the term of this Parliament and, at the end of that term, they will decide whether I stay. I think that they will probably decide that I should stay at the next general election—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and I am grateful for that show of confidence from my colleagues, which is not less than I deserve. Obviously, that is going to happen, but it should not be taken for granted and I do not take it for granted. Nor should any of us.
The electorate sent me here to exercise their sovereignty. It is not for me to hand that away without even having the courtesy of asking them what they think about it.
As with the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson), my electorate know in crystal-clear terms where I stand on this issue. I venture to suggest that my electorate do not wish the agreement to be quietly decided by the Government's majority vote and the whipping vote, when it is eventually debated in the House.
I agree. My electorate want to be asked about the Maastricht agreement and that is why I support the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester correctly spoke at some length about referendums, their advantages and disadvantages. It would be wrong for me to suggest that there are only advantages—there are both and we all know perfectly well what they are. However, I agree with the view of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). Whatever else I have discovered throughout my life, I know that I have infinite faith in the British people quietly to imbibe all the information given to them in their living rooms, by whatever means, and to come to a conclusion. It is insulting for any hon. Member to suggest that the British people are not intelligent enough to take in all the information and to come to a conclusion. They may come to what is, in my view, the wrong conclusion, but, none the less they are entitled to be given the right to do so.
In saying that, I again agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester who mentioned the question whether referendums should be used widely. Of course not. There are well-defined areas where many of us could agree that they should be used. Of course I am not in favour of referendums—of the sort they have in Switzerland—on whether we should have new doors on the town hall. Of course we will not go in for that. However, this issue is rather bigger than new doors for the town hall. It is rather more significant. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills said, it concerns the governance of this country.
I respectfully suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester that the order of importance shows which issues should be subject to referendums. I am confident that the Maastricht agreement should by this measure be subject to one organised for the purpose.
Until now, I have not been allowed to speak on the agreement. I am told—especially by the Government—that the treaty is self-contained, that all the caveats on it have been achieved, and that there are opt-out clauses and separate protocols, in particular the protocol on the social dimension. By those devices it is alleged we protect our sovereignty because the Government know perfectly well that there is a certain feeling about the subject in the House and in the country. They have tried to protect our interests by those devices. The question is whether they have succeeded. In my humble opinion, the Government have not. One must consider the intentions of all those people sitting round the table at the summit. I am perfectly clear about the intentions of some of the major players in that discussion. I do not think that they were round the table to get an agreement to the Maastricht summit merely to have a Europe made up of a confederation of sovereign states in the old 19th century view of sovereign states.
Alas, I am old enough to remember the debate when we first entered the Common Market. We debated the matter for several years, culminating in a referendum. Those in favour said—in retrospect it was a lot of soft soap—that we were not drifing into federalism, there would not be a European super-state, all decision making would remain in Parliament, and our electorates would decide. If those of us who are fairminded, which means all of us, look back at those statements—I remember the hon. Members who made them—and compare them with what has happened, we shall see chalk and cheese. I repeat that we were dealt a load of soft soap. We were on a slippery slope then and we are on one now. We are at the Rubicon, which means that there is no going back if the treaty is agreed by the House. That is why I believe that my electorate should have the right to say what they think about crossing the Rubicon.
Can my hon. Friend name a single enthusiast for the federal goal of Europe, in Europe or in this country, who believes that the Maastricht treaty has been a step in that direction?
I understand my right hon. Friend's question, but I was concentrating on the wide gap in the original debate between what was said and what eventually occurred, and I was arguing that I fear that the same will happen again. I said that it would depend on what the parties involved in the agreement were saying. In this regard I must admit that I am immensely unimpressed by the fact that no hon. Member has mentioned that Mr.
Kohl—who is rather more important in this matter because it is often said that the European Community, or union, will be dominated by the Germans—said clearly on 23 May 1991 at the Europa Institute in Edinburgh:
Europe will be a federal Europe".
I am singularly uninterested in what some hon. Members may say about federalism, but I am very interested in what Mr. Kohl said.
I understand my hon. Friend's point about the past. It is probably true that, until recently, the whole thrust of the development of the European Community was toward a single structure or, as we call it, a federal structure. My hon. Friend will know that the word, "federal" means something different to Chancellor Kohl. However, one of the triumphs of the Maastricht treaty for the Government and the Prime Minister is that, far from bringing that debate to a federalist conclusion, it has opened up a debate and a prospect of a wider, intergovernmental Europe which I believe is more satisfactory to the instincts of the House and the British people and which, in due course, if we fight that argument robustly in Europe, will carry the day.
I have no difficulty in agreeing with my right hon. Friend that the Prime Minister went to Maastricht and hammered out a good deal—some would say a very fine deal. He understood perfectly well the feelings in the House. After the general election, however, hon. Members on both sides of the House may be freer to express their feelings on the issue, uninhibited no doubt by the proximity of a general election. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for the protocol, the social dimension and the fact that the United Kingdom is not, prima facie, totally committed to economic union. However, having agreed to the treaty in principle, we are on a slippery slope. Many of my hon. Friends are worried about that, too.
Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend and the Minister. It is true to say that the Maastricht treaty was not the federal finality that people such as President Mitterrand and the Chancellor Kohl wanted. However, in 1996, perhaps before the election after the forthcoming one, there will be more intergovernmental conferences and another treaty, which will put the final nail in the coffin for those who want an independent United Kingdom.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Despite the fact that I was slightly abashed earlier to hear about his antecedents and where they came from, I still have the utmost confidence in him and implicitly trust his judgment. He is absolutely correct. The kernel of the issue is not only the slippery slope argument but, as he eloquently pointed out—I was going to discuss it later in my speech—the fact that there will be other intergovernmental conferences and agreements. By that device, the ratchet effect will proceed.
Surely my hon. Friend must share my confidence in the ability, not just of our party but of this Parliament and the British people, to win that argument in Europe. Of course, the argument goes on and some people in Europe still dream of a unitary super-state. There is nothing sinful about that. The Conservative party and Parliament as a whole are confident that we can win that debate, which is far from over. My hon. Friend will recall that, during the intergovernmental conference, the presidency presented a text that was a federalist tract. He will also recall that that text was supported by only two of 12 member states, so the argument is far from lost. We can and will win it.
My right hon. Friend is being characteristically winning and persuasive and using the precise language, so how in heaven's name could I possibly disagree with some parts of his proposition? Of course, I am confident that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Cabinet know where the marker points are in that argument, but I am less clear about what will happen once they leave the scene. There will be other faces who may take a different view about the whole proposition. Consequently, if as a Member of Parliament I give way now, that will open the door for someone in the future to say yes, notwithstanding the fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said no—[Interruption.] My hon. Friends make compelling points. May I return, however, to my original argument about the Rubicon? I believe that I have a right, as do my constituents, to say yea or nay to that collection of proposals.
As has been pointed out, particularly by the Minister, the treaty has been tightly drawn. There is no question about that. Therefore, if one is simply to go on that fact, notwithstanding the protestations of some of my hon. Friends, one might simply say that we should proceed because of all the opt-out clauses and protocols. However, the intention is the important aspect and my view of the intentions of some of the major players in the Maastricht agreement is that, ultimately, they want what the treaty speaks of and what hon. Members who have already spoken have already alluded to—a European union. For goodness sake, let us all speak plain language. What does a European union mean if not that we all get together at this, that or the other conference to decide matters between us which might be different if we decided them separately?
I shall not be put off by that.
There have already been perceptible changes in British foreign policy, where the United Kingdom might have taken one view—I think especially of Croatia or the Gulf—but its policy has been surreptitiously changed by European conferences. That is not to say that I am not in favour of reaching, as far as we can, a common position. However, if the United Kingdom does not agree with the common position, it should not proceed with it. I shall not continue for much longer, Madam Deputy Speaker, because several hon. Members wish to speak and, as always, I am conscious of that.
The issue was summed up by the Financial Times on 12 December 1991. Of course, the Financial Times is not the final arbiter of these matters; it merely takes an opinion, as we all take an opinion. However, it is a fairly sober and authoritative source of opinion. It said:
The Maastricht Treaty is indeed the biggest milestone in the Community's 34-year history. It contains, among the goals cited in its preamble, many of the attributes—common citizenship, defence and money—of a potential Eurosuperstate.
I would not go that far, but I go far enough to suggest that we are on a slippery slope. I want the United Kingdom to take its own decisions on all the major issues on defence, the economy and foreign affairs similar to which a sovereign state should take. That does not preclude co-operation with our European partners and, on that device, I am as good a European as anybody else. It is on that principle that I am delighted to support my hon. Friend the member for Aldridge-Brownhills, and I end as I began, by congratulating him.
If not brief, I hope to be pungent and to the point. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) has left the Chamber. Although he may have honourably made clear his position on these matters to his electorate, the reason for this debate on a possible referendum is the fact that successive Governments—I am being neutral for the moment—did not seek any mandate from the electorate in the elections prior to the signing of the treaty of accession or the Single European Act—or, indeed, the signing of what is being called the treaty of Maastricht.
Unlike the hon. Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran), I am not delighted to be supporting the Bill, although reluctantly and for certain reasons I may do so. All referendums have many of the disadvantages that were referred to by the hon. Member for Chichester—the manoeuvrability of the question, the dangling of a hope or promise and the spectre of fear if one does say yes. Most important, does the person answering the question have a real understanding of the fundamentals or is he really answering another question, "Will you trust our Harold" or something like that? That was the reaction of many people in 1975. Were those who should be in the know aware at the time of the actual questions and issues?
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile)—who is not with us; I wish that he had stayed—claimed that democracy was entrenched in the United Kingdom and, he thought, unsatisfactorily in this House. At the time of that referendum, the same Harold Wilson—as he then was—quite properly relied on the unwritten Luxembourg agreement and said that no law could be passed in Brussels without the consent of a British Minister—but he had forgotten, as I had, that the common agricultural policy was then the subject of majority voting. If there had been a referendum that asked, "Are you prepared to enter the European Community, where the laws relating to agriculture, food prices and the whole of the relationship between the soil and the natural environment of the United Kingdom is to be decided by people not of our nationality beyond our shores?" I am confident that the answer would have been no.
Of course, it did not happen like that; the referendum did not ask that question. Therefore, I say to the hon.
Member for Chichester and the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery that there cannot be proper democracy without proper debate and representative democracy as we have always had it—that is, a mandate from the people. I say to the hon. and learned Gentleman that a centralised, lawmaking machine, such as we have at the moment by treaty—and without Maastricht—means that the European Community can have democracy entrenched only if it is dealt with by central, not national, institutions.
What makes the hon. Gentleman believe that the average person in this country is not capable of making up his or her mind on such a matter? What might make the hon. Gentleman think that Members of Parliament, many of whom have not even seen the documents, let alone read them, would be in a better position to form a judgment on this question?
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. For reasons that most of us understand, but which I do not have time to enunciate, the matter has not yet been debated in the House.
That brings me neatly to the next point mentioned by the hon. Member for Chichester and also by the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) on a radio programme this morning. I listened to him with some incredulity because usually I have some sympathy with his views on these matters. Surely we all agree that the debate, if that is what it is, on Maastricht has been about three matters—the desirability of economic and monetary union; the question of a British opt-out; and the social chapter. That debate was intra-party as much as it was wider.
There was no real understanding of the fundamentals that we were being asked to accept. Indeed, we may be asked to agree to the fundamentals shortly after the next election and perhaps before July is out—because any Government, and there could be four varieties within a few months, will surely want to have achieved some agreement on the treaty of Maastricht if only because they, whoever they might be, will hold the presidency. I question what proper debate there will be in Parliament before then. That is not to say that there should not be a passable longstop as well. The referendum is a safety longstop, although I have doubts about its efficacy.
I come now to a point that I hope will be dealt with soon by the Minister. In an exchange a few minutes ago, he claimed that the debate is about real intergovernmental co-operation and nothing to do with any deterministic stuff where the Commission will be influential and tell us what to do, with Mr. Delors riding high and so on—this is a new sort of treaty. I was about to say that that was the impression that he gave and I note that he is nodding his head. He has agreed to what I hope was not an exaggeration.
Who has really had a look at the yellow pages of the treaty? Beattie has not, has she? If there is to be a referendum, Beattie will be voting just as much as anybody else. The Government's presentation of the document is quite undemocratic. Inside this bundle of papers that I have with me, which arrived in the Vote Office only on Tuesday and is signed by the Foreign Secretary as the Queen's plenipotentiary, we find an extraordinary collection of legal jargon. We find a completely new treaty of union with lettered articles from A to S. Article G incorporates the whole of the treaty of Rome within the new union treaty. Article J deals with the whole of our common foreign and security policy. Article K deals with justice and home affairs.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman nods.
In the past in conversations and in the press there has been talk of trunk and pillars. The Prime Minister told us that there was a great victory in ensuring that, instead of having everything under the treaty of Rome with the Commission playing a major part, we had some pillars outside the treaty. It looks as though the pillars have got mixed up in the trunk. I cannot see very much that is outside the scope of the union treaty—I should be interested to hear from the Minister what parts are. I may be wrong. This is an extremely difficult group of documents to get through.
We start with articles A to F of the common, overarching treaty of union. We then have a vast number, about 150, new articles to the treaty of Rome. Then we go on to the consequential amendments, which are probably not very important, to the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. Then we get no fewer than 89 paragraphs of protocols to the treaty of Maastricht, which hang somewhere between the union treaty and the treaty of Rome. I should be obliged if the Minister would tell us which they are. We then have no fewer than 33 declarations. Altogether, that adds up to 300-odd new articles to the written constitution of the European Community. We must remember that some articles remain in its constitution, so the total is about 700 altogether. That is what we in this Chamber face over the coming months, yet we have not gone about revealing or discussing what is there at all well.
One major point—the vexed matter of subsidiarity—has caused a great deal of discussion. The Prime Minister and Conservative Members have raised subsidiarity up as a great safeguard. It is about time that we had it absolutely straight. Perhaps the Minister will comment on the exegesis that I will now attempt on article 3b of the amended treaty of Rome.
After referring to the Community, article 3b refers to
areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence.
what commercial, monetary, economic, external commercial matters and so on do not fall within the exclusive competence of the EEC? We should have a list. Only those matters that are not within the Community's exclusive competence can be dealt with by subsidiarity. Article 3b continues that the Community shall act in those areas
only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States.
What is sufficient? What is can or cannot, might be or might not? It is a matter of judgment. The article continues that in those areas the Community shall take action in accordance with subsidiarity only if the objectives cannot be sufficiently achieved and can therefore,
by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community.
All those are matters of subjective judgment. One can go on for hours on this sort of mobile pattern. It is rather like
those toys that we had years ago that hang from the ceiling. A balance of judgment is involved and we could argue for years. In the end, it will be for the European Court to decide whether subsidiarity applies.
I close on the matter of citizenship. All of us here are proud of being citizens of the United Kingdom. [Interruption.] I am glad that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery has returned for these closing remarks. He will agree that we are also citizens of the world. We can be good citizens of the world community only if we are good citizens of our local and national community—
—and the international community. The hon. and learned Gentleman struck the right tone in his remarks. There is such a thing as wholesome nationalism, which might be called community spirit, and there is unwholesome nationalism, of which he spoke and of which we have various experiences. Unless we can entrench some form of democracy in our national citizenship, we are likely to engender the forces of nasty nationalism that both he and I abhor and which we are all seeing in parts of Europe today. The only alternative is a form of centralised democracy that destroys the nation as we know it and, with it, the citizenship of the United Kingdom, the power of this House and the power of our people to govern themselves.
This has been a fascinating debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) opened the debate with a remarkable speech which was a tour de force and gave us a good profile of the history of referendums, what they meant and when they might be applicable. I hope that he will accept my apologies if, because of constituency business, I am not here for the final stages of the debate.
There are two questions before the House this morning. First, is it desirable that a referendum should be a more regular part of the British way of running our political affairs? Secondly, would the treaties that arose from Maastricht be suitable subjects for a referendum if that were to be a practical means of carrying on our affairs?
I must voice doubts about whether referendums are a suitable part of British political life. I have always been reluctant to accede to the arguments for referendums because they undermine the principle of democracy that we have adopted at Westminster, of which we are justifiably proud. Despite the excellent historical insights of my hon. Friend, the whole purpose of a referendum so far has been largely to get a Government out of a problem rather than necessarily for some overreaching constitutional motivation. That was certainly the case in the 1970s when there was a referendum on our membership of the European Community.
The problem with a referendum is that often it is only practicable if the question can be reduced to its simplest form. That is not because the electorate cannot understand. Of course the electorate can understand many things about our political system and the policies put before it. That is why we usually get a sensible result at general elections and the Conservative party usually wins. Unless the question can be made simple, a referendum is not the right way to proceed.
No, I should like to get into my speech.
Our Westminster system of democracy allows issues that are often complex affairs such as this to be debated in the Chamber and various aspects to be pulled together. It is then for the Government of the day to carry through the decision, whatever that decision may be. The supremacy of Westminster is an important facet of the way that we run our affairs. It is an important reason for the stability of this country where we are not subjected to wild upheavals. Issues that can be reduced to a simple question are not the way to conduct our affairs. I prefer to have the complex debates that we can have, even though there are such things as Whips, although they are not supposed to be mentioned in polite company. There are other ways, however, of conducting our discussions in the House and of informing ourselves. Those who are interested in a particular subject are more than capable of informing themselves about Maastricht. As I look around the Chamber, I see many hon. Members who have participated in the European debates that we have held in recent years.
Will my hon. Friend note that under the—protocol on the transition to the third stage of economic and monetary union the fact is that, irrespective of the other protocol that enables us to opt out of it for the time being, we should be precluded from exercising any veto over our entry, as a Community, into economic and monetary union in the third stage? Does not my hon. Friend therefore perceive that what he is saying is absolutely at the heart of the question whether the British people will have the freedom of choice to determine their economic and social priorities because of the nature of the institution of the central bank? Does he not think that that could easily be reduced through, say, Mr. Speaker's Conference or an independent commission to a question that would be evenly balanced and would put the British people in the position of being able to make a free choice about a free democracy?
My hon. Friend is a great expert on constitutional matters and I bow to his wisdom, but he will know that the principle negotiated at Maastricht by the British Government is that this House of Commons will make the decision prior to the transition. I have read all the yellow pages, just as my hon. Friend has. He knows that the House will have that right. It is a very important point. What the Government have done is, in effect, to enshrine what I am saying: that Westminster should make the decision. That is the basis of my argument for being reluctant to agree to a referendum as a way of conducting our affairs.
I believe in the supremacy of Westminster and that that principle should be enshrined. I see that my hon. Friends the Members for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) and for Stockport (Mr. Favell) are trying to intervene. I know that Madam Deputy Speaker is anxious that I should not give way on too many occasions, but I shall give way to one of my hon. Friends.
My intervention will be brief. Does my hon. Friend not recognise that the essential point in the case that has been put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) is that, in the unique circumstances where a majority of Opposition Members take the view that is shared by the majority of my hon. Friends, when it comes to a general election the electorate will not be given the right to make a choice about these important and fundamental constitutional issues? The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills is that only by having a referendum will they be given that choice and that it would be wrong to deny them that choice.
I regard that argument as slightly dangerous. The reality is that, when one votes in a general election, one votes for the party that one believes can best look after a whole series of complex issues on behalf of the nation, not one particular issue. That is another reason why I think that the country as a whole should vote for a Government who can deal with all the issues, including issues as complex as this. When it comes to the general election, regardless of the fact that the parties may appear to agree about the main thrust of the issue, they will approach the issue in very different ways. There are already distinct differences of approach between the two Front Benches. There is a particularly distinct difference when it comes to the views of the Liberals, who start with the principle that they would prefer to have a European federal, centralist state rather than Westminster itself. Many of the Liberals, in debates that I have had with them outside the Chamber, have openly said that.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that when he uses the term central federal state it shows that he does not understand what he is talking about? The whole concept of federalism is that one does not have centralisation. One has government that is devolved to parts of the federation. He has no authority to talk about Liberal or Liberal Democrat policy—I am not sure whether he is being particular or general—unless he understands the concepts.
The hon. Gentleman does not know about the debates that I have had with other members of his party. Many Liberals take many different views, depending on the circumstances, on these issues. Of course I understand the difference. If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, he will see that I intend to turn to the federal issue. The word "federal" is a false friend and a false enemy. It means different things to different people.
My hon. Friend and I have crossed swords on this subject on many occasions. A moment ago he said that at the general election the people of this country will vote for who is to govern the country and who should form the Government. What concerns people like me, however, is whether the government of this country is to pass elsewhere. People will not be asked that fundamental question at the election. Why should they not be asked that fundamental question?
I shall cover the point made by my hon. Friend, but first I must make progress with my speech.
Federalism can mean all things to all people. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) said, to the Germans "federal" means decentralisation of power. Therefore, it is a false friend. What we must look at is where the negotiations are taking us in the Community. The European Community was founded in the 1950s on political grounds. We used to refer to it as an economic Community. It was an economic Community because economics was the way to deliver political objectives. They ran side by side, but they were also closely interlinked. The point made by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) is valid today in terms of the relationship between the French and the Germans. It was certainly valid in the 1950s. Times have not changed.
The reason that the French were keen to develop the Community in the 1950s was that they realised that they must not repeat the mistakes that were made after the first world war when the policy towards Germany was almost to force it into some form of isolation and to enforce reparations. The French understood that the way to bring Germany back to a strong position within the landmass of Europe was to make political concessions and to enter joint structures that would enable both nations to grow together, although at the outset that might have appeared to reduce French sovereignty over many decisions that otherwise they would have taken independently. That was the motivation for the Community.
It is interesting to note that that political aspect of the Community, which caused many of the countries that joined the European Free Trade Association to stay outside, has become the greatest catalyst for change in the wider Europe and has meant that the Community has been a successful institution both internally and for change in Europe as a whole. The members of EFTA are now knocking at the door not only of an economic agreement with the Community but of a political arrangement, since that would be implied if they entered full membership.
The strength of the Community is something that we should have accepted all the way through. When we joined the Community in the 1970s we left EFTA to join not an economic bloc but a political organisation where there was a clear framework, provided in the treaty of Rome, that implied certain concessions by Britain as a nation—not least that ultimately there would be supremacy of law through the European Court of Justice. Those decisions were taken in the 1970s.
The act of joining the Community committed us to changing our way of political life to embrace aspects of the constitution of the European Community. That was debated and agreed in the House. Subsequently, and rightly—I played an active part in the campaign—it was confirmed in the referendum. The question was straightforward and was, in effect, "Do you want in or out?"
No. I will not be distracted from my point. I was involved in the campaign, so I understand. That was the effective question.
Since that time, Britain has been acting in accordance with the treaties of Rome and has embraced their implications. We have often had difficult debates in the House because we have not fully appreciated the implications of what was agreed.
I was not a Member when the Single European Act was passed, but several of its chapter headings were clear. However, we tended to think that they would never happen, partly because they were not subject to qualified voting.
My hon. Friends were far sighted, and no doubt they contributed to the debate. The reality is that those headings were included.
Under the Maastricht treaties, we have taken further steps forward within the confines of the treaties of Rome, such as new agreements on voting patterns. That is not a new principle but merely development of an existing principle.
A new factor has emerged from the treaty of Maastricht. The object of the Community has always been to achieve ever-closer union of the peoples of Europe. Interestingly, under the Maastricht agreement, the ever-closer union of the peoples of Europe can be furthered outside the confines of the rule of law of the European Court of Justice. That is the pillar approach that my right hon. Friend the Minister mentioned this morning, to which I am sure he will return later.
There is, therefore, a new dimension in the treaties of Maastricht, but it is less worrying to those who are concerned about the overall nature of the Community than it would have been if the separate pillars of foreign policy and justice had been brought within the institutions of the Community.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but perhaps we could have prevented the contretemps if he had done so earlier. May I take him back to what he alleged was the question in the referendum? I agree that that may have been the effective question in some people's minds, but surely he will agree that the actual question was something like this: "Do you agree with remaining a member of the European Economic Community on the terms recently renegotiated by Her Majesty's Government? Yes or no?" Since the Government distributed half the "Yes" literature, it was not surprising that the vote was two to one in favour. The hon. Gentleman may think that that was an endorsement of our entry, but it was nothing of the sort.
I am grateful for that intervention, which underlines my concern about referendums being a good way of doing things. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's help in furthering my argument.
At Maastricht, we further developed something on which we were already clearly set. We have broadened the debate by showing that we can move towards ever-closer union with the peoples of Europe without being solely constrained within the treaty of Rome and the institutions set up under it. But the principle of our co-operation within the European Community, the principle that we are a stronger nation through that co-operation and the principle that the European Community and European union are a strong defence of the interests of ourselves and European partners in a difficult world, were decided when we joined in the 1970s. It is not a question that can be put to the British people at each stage of the fulfilment of that path. The original question was put, and I should like to ensure that, under our presidency later this year, the nature, development and character of the Community are heavily influenced by a Conservative Government so that the things for which I stand are better reflected than they would be if the Labour party were in charge of the country. That is the real debate and question before the House.
The House listened with proper attention to the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who moved the Second Reading eloquently, passionately and with conviction. Having heard him in similar debates, I know that that is characteristic of him.
As the hon. Gentleman argued with that passion, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) sat two rows behind him. I wondered why she found it impossible to include him in her Government, especially given some of the Ministers whom she included. I pay him the compliment that he would have been much better than many of those whom she preferred, but the right hon. Lady has not stayed long enough to express a view on the Bill, so we shall watch the Division list with considerable interest.
The House should not be charmed or captivated by the arguments that the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills advanced, however passionately he did so. I do not believe that the House should support the Bill and I shall explain why.
The subject had a higher profile when the hon. Member chose it for his private Member's Bill. It had the celebrity backing of the right hon. Member for Finchley, of, rather surprisingly, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)—a fairly glittering array of supporters, not all of whom are in the House today to support it.
Things have moved on slightly, although the arguments still exist. It was interesting to see the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor), surrounded by his hon. Friends, use the most technical description. I recall the old story of being surrounded by one's enemies and looking across at one's opponents, but differences exist on both sides. The subject divides the country, but not as widely as people suggest, and certainly there are passionate views within the parties. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) does not reflect the entire view of the Liberal Democratic party. Its spokesman on European affairs made it clear that he did not agree with the idea of a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. But the issues are important and this is a valuable debate, especially as most hon. Members who are in the Chamber populate European debates, as I have for many years.
One aspect of this continuing debate that worries me is the view that what is wrong with the European Community, the European Communities Act 1972, the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1986 and what undoubtedly will be European Communities further amendment Act in the new Parliament is that we shall be told what to do by foreigners. In the article that he wrote in The Guardian the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills said:
The search for consent that is particular to Britain can be gainsaid by a combination of other nations who neither share our language, common law or common public opinion.
It is as if the cultural difference between those on the continent who might outvote us in terms of qualified majority voting and ourselves was the real root of the objection to the pooling of sovereignty to which the hon. Gentleman is so violently opposed. However, I do not associate him with the ideas of others.
The hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) said that he could speak with conviction because he was half German. He said that the Germans never go to a picnic without wanting to run it. Even the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) in the context of other peoples and other nations might have been found objectionable not only to the House or to his party but perhaps to the law itself. I worry that we may be considering the issue in terms of this country versus other nations, as distinct from other people.
The Bill is not about the principle of referendums. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills made that clear at the beginning. It is a Bill about treaties and relates specifically to the treaty negotiated and signed at Maastricht. We are not holding a generalised debate about the benefits of a referendum on specific subjects—we are talking about the Maastricht treaty and it is to Maastricht that we must look.
The question to be decided is only whether a referendum is the appropriate way to take a decision on the Maastricht treaty or whether that decision is more properly to be taken by Parliament itself. Consequential legislation will be necessary for the treaty and we are told that it can only come and will only come in the new Parliament after the general election. Therefore, the next Parliament will have the decisive say on whether this country will subscribe to the treaty signed on behalf of Her Majesty by the Foreign Secretary and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury two weeks ago in the Dutch town of Maastricht.
Clearly, the treaty is significant. It is far reaching and has wide implications but it is not, contrary to what the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills said, irrevocable and irreversible. No treaty can be or will be.
The hon. Gentleman has made a most outrageous statement, which shows that he has not read the protocol on the transition to the third stage. It refers clearly and unequivocally to
the irreversible character of the Community's movement to the third stage of Economic and Monetary Union.
Furthermore, it states that whether or not we
fulfil the necessary conditions for the adoption of a single currency",
all member states shall carry out these obligations and no member states
shall prevent the entering into the third stage.
It continues that that stage will be entered into irrevocably on 1 January 1999. So what on earth is the hon. Gentleman talking about?
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to make the political point about why it was signed, he will no doubt direct that question to the Minister who will inevitably participate in the debate. However, despite the political declaration and the treaty commitment involved, there is no obligation on this or any Government to continue within any treaty if they do not desire to do so. Greenland has already opted out of the European Community as a whole, so there is no irrevocable commitment involved other than in the political context of signing the treaty and giving the political commitment to proceed with whatever has been entered into. Any future Parliament will be in a position to revoke this or any other treaty. Instead of dancing around on the head of a constitutional pin, we must get down to the fine points.
Greenland left the European Community. They decided to do so and were allowed to do so.
So far in this debate we have spoken of the constitutional purity of this country. I worry about being able to represent my constituents, whether it be in Scotland, the United Kingdom or Europe. In the context of the way in which this country is run, it is extremely important that we ensure that we are able to do so, but how are we to ensure within United Kingdom laws that that will have a firm place? How can we wholly regulate the air that we breathe? We no longer live in a country which is finite or which has complete integrity over the air that can waft across the channel. If it proved nothing else, the explosion of Chernobyl showed how vulnerable and interdependent we are on the continent of Europe.
What sovereignty does this country still have over the money markets which in many ways determine the economic environment in which we live? What real power does the Chancellor of the Exchequer have over interest rate policy in a European Community where there are dominant economies? What absolute sovereignty have we over environmental pollution, over the water we drink and over our beaches? What total and absolute sovereignty are we defending over the activities of multinational companies?
My hon. Friend is talking the most arrant nonsense. It is simple propaganda. He knows perfectly well that if we were not in the exchange rate mechanism now, we would have a real choice about not only interest rates but exchange rates. The idea that that is not true is quite misleading.
My right hon. Friend is entitled to his opinion. If it is his opinion that we would have absolute control over our interest rate policy if we were outside the ERM, I beg to differ. The United States and Japan have control over their interest rate policies, and if we had an economy as strong as those of the United States and of Japan, we would have more control over ours than we do. It is a fantasy that there is an economic sovereignty out there that we can simply leap to if we leave the ERM or the embrace of the European Community. We cannot go in that direction. One of the signal features about those who preach against development of the European Community and further integration with Europe is that they do not provide a sensible alternative for Britain outside the way in which we are going.
Of course they square up, because although we live in an interdependent European economy, individual Governments can take measures to relieve the plight of their population. The recession in this country is not nearly as bad as it is in the other countries of the European Community and a major responsibility for that lies in the hands of those in this Government who have controlled our economic policy for the past 13 years. They cannot get away with excusing the iniquities from which our people suffer on the ground that it is all due to world economic conditions.
There is no constitutional blockage to the holding of referendums, and I am not suggesting that there should be. We have had four referendums so far, and I played a part in two of them. I did not play a part in the one in Northern Ireland or the one in Wales, but in 1975 I played a part in the referendum on the European Community in which the result was a 2:1 majority in favour of continued membership. However, this debate, like the many other debates in the intervening period, shows that the referendum did not end the arguments.
In 1979, there was a referendum on the Scotland Bill, which resulted in a majority in favour of change. Because of the rules that were imposed and because of the withdrawal of support by the Scottish National party, 'the will of the Scottish people was never put into effect, and the argument has not stopped. The debate goes on—the referendum did not resolve the issue.
When we approach the question that would be the basis of the referendum advocated by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills serious practical issues have to be addressed. What question will be put? The hon. Gentleman might have some idea, but it is not answered simply.
No, I will not give way at the moment.
Are the electorate to be given a whole copy of the treaty —the yellow document that has been waved about so much today—because if so, the purple document would have to go along as well. People would need to make up their minds on all the available information if they are to be asked only about the treaty. Will the question be about the principle of economic and monetary union? Although the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills is more concerned about constitutional issues and the political union aspect of the treaty, others have their own interests such as the single currency and monetary union. Will the question be about the timetable to monetary union or about the United Kingdom's right to opt out?
Will the question be about the increased powers for the European Parliament, although those powers will at least give back to the representatives of the people the accountability for decisions that the European Single Act took from them and handed to the Council of Ministers? Will the question relate to the increase in qualified majority voting?
The hon. Gentleman said that he had taken part in two referendums, including the one in which both he and I took part—that on continued membership of the Community, or the Common Market as it was then called, on the basis of the renegotiated terms. There is nothing complex about referendums. We could ask the simple question, "Do you wish to accept the Maastricht treaty?" It is the duty of the campaign to inform, to advise and to set out the argument, just as it is in every general election campaign. We shall be putting in front of the electorate complex arguments on the ERM, monetary policy and a whole range of policies. Through that educative process, listening to what the Leader of the Opposition and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will say, the people will make a judgment. These are highly complex issues, but the questions can be simple.
I do not disagree with the ballot box, and the sooner that we get to it, the better it will be for the country. This Government have been running away from the ballot box for well over a year. The opportunity and the demand have been there, but the Government have had no desire to go anywhere near the ballot box. I have nothing to fear from the ballot box or from the complicated issues. I will simply put the issues and explain the complexities of the questions that might be put and then return to what I believe to be the sensible way in which to deal with questions of such seriousness and complexity.
Majority voting was not introduced by the Maastricht treaty—indeed, the increase in qualified majority voting in the Maastricht treaty was tiny in comparison to the extension of qualified majority voting that came with the Single European Act. The right hon. Member for Finchley, who graced us with a brief appearance earlier, was responsible not just for the signing of the Single European Act but for ramming the legislation through the House on a guillotine without allowing us a major debate on the points that we wanted to discuss.
Is what the Maastricht treaty says on common foreign and security policy different from the general principle that we conceded when we signed the North Atlantic treaty in 1949? How will immigration and asylum policies be developed in a continent facing all the pressures of increased immigration that may result from the economic instability in eastern Europe? Should there be a question about the social chapter opt-out that the Government have signed, which has led to our isolation on a whole series of issues? Those are some of the complications that might be involved in the questions. Those are the difficulties which would be faced by anyone seeking to draft a question to put before the British people.
The real question is whether there should be one omnibus question in one referendum or whether it should be the role of Members of Parliament to weigh up all the issues involved, to judge their effect and then to be judged, as all hon. Members are, at a subsequent election. Those who demand a referendum—and those who associate themselves with that demand through their hostility to the European Community as a whole, which is not necessarily the view of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills—on the one hand attack Europe because it has taken power, or will seek to take power, away from the Westminster Parliament while, on the other, they happily argue for Westminster to be robbed of its crucial function of weighing up the issues on behalf of the people. That is one of our weightiest roles. Sometimes we are blinded by the visibility of the accountability of the House, believing that it is the only form of accountability that matters. Because we are part of it, and because television now takes our image into households, we may think that this is all that accountability means. We must look deep down to where the decisions are being taken and where accountability properly lies.
Surely the time has come to stop this endless and uniquely British debate on the theology of being in or getting out of Europe, or being half-in or half-out of Europe—whether we will accept this proposal or that proposal in the legislation. The real issue before the people of this country is what we must do to make the European Community work for Britain and the whole of Europe in a tough and merciless world. Only Britain spends so much of its time pulling up the plant endlessly to examine the roots. Others in the Community are going ahead, working out how to get the best deal and, often, how to get the rules adopted to suit themselves. We inevitably come in belatedly and have to accept the rules on which others have decided.
The Maastricht treaty will be a step forward to a more integrated, perhaps closer and in some ways more sensible Europe. It is not perfect. We have made known our objections to what the Prime Minister negotiated at Maastricht. It is not a final step in European integration —it cannot even be described as a decisive step. The opt-out clauses that the Government negotiated will limit Britain's opportunities to influence the European Community to our benefit. The Labour party will take Europe seriously. In only six or seven weeks' time, we will join the mainstream of Europe and set about ensuring that Europe is developed in a way that will suit all the British people.
I have a difficult task to perform because, on the one hand I want to address the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and, on the other hand, I am conscious of the fact that many of my hon. Friends have been present in the Chamber throughout the debate and I do not wish to detain the House at great length. As hon. Members will be aware, sometimes one is urged to do that from other quarters.
I hope that it will meet with the approval of hon. Members on both sides of the House if I first address the general question of referendums and the constitutional questions that they raise. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) was not quite accurate when he said that this debate is entirely about the Maastricht treaty. Of course, that underlies what my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills is seeking to do. However, the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who shares the scepticism and reserve of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, focused his remarks on the problems of referendums and their constitutional issues.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills and I became hon. Members at the same time. It is not unfair to say that we have pursued different career paths over the past 10 or 15 years. However, in all honesty, I must say that I am not absolutely confident that, when our grandchildren consider our particular contributions in this place, my contribution will necessarily be more memorable than my hon. Friend's. He has a reputation in the House for being a courageous and passionate libertarian. Even though in my former guise as a quasi-parliamentary policeman he and I had a number of encounters, I gave him nothing but respect in those exchanges. The respect for the passionate way in which he introduced the debate and for the quality of his arguments is shared by Members on both sides of the House.
I am bound to say that today's debate will not be as lengthy or detailed as the debate that took place on 11 March 1975 on whether to hold a referendum on continued membership of the Community. Today's debate has provided an opportunity for the House to canter round the course a bit, but this debate will not be as lengthy or as detailed as that debate in 1975. As my hon. Friends will recall, the Conservative Opposition in those days did not support the case for a referendum then and the Conservative Government today do not support this Bill.
In reducing my remarks considerably, I should refer to the constitutional history of our country and I could quote Dicey and others at length. We have heard a great deal about the will and consent of the people and that matter concerns all hon. Members. Our vital connection to our constituents is important. Although hon. Members may not be surprised by what I am about to say, the people referred to by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) may be surprised. The hon. and learned Gentleman seems to believe that scrutiny is better and the democratic deficit is closed under proportional representation.
There are arguments in favour of proportional representation, but that is not one of them. Many of our partners in the Community who have very sophisticated forms of proportional representation have not discussed such issues with the depth and passion that we have discussed them today. Indeed, in some of those countries, they have barely have been discussed at all. It may surprise people in those countries—although it will not surprise hon. Members—to learn that even while I was accompanying my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in Maastricht, I had to deal with an urgent constituency case on the Monday by telephone. As I have said, it will come as no surprise to any hon. Member that, as we return in aircraft, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary profits from our return to deal with his constituency correspondence.
I may be doing my right hon. Friend a great injustice, but am I right in saying that, in the past, he has been in favour of proportional representation? Do his remarks suggest that he has changed his mind?
I have never supported proportional representation, and I rather resent the supporters of proportional representation describing it as a fairer system. It is not a fairer system; it is a different system. It has the disadvantage of facilitating entry into Parliament by smaller parties. The national hurdle that is provided by the first-past-the-post system is rather good. It is one of the reasons why extremist parties—communists, fascists and others—have always failed to achieve representation in the House. I do not put that as total rebuttal, but I do not think that the arguments are balanced. I have always favoured the first-past-the-post system, not least because of the link which is important to all of us—that umbilical cord that links us to our constituents and, through them, to the sovereignty that we collectively exercise on behalf of our constituents.
Rather than parading masses of quotations from Burke, Wilkes and others, I shall focus on the referendum that took place in 1975, to which the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) referred as a great battle. I call it a great defeat. It was a defeat for the House and for the Government of the day. It is worth remembering that we had that referendum because the Government of the day were split from top to bottom on the issue and were incapable of taking a decision on it. Of course my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills is not proposing anything innovative. Every Parliament and every Government may, if the circumstances suit it in the background of general public opinion, call a referendum. It was interesting that, when my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) claimed on behalf of that side of the campaign which he and, indeed, I supported at the time that we had won, four or five of my hon. Friends and four or five Opposition Members immediately rose. I shall analyse that referendum and some of the questions, problems and difficulties that arise from it.
One matter is how to make sure that the electorate is fully informed when asked to judge, in the simple yes-no, in-out way, a complex nexus of issues. That matter has also been touched upon. Hon. Members may recall that, in 1975, there were three leaflets—a "yes" leaflet, a "no" leaflet, and a Government leaflet. They were distributed by post in the last 10 days of May. A Harris poll asked voters which leaflets they had seen, which they had read from cover to cover, and which they had found of help to them in making their decision. Eighty two per cent. of voters had seen the "yes" leaflet, 73 per cent. had seen the "no" leaflet, and 71 per cent. had seen the Government leaflet. About a quarter of voters had read each leaflet from cover to cover, but only 10 per cent. of voters found that the "yes" leaflet had helped their understanding of the issue, falling to only 8 per cent. for the "no" leaflet, and a measly 6 per cent. for the Government leaflet. That shows an understandable reaction. People generally show little concern for the fine print of complex and, frankly, rather dry legislation. They place their trust in their elected representatives, whose job it is to ensure that the small print is not detrimental to the interests of constituents. That is the basis of parliamentary democracy.
During the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills raised an important matter about the subsidiarity test. My hon. Friends may have seen that I went across the Chamber to discuss the matter with him. It would take too long to give him an adequate reply to that important point. It would probably take about 10 or 15 minutes to address why the placing of the last sentence of article 3b as a separate paragraph rather than an integral part of the second paragraph was a matter which exercised our lawyers and lawyers in the Federal Republic with whom we were working on the matter for a considerable number of months. It is an important issue, but it is a narrow matter in the treaty and if I had addressed it I would have left many of my hon. Friends unanswered. That is one illustration of the complexity—
Of course it is. That is why all general elections contain within them an element of doctor's mandate. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Newham, South or another hon. Member referred to the election in 1931. British people are very sophisticated. They know perfectly well when they vote in a general election that there are some firm policies about which they can be clear, but that there is also an element of doctor's mandate.
There was a specific example. When Baldwin won the election with a majority in 1931, he said that he must go to the country on tariff reform. He went specifically on that issue and lost. But it was a specific mandate. He responded to the principle in our constitutional practice of the time that one should seek a specific mandate on major constitutional or big issues. I tried to give the examples of the mandates achieved in 1832, 1910 and the early 1930s.
I was referring not to Baldwin's mandate but to Ramsay MacDonald's efforts to achieve a doctor's mandate or doctor's prescription, as it was called. In a sense, the point both reinforces my argument that such matters can be resolved in a general election and makes the point that the issues are complicated and it is difficult to reduce to a simple yes-no answer the complexity of issues not only in the Maastricht treaty but connected with our very membership of the Community.
Of course, I agree with my hon. Friend that the British electorate are extremely sophisticated and able to make their own judgments. I do not suggest for one moment that one can argue against referendums on the basis that the British people are incapable of understanding the issues and making up their minds. I simply argue that the issues are complex and that the evidence that I gave from 1975 of the way in which the leaflets were read and the opinion of their helpfulness among the public makes one pause to consider.
We should also consider whether the 1975 referendum managed, as my hon. Friend would seek to do, to isolate the issue of EC membership from other issues in the mind of the electorate. Michael Steed writing in The Economist on 14 June 1975 set out to analyse voting patterns across the country. The yes vote varied from 70 per cent. or more in the south to 30 per cent. in the Western Isles. His conclusion was that within a small margin of error people tended to vote along party lines and broadly reflected the yes-no split within each political party.
So what was gained from the 1975 referendum? It has been plausibly argued by some that the referendum was detrimental to the country. Parliamentary life ground to a halt. Politicians took to the campaign trail and the Government were distracted from tackling the real issues. The Labour Government of the day were beset by the most appalling problems of economic mismanagement and so forth and were distracted from them, which caused commentators to feel—as the press commented—that the referendum had been a luxury that the Government and the country could ill afford. Interest in the referendum soon waned.
I must finish this point and then I shall give way. I expect that my hon. Friends are seeking to take part in the debate. I am trying to reduce my remarks to ensure that other hon. Members may have the opportunity to speak, but I shall certainly give way if I may first develop the argument.
Interest in the referendum soon waned and it was reduced almost to the status of a sideshow. Even the press showed little enthusiasm. I took the trouble to have that fact investigated. In the four weeks before polling day only 17·5 per cent. of lead stories in national daily newspapers referred to the referendum. Other issues took precedence—a railway strike, a strike at ITV, the sterling crisis, record inflation under a Labour Government and even the Bay City Rollers. On polling day that admirable organ of opinion the Daily Mail chose to lead with the news of new export orders to Saudi Arabia.
We have had one referendum and it merits analysis. The phrasing of the question caused a lot of trouble in 1975 and it was again apparent today that phrasing the question remains a matter of controversy. Even on such an apparently simple issue as in or out of the Community, could the wording of the question sufficiently affect the answer? Opinion polls were held prior to the referendum to try to find out whether that was so. At the beginning of February 1975, NOP asked a series of differently worded questions and recorded the majority of yes voters over those who would vote no for each question. For example, to the question,
Do you accept the Government's recommendation that the United Kingdom should come out of the Common Market?
the yes vote had a majority of 0·2 per cent. For the simple question,
Should the United Kingdom come out of the Common Market?
the figure rose to 4·6 per cent. and for the straight choice "In/Out" the figure was 10·8 per cent. Another set of questions were asked. To the question,
Should the United Kingdom stay in the Common Market?
the yes vote had a majority of 13·2 per cent.; to the question,
Do you accept the Government's recommendations that the United Kingdom should stay in the Common Market?
the yes vote had a majority of 18·2 per cent.; to the question,
The Government recommends the acceptance of the renegotiated terms of British membership of the Common Market. Should the United Kingdom stay in the Common Market?
it was 11·2 per cent., and finally,
Her Majesty's Government believe that the nation's best interests would be served by accepting the favourably renegotiated terms of our continued membership of the Common Market. Should the United Kingdom stay in the Common Market?
had a 16·2 per cent. majority for the yes option over the no option.
The hon. Member for Newham, South—I do not think that anyone in the House would accuse him of being a Euro-federalist or a Euro-freak—sought to draw our attention to those inherent problems associated with referendums.
My right hon. Friend offers a good intellectual argument in favour of the Government's position. Does he not accept that the constituency that he should be tackling consists of all those millions of electors outside this place who will be asking themselves, "Why are the Government and our national politicians refusing to give us, the people, an opportunity to express our views on what we regard to be the most important constitutional issue of our lifetime?"
My hon. Friend places me in something of a dilemma. I do not regard myself as, and I do not think that anyone who spends any time working actively in the Community could be, what we would define as a Euro-enthusiast. Nevertheless, I broadly wish to make it work and think that it is in the interests of our country. I am tempted by my hon. Friend's proposition, because I have no doubt that, were a referendum to be held, an overwhelming majority of the British people, in the exercise of their common sense, would vote for the treaty.
I shall give way in a moment.
My concern is much wider. Looking back on history, I shall refrain from examining the referendum on devolution in Scotland. Confident though I am that the result would reinforce my views, every time we have such a referendum it is, in a sense, an abdication of responsibility by the House and the Government of the day. This Government intend to make no such abdication of their responsibilities; nor do they intend to invite the House to abdicate from its responsibility.
I hope that my hon. Friend will understand if I do not give way because others, including my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), want to participate in the debate. I do not wish to refuse to give way, but I want to conclude my remarks so that other hon. Members can take part in the debate.
The Bill is admirably brief, but I fear that, for this purpose, it may be too brief. It claims that its purpose is simply to
Require a national referendum as a precondition of the ratification of certain treaties.
Those treaties are narrowly defined as those relating to the establishment of the European Communities, which would further
diminish the Authority of the Queen in Parliament to regulate the affairs of the United Kingdom".
As the hon. Member for Hamilton said, every time the United Kingdom enters a treaty, our sovereignty and the rights of this House are diminished to some extent. If the Bill proceeds to its Committee stage, some hon. Members may seek to broaden its scope to include, for example, the important constitutional matters mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery.
One of the matters to be considered in Committee, if there is to be a full and proper referendum, would be the state of the electoral register on which that referendum would take place. At present, 3 per cent. or more of the electorate is missing from the electoral register. Much has been said about the importance of constituents and how they should be responded to in referendums and parliamentary democracy. Therefore, is not there a need to do something about ensuring that the register is correct? Should not we ensure that it is correct before the next general election?
In that case, I shall conclude my remarks because some hon. Members have been in the House for the whole morning and I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not give way again.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) said, let us assume that the criterion is fulfilled and a referendum is called. Would there be a campaign to inform people of the true implications of the treaty? I am sure that my hon. Friends and those who take a different view would try to do that. How would the campaign be organised? How could a question be formulated to isolate the issue of the treaty's ratification from the other issues of the day? Asquith said that a
referendum might be nominally and ostensibly on some particular point
You would have the turmoil, the tumult and a large part of the expense of a general election; and I do not believe it would be possible … under these conditions, completely to segregate the particular issue on which the referendum took place, and entirely to ignore the whole of the rest of the field of politics.
Careful analysis of the previous referendum shows that despite the reneging on the responsibilities of this House, and despite the suspending of the Government for three or four weeks, the way that people voted in the end appeared to reflect not just the party splits, but the yes-no split within those parties. The referendum proposal is not only unhelpful, but it flies in the face of our responsibilities as Members of Parliament.
The Maastricht treaty has been the underlying theme of the debate. A number of hon. Members have expressed concern about the diminution of the sovereignty both of this House and of the British people. My belief is that on many of the great issues, the countries of Europe should try to speak with a single voice. I want those countries to work together more closely on things that we can do better together. Europe is stronger when we do that, whether it be on trade, defence or in our relations with the rest of the world.
Working more closely together does not necessarily require power to be centralised in Brussels or decisions to be taken by appointed bureaucracies. As the years go by and as the Community develops, we must make a judgment on how the balance between the will of the Government and the House, working with others in Europe, is best served. The words that I used were more or less a paraphrase of those used by my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) in her important speech in Bruges. I agree with every word.
What we have contrived to do in Europe is to begin, perhaps for the first time in the past 20 or 25 years, to put the brakes on that "inevitable" move, which some of our European partners still wish to happen, towards a single structure, where every area of political endeavour would be contained within the treaty of Rome and would therefore depend on a Commission initiative and probably on a qualified majority vote, and would then be justiciable under the European Court of Justice.
My hon. Friends are right to say that that is the way that many of our partners want the Community to move, and they have done so for many years. The great success of Maastricht is that at last we have begun to shape a wider European union, which will enable us, on a number of crucial issues that go to the heart of what being a nation means—foreign, defence, interior and justice policies—to begin to win the argument that agreements between 12 nation states, taken freely and through co-operating together, are not, by definition, qualitatively worse than agreements taken inside the treaty.
Of course, there are many areas such as trade and agriculture where we have agreed that the Commission has competence. We must do as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East has done almost throughout his political lifetime, which is to fight to bring about rational improvements in the common agricultural policy.
The Bill, which was introduced in such a distinguished way by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, is mistaken, not only because it invites the House to abdicate its responsibilities, but because the sort of question that would be put—as was evident in the previous referendum—in all likelihood would reflect the differing views within the House. The treaty that we have, and to which the House will return in the next Parliament when a Bill will be laid before it to amend the European Communities Act, will require the approval of the House as a necessary pre-condition of ratification by the Government. I have no doubt that that Bill will receive careful scrutiny and will be the subject of passionate debate by my hon. Friends.
I am sure, as I have been since I came into the House, that the House will express the will of the British people in the matter. That will be expressed by freely elected Members of the House in the way that British democracy has traditionally settled these matters, whether they be large or small.
There is a certain irony in the fact that we are debating in an interesting, informative and illuminating way the question of a referendum on the Common Market on a Friday when the Chairman of the Select Committee on Sittings of the House has held a press conference on its report which proposes doing away with 10 Friday sittings. Today's exchange of opinion demonstrates the value of Friday sittings and the importance of being here to exchange ideas. I shall be as brief as I can, because I know that other hon. Members want to speak.
There is and has been a continuing, sustained drive towards a western European state: there is no question about that. We have seen an erosion of the ability of an elected United Kingdom Government to make decisions in a number of areas. The Maastricht summit advanced that position still further. I shall come to details in a moment.
Let me remind the House of the cost of our membership of the Common Market. Over the past 10 years it has cost us £14,000 million. That is our net contribution after all the receipts from the Common Market have been paid back. It is after taking into account all those notices saying, "Europe helps Bradford", or Tadcaster, or Tamworth, or wherever it is. All those grants from the Common Market are simply some of our own money coming back. For the past 10 years, after all those grants have been taken into account, we have paid £14 billion. The payment this year will be of the order of £3 billion. New demands are being made for a massive increase in the United Kingdom contribution, which I hope this Government and the next Labour Government will resist.
I support the idea of nations working together as a group of equal nation states without one nation being subordinate to another. I fear that we are becoming subordinate because of the minority position that we so often occupy. Decisions, against which we have voted, are taken by the Council of Ministers, but, as they are majority decisions, the Commission implements them and we can do nothing about it.
The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting speech. Is he aware that, ever since the Single European Act, Britain has been outvoted, I think I am right in saying, on only four occasions, two of which were on the same issue? The Federal Republic, to which the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) referred, has been outvoted more often than that on a single day.
I am about to give examples of voting of a relative minor but important character to demonstrate what has been going on.
The treaty of Rome was bad enough. It limited our freedom of movement, as every treaty does: there is no question about that. No other treaty provides for legislation affecting the United Kingdom. Regulations have direct application and directives are required to be applied through subordinate legislation in this country. No other treaty inhibits and curtails the elected Government of the day as does the treaty of Rome. That was extended by the Single European Act.
The Single European Act was a bitter disappointment to its Italian author, Altiero Spinelli, who had a driving ambition to see a united states of western Europe. His disappointment was my pleasure because I was keen that his ambition should not be realised. However, it was a step on the way. Maastricht represents another step. If Altiero Spinelli were alive today, I am sure that he would welcome it with open arms.
There was widespread resentment and disappointment in the European Parliament about the Single European Act because there is a drive towards the federalism of a united states of western Europe. It is a very important issue which should be put to the people. Every time there are Home Office questions there are answers to questions about the integration of 1992, the year that we are in now. It would not be a bad year in which to have a referendum on the whole issue: the question of drugs, terrorism, the movement of illegal armaments and animal diseases. Only this week we received a letter and a brochure from an organisation that is concerned about the possible removal of barriers to the free movement of animals and the increase of rabies.
In the context of the sunshine vision that the pro-marketeers so often maintain, this may all seem to be relatively trivial, but these matters make up the day-to-day way in which we live and they are important. We ought, therefore, to take them into account and to be prepared to invoke these arguments in the referendum provided for by the Bill. The Bill is imperfect. I intend to turn to its imperfections later.
All these matters are of great concern to our people. Let me give an illustration of the way in which the Government's ability, within the great scheme of things within the Common Market, is limited. A number of orders are going through the House. The House knows that I am the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Therefore, we look at all the 1,500 to 2,000 statutory instruments that proceed through the House, having been produced by the Government each year. A significant proportion of those statutory instruments are based on EEC directives. Within the great vision that is put forward, what are the two most recent statutory instruments? One is for the harmonisation of lawnmower noise.
The Minister said that we want to work closely together. Yes, we do, but do we want to be compelled to work together in such a way that we are bound by law to operate all our lawnmowers at the same level of noise and that it would be an offence to exceed that level? That is the character of the Common Market. It is not a great union of nations. It amounts to a pettifogging application of bureaucratic details spelt out by unaccountable, unelected, overpaid and over-cosseted bureaucrats called Commissioners and all their appointed, unaccountable, overpaid staff in the regions.
If anybody says that the bureaucrats represent only a very small proportion, compared with the number of civil servants who work in the Welsh Office, or the Scottish Office or the Department of the Environment—I have asked questions about that, too—the fact is that thousands of our civil servants in the Department of the Environment and in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are working full time on EEC matters, purely and simply. It is not just the Brussels bureaucracy, therefore, that we are concerned about; we are concerned about the whole panoply of the extension of the growth in administration, based in Brussels, that is penetrating this country.
At the beginning of this year, to give another example, most motorists—there are many of them, about 20 million —were faced with a new imposition: a £1,000 fine if the tread on their car tyes was not more than 1·6 mm. Until I January of this year, it had been 1 mm. It is a relatively minor matter, but the Department of Transport told the Common Market that 1 mm was safe enough and that fewer than 1 per cent. of all accidents occurred in wet weather when an extra 0·6 mm might, without any evidence, meet the road-holding characteristics of all cars. The Common Market did not provide any evidence, and the Department said, "There is no evidence of improved safety." The Government voted against the proposal in the Council of Ministers but were outvoted, so on 1 January the Common Market imposed criminal penalties for breaching the 1·6 mm tread depth. No doubt that is treated as a trivial matter, but it imposed additional costs on every motorist, to the pleasure and delectation of tyre manufacturers, of between £50 and £1,000.
That is how such legislation is creeping into all aspects of our national and daily life. I say that it is not necessary and that we should halt at this point. I am a convinced opponent of the Common Market, which has been a millstone around our neck.
Some people may say, "We have come so far; let us go no further." How shall we make that decision, because we will not make it in here? The bureaucracy and weight of the administrative machine in Brussels are too strong; it is now part of our administration of government. We must ask the people of the nation, "Do you wish the subordination of the United Kingdom Parliament and Government to Brussels to be halted, or should we allow the drift towards Euro-federalism to continue whereby this place, as we predicted in the 1960s and 1975, will become little more than a county council?" This is the point at which we should do so.
The Minister said that there are difficulties with a referendum. Of course there are, but we shall conduct a difficult process over the next few weeks—the general election. The newspapers will pay attention not only to the general election but to a wide range of issues, some of which will impinge on the general election, just as in a referendum.
In a referendum, people would examine the arguments. People must have the right to receive information, some of which will be prejudiced and some objective, although it is difficult for human beings to be objective in any given circumstance. The Bill does not provide for that, so I assume that the author intends it to be done under delegated powers. The amount of expenditure allocated to each side must be the same to avoid the surfeit of propaganda that was churned out in the 1975 poll. The Government claimed that there would be one leaflet for each side, but they did not say that they would issue another leaflet to ensure that it was two to one.
My hon. Friend is right.
Some of us said that limits should be placed on expenditure. We have such limits in general elections so that the fat cats cannot pour money into a campaign that misleads and subverts the argument and creates impressions that lead to an unfair result. Everybody in the United States believes that a similar system should be imposed much more tightly, because if someone there can get enough money he can dominate television with commercials. We have rejected that in our country because we think that it is unfair. Ours is a decent, proper system. In council and general elections, we have a limit on expenditure.
No, I am not giving way. The hon. Gentleman has only just come in and hon. Members who have been here a lot longer still wish to take part in the debate.
The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) is quite right: we have limitations not on national expenditure but on constituency expenditure, which have the same effect. There is no reason why that principle should not be translated to national expenditure for a referendum. That is an important qualification which was raised when the legislation was passed, but it was ignored by the Government of the day. I think that that was deliberate.
The Bill is justified and it has my support. I do not think that it will get any further, but it is at least a marker which shows that some of us want to ensure that the drift or inertia is stopped. Platitudes pour out about the victory at Maastricht, about protection, about going so far but no further and about signing one section or removing a sentence. I have been in Parliament since 1974 and I have seen that drift occurring.
How many times have we heard that the common agricultural policy will be reformed? How many times has that been said in this House, and how many times has it proved to be untrue? The CAP still soaks up 70 per cent. of the European Community budget. Why cannot we renationalise our agriculture to make it fairer and better and less wasteful and less destructive of our countryside which is the inheritance of us all? We cannot because we are bound by the treaty, but we hear many platitudes about changes being made.
The best changes come from outside. We may not necessarily win the argument, but at least let us have the argument and not allow the drift to continue. If people outside say that they are complacent about the drift and accept it, that would not convince me because I should continue the battle to try to persuade them to change their minds—that is the right of us all—but a decision will have been made which is preferable to the drift. The Bill will make that possible, and it has my support.
I had better declare an interest at the outset in case anyone is under any illusion. I am the parliamentary adviser to the Referendum First Campaign. I am not paid for that—it is a labour of love for my country.
I agree with the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) that the time has come to take stock of our membership of the Community. The Community is like a club and when one joins a club one pays a subscription every year. From time to time, one reconsiders and if one decides that the club is no longer the same club one joined, one decides not to pay a further subscription.
I and many right hon. Friends believe that the Community is changing its character. When I voted to join the European Community, I believed that I was joining a free trade association. I read all three pamphlets handed to me, but I laboured under that illusion. That is why I voted to join.
The European Community is now dedicated to turning itself into a political and economic union—a closer and closer union—and it is time for not only the House but the people to be allowed to take stock and to decide whether that is what we want. I believe that when the history of the 1992 general election comes to be written, unless all three parties are prepared to commit themselves to allowing the British people to decide whether they wish the power of the House to drift away to Europe, the election will be go down as the phoney election. People may not realise now, but they soon will—unfortunately, probably not until after the general election—that whichever Government are in power, that Government will no longer be in total control, or even part control in some cases, of matters as important as who should be allowed to enter our country.
The Government will not be in control—to a large extent—or our economy, of whether the interest rate on mortgages goes up or down or whether the overdraft with the bank manager suddenly goes up or down and whether firms are possibly forced into bankruptcy as a result of a decision taken not here by the Bank of England but in Frankfurt. People's economic fortunes will depend not on what the Opposition—if they form a Government—or we do, but on how German reunification progresses and on whether the Bundesbank believes that it is right to increase interest rates in order to combat the greatest recession since 1929 and the 1930s.
When the electorate realise that they have been robbed of electing a Government who have control over these decisions, their anger will know no bounds, and it should not. The House has made decisions without asking the people and without their realising the implications—some small and some rather bigger. For example, there was the doing away with county councils and moving Yorkshire into Lancashire—I am a Yorkshireman myself. People did not realise until too late that these were great constitutional changes to hundreds of years of our history. They should not have been done without the wholehearted consent of the people—there is a phrase.
Our country is now a multiracial society—one cannot turn the clock back and nor would I wish to do so. However, people were not asked about the policies that brought about that change, and they should have been asked. The changes brought about by Maastricht will be even bigger. Control over matters as large as that will move from here to elsewhere, and there is no greater decision than that. I agree with what the hon. Member for Bradford, North and others have said.
Will my hon. Friend look back at the Division lists for 25 January 1978 when the House last voted on whether there should be a referendum, in that case for Scotland and Wales? Does he agree that the words of the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) are somewhat devalued because at that time he voted against the people of Scotland having a referendum? If the people of Scotland could not understand devolution, why does the hon. Gentleman think that the people of England can understand Europe? Is not the hon. Member for Bradford, South a humbug?
I will not comment on whether the hon. Member for Bradford, South—I apologise for getting the wrong end of Bradford—is a humbug, but he is entitled to change his mind. I voted yes in the referendum on continued membership of the Common Market and I now believe that that was a fundamental mistake. I believe that many other people believe that that was wrong. I am asking that they should be given the opportunity to express through a referendum whether they wish to go any further.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) spoke of Scottish devolution. My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) mentioned the article in the Financial Times on 12 December 1991, which said:
The Maastricht Treaty is indeed the biggest milestone in the Community's 34-year history … in its preamble, many of the attributes—common citizenship, defence and money—of a potential Euro-super state
were being put into place. He is right. Some people are beginning to rumble that. They certainly are in Scotland. The Scottish National party is realising that power is moving away from the United Kingdom to Brussels and is talking about "Scotland in Europe". If decisions are riot to be made here in Westminster, where Scotland has quite a large representation, why not take a place at the top table in Brussels? It is difficult to argue against that.
The British people as a whole must be asked whether they wish the United Kingdom to break up. The SNP will do better than many people believe, and many Labour Members are beginning to realise that. These great matters should be put to the people, not decided here on a three-line Whip. The United Kingdom was put together by our forebears in 1707 and since that time, we have defeated dictators together, fought wars together, won and lost empires together, traded together, intermarried, and had a single currency. Everybody should be asked to decide on whether to change that, and it should not be decided only here. It certainly should not be decided without being put to the electorate at a general election, as it will not be. That is why the general election of 1992 will be regarded as a phoney election.
As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said, there will be more IGCs before 1996—possibly even before the general election. More decisions will be made, and that really will be the cap on it. No doubt the same arguments will be advanced in the House. People will say, "We must not have a referendum. Don't forget the 1992 Maastricht treaty. This House agreed to a treaty of union. Don't you know what a treaty of union is? You knew what the Act of Union in 1707 meant. Surely you know what the treaty of union in 1992 meant."
In our heart of hearts, whether we are for it or against it, we know what the treaty means. It is the drive towards a united states of Europe. It is the drive towards a federal super-state. In the summer, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said:
A European super-state would not be acceptable to me or to the House—and in my judgment it would not be acceptable to the country."—[Official Report, 18 June 1991; Vol. 193, c. 142.]
The country should be asked. The Irish are having a referendum on the treaty of Maastricht. The Danes are having a referendum on the treaty of Maastricht. The British, with the oldest democracy of all, should be given the benefit of a referendum.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), who has left the Chamber —temporarily, I assume—referred to one of those irritating Community directives, the lawnmower noise directive, which was being examined by his Committee, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. It is interesting that he did not reach the conclusion that all good constitutionalists in this Parliament should reach if they are really concerned about this institution's future strength: if a majority vote in the Community left this Parliament seething—across the Benches and across the parties—at the injustice of the decision, Parliament could rise up against the Executive and say, "We will not accept that decision; we will vote against it." It is interesting to observe that, despite all the noise, all the ritual, all the hubris and hyperbole, this Parliament has never objected to a single directive from the European Community once the Executive have revealed their decision on it.
That is contrary to the impression that we like to give. I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) a pride in this institution, and he and I are friends, despite our differences on this fundamental subject. I respect the passion, depth and sincerity with which he spoke, but we know that this is, unfortunately, one of the more docile parliamentary institutions among the member states of the European Community. Much depends on explanations, differences and so on. I should like to see that docility diminish in the future, but it is part of the way in which our traditions have developed. It has a positive side, because most of us probably sometimes relish the fact that a strong Government can introduce instant legislation, sometimes on the most marginal problems, although if we regret that legislation, we can put in a different Bill and possibly even a different Government. That is easier here than in some other countries—particularly the United States—with the separation of powers.
The European Community, too, has that attractive feature—the separation of powers through the multiplicity of sources of power and decision making. The Commission makes proposals. Those proposals must be voted on by the Council of Ministers unanimously or by a majority vote, or by whatever system may be decided. That is safer than our system under which, if an abuse of power takes place, there is no restraint and there are no checks and balances—until there is an upheaval in the party concerned or a significant change at a general election. In our system, self-restraint is needed because of the absence of a written constitution.
As the Minister of State and others have said today, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) is a respected parliamentarian. I wish that he had dealt with such matters in his Bill. The flaw in the Bill is that it refers specifically to European treaties: it is not a general referendum Bill. Although my hon. Friend would deny it—and I am sure that his motives are pure—others have latched on to the Bill opportunistically to bash Europe yet again and to stir up trouble both before and after the general election.
I would like to, but I want other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend, to have a chance to speak, so I shall be brief. I have been in the Chamber throughout the debate and, apart from raising a point of order, I have not intervened.
It is sad that some Conservative Members and Opposition Members who are worried about these developments are hitting the wrong targets. There should be measures to strengthen our national Parliament. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State made an excellent speech and I appreciated his masterly analysis of the previous 1975 referendum, its parameters, components, questions, answers and percentages. That was a telling critique which exposed the flaws of that referendum. As we are aware, my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) was adamant in her opposition to that referendum.
The targets in the Bill are wrong. My greatest objection to the Bill is the mention of any particular reason for the referendum, as if the treaty concerned is different from any other treaty. It is not, although it is more profound. This country took a major decision to share sovereignty with other individual, proud, sovereign countries; to join agreed, integrated structures with no loss of sovereignty, but an overall growth of sovereignty and, therefore, no risks. The British public increasingly support that and, therefore, there is no need for a Referendum Bill.
It is ironic and sad that the Bill undermines the sovereignty of this place and, presumably to a lesser extent, of the upper House, which has a residual role in such matters. Although the Bill has only one sponsor, the Bill's supporters will weaken the residual strength of this institution which has already been weakened by our practices, by the complex nature of the political economy in Britain and the need to work more closely with other countries.
When the United Nations pursued its Gulf initiatives, the other countries in the Security Council and the General Assembly did not impose their will on a hapless Britain. Instead, Britain participated voluntarily and positively. The same thing applies to all our international treaties and agreements.
The treaty about which we are concerned is more profound than others. It provides for legislation in all the national Parliaments, but it is no more terrifying for that. It flows from the original Stuttgart declaration and the Single European Act when there was no question of a referendum. The supporters of today's Bill did not call for a referendum then. There are flaws in putting immensely complex questions to an already overburdened public who, through delegation and representative parliamentary democracy, want their own Members of Parliament to handle such matters. That is our way and our strength.
Countries with written constitutions provide for referendums on major constitutional matters. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said, the Bill to be introduced after the general election by whichever party wins—we hope that it will be the Conservatives—will be our legitimate parliamentary equivalent of a referendum. All our citizens will be able to lobby us as hon. Members. There is a close, sacred and precious connection between hon. Members and their constituents, irrespective of party adhesion. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) believes that the public would come to this place and tell us not to support such an outrageous measure, but I doubt that. I believe that there is enthusiasm for such issues not just among the younger generation, but among the older generation as well.
Never before has such a profound treaty been agreed by our Government on behalf of the British Parliament and the public with the enthusiasm that it deserved. If the press and politicians deprived the public of the opportunity of detailed arguments, that was their fault. Basic common sense overrides all that. People know that our planet is smaller and the European part is becoming smaller—not literally, but in the sense of a need for indivisible, close co-operation between countries.
Treaty structures are the sanctification of such Government decisions. Support for Europe is growing. People who visit the Commission in Brussels for the first time come away from it as admirers. I can understand that. They may disapprove of some aspects of the CAP—
My right hon. Friend the Minister of State is rightly trying to restrain me. Perhaps I am going a little too far. I meant to say that they are aware of the way in which a modest-sized bureaucracy creates policy by agreement. The process passes to the Council of Ministers which is asked to vote on the issue. If the European Parliament were to be involved in the process, why did not my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills introduce a Bill that would give the European Parliament additional powers by delegating legislation from this House? That would have been much better.
During world war two, the great coalitions of the parties in a national emergency came together against the fascist tyranny emanating from Germany. In parentheses, I deplore the attacks on Germany that were made, mainly by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) in a quite hysterical outburst. With 85 per cent. of the population of Germany being born after 1945, I can think of no country that has handled its reunification with more impeccable dignity and restraint than the Federal Republic of Germany. We thank it for being one of the model democracies of Europe.
In that emergency in the second world war, there was consensus here. There was no question of a referendum about the major existential decision facing any nation—to go to war or not. There was never a referendum on the NATO treaty—admittedly, that was only on defence and security, but in existential terms as well it was much more far reaching than matters to do with commerce, trade and working together in political economies. There is more and more agreement between the parties, with just a small number of dissidents in each of the major parties. Presumably, the Liberals are mostly pro-Europe, but sometimes there is a little odd exception in the parliamentary Liberal party which bursts through a little chink of light—I was going to say "of sunlight". They sometimes show themselves, but otherwise there is the developing, growing, powerful consensus of the House of Commons. There is no need for my hon. Friend or others who like the Bill to be nervous of that. What they should do is oppose the Bill.
I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) on a brilliant speech. It was unscripted, and 40 minutes of joy to listen to.
My natural instincts are not to favour a referendum, for some of the reasons that have been given. I fully understand that, to a large extent, the debate about Britain's future place in Europe is about the future place of the House of Commons in Europe. Those of us who wish to resist any further moves to a federal state of Europe do so in large part precisely because we wish to protect the rights and the powers of Parliament.
The sovereignty of Parliament distinguishes our country—I fundamentally disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) on this point —from most others in Europe and provides one reason why the British perspective on Europe is bound to be different. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East said that, in some way, European institutions and the European thread of history are more democratic than ours. That is bizarre. The foundation of the philosophy of Kant and others in 19th century Germany was basically anti-democratic. There is no tradition similar to the British tradition of democracy. One has only to go to the French Assembly or to the Bundestag to realise that those institutions have a totally and profoundly different position in their country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East mentioned the House of Commons being wimpish on questions of Europe, compared with other European institutions. Anybody who attended the French Assembly debate on the Maastricht agreement will have found Four or five members there rather drearily trying to find something to say about it and will have understood that European institutions do not have the thread of democracy that we have. Elected German Ministers send their officials to debate great issues in the Bundestag. There is a profound difference in the way that we treat parliamentary democracy.
My hon. Friend has misunderstood me. The reality of the three-line Whip system renders his remarks otiose, because we all know that we are going through a ritual and, in a docile fashion, supporting the recommendations of our Executive. That is strength, but it is also the weakness of the Parliament. I was talking about the post-war period in respect of other Parliaments, not ancient history.
I understand that. I shall refer to the paradox because I intend—it is paradoxical—to speak in favour of the Bill, which has the effect of bypassing Parliament. I shall try to answer the paradox by posing a further dilemma. Perhaps it relates to what my hon. Friend has just said.
That is a good point and one to which I intended to return.
For good historical reasons connected mainly with our constitution, in which the executive branch of government and the legislature are fused together, we have a rigid party system in the House of Commons. Perhaps that is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East was making. The next general election will certainly he fought exclusively on party lines. For differing reasons the leaderships of all the parties, perhaps with the exception of the Ulster Unionist party, have decided to form a common front on what to my mind is the crucial point about Europe. In their various ways they have accepted the broad objective of setting up and joining a single European monetary system.
The Government, unlike the Labour party, thankfully, have not included within the commitment to a single monetary system a further commitment to merge the pound in a single European currency. But all parties are committed to the exchange rate mechanism and to the further tightening of its screws. In precisely the same way as they did with the return to the gold standard in 1925, the leaderships of all parties have been willing to trade off rising unemployment against something called a stable currency.
Of course, the Labour party's position is the most dishonourable. I was delighted to see that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) has been rumbled in his own newspaper. I do not know who said that The Guardian was an unbiased newspaper but certainly it has rumbled the right hon. and learned Gentleman. In an extraordinary and precise repetition, for example, of Philip Snowden's call for a return to the gold standard from the Opposition Front Bench in 1925, the position of the present Labour party is on the one hand to shout abuse at the Government for high interest rates and rising unemployment and on the other to advocate a tightening of the policies that will have the precise effect of making things worse, in particular a single European currency and the shackling of our industry with social costs.
Part of the debate that has taken place so far has revolved around whether crucial issues about the future of Europe and the link between the currency and political issues can be resolved in a general election. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) seemed to go to the centre of that when he said that the matter could be resolved in a general election. But in the same breath, or a few breaths later, he said that he did not want such important issues—even he accepted that it was important —to be treated as a specific issue. He wanted them somehow submerged in a wider set of issues. One cannot have it both ways. Either one takes the view that an issue is absolutely crucial or one does not. That is particularly important when dealing with whether we should aim towards monetary union, about which there is a large measure of agreement between the parties.
.I wish to focus briefly on the single currency and the relationship with the ERM. It is crucial in a discussion about whether there is sufficient difference between the parties to allow an issue to be decided in a general election. The difference between the value of two currencies should be merely a reflection of the difference between respective unit costs in the two countries to which the currencies are attached. A country with higher unit costs than another but which wishes to hold the value of its currency above the level that reflects them must of necessity raise its interest rates artificially to attract buyers of its currency and suppress demand, especially for imports. The fact that such a policy may raise unit costs by damaging investment is another aspect of this sorry tale. But the real point is that in any case the result is rising unemployment and industrial stagnation, precisely as happened in the years following 1925.
Ultimately, the ERM will be seen to be unworkable and we would then have two options—pull out, or accept a single currency. As that would mean a single monetary and fiscal policy and a single central financial authority, it would also mean the formation of the ingredients of a single state, which answers the question about whether there is a distinction between the political and economic concerns involved. They ultimately come together in that crucial question. The Liberal and Labour parties would rapidly accept a single currency. During this debate they have again accepted the concept of a single currency as the way to resolve the present dilemma.
I hope that the leaders of my party will at least pause to test public opinion on that crucial issue before they take a decision. After giving the matter deep thought, I believe that a referendum on Maastricht would help them in that process. My hon. Friend the Member for AldridgeBrownhills is absolutely right to say that the Bill merely proposes a test of public opinion on that crucial issue before Parliament takes its final decision, and that is why I support it.
I have considerable sympathy with the Bill. Its objectives are clear and based on a worry about the transfer of sovereignty from this country to the European Community. That ought to worry a great many of us. We must find a solution to control it and we have been singularly unsuccessful in doing so in the past. The issues have not been well understood as it has been a gradual process, which is largely outside the ken of most hon. Members, let alone the people outside this place.
My concern about the Bill and the reason why I do not support it is that I do not believe that a referendum is the right way to control that drift. I shall not go over the arguments about referendums again, because I want to keep my remarks brief so that my hon. Friends can speak. However, a referendum would have two major problems. First, the power of the person calling the referendum to determine the nature of the question will clearly largely determine the outcome. Also, it is a question not merely of the words on the ballot paper but of the nature of the argument preceding the vote which determines how people interpret the question on the referendum. Technically, a referendum is not the right solution to the problem.
Another difficulty with a referendum is that we are discussing complicated issues. They cannot be segmented into elements on which a decision of yes or no could be taken. The decisions are interrelated and interactive and will lead to future problems and further decisions. That does not lend itself to a simple yes or no answer, or to a simple discussion and debate. However, it lends itself to proper debate in the House and to the proper use of the role of Members of Parliament.
Edmund Burke has been referred to, but it is clear that the role of Members of Parliament in the House is to listen and to debate the arguments, to understand the issues and to come to a decision which, in their view, is the right decision for the benefit of the country and of their constituents.
I shall not give way because I am trying to keep my remarks brief.
It is important for such complicated issues to be understood by hon. Members. [SEVERAL HON. MEMBERS: "What about the Opposition Benches?"] Yes it is important that it should be understood by the empty Opposition Benches.
The way in which the House functions in controlling legislation is extremely weak and, in many ways, lax. That is also one of the problems with the nature of Members of Parliament. We have set up a number of Select Committees to examine European legislation—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) is on one such Committee. In general, Select Committees scratch the top of the problems, but even when they examine the problems in depth and come out with recommendations, if the recommendations do not accord with what the Government of the day want to happen, they are entirely ignored and the ability of the House to impose them is also ignored.
The right way forward is not a referendum but to consider increasing the power of Members of Parliament and their resourcing. I suspect that one of the reasons why many issues are not examined is because hon. Members do not have the physical resources to give themselves the time to understand the issues. Although every hon. Member in the Chamber today will have understood the issues, I suspect that few of our colleagues have bothered to read the treaties and understand what is behind them.
The role of Members of Parliament needs to be revised carefully. The role of the support of Government by Members and the separation of the Executive from the legislature must be examined so that Members can be freed to make decisions on those matters without fear of those decisions impacting on their careers or the future of the Government. Essentially, a fundamental change in the role of Members is required. The simplistic solution of holding a referendum is not required.
Another problem with a referendum is that if, as some of my hon. Friends would no doubt like, it results in the Maastricht treaty being accepted, which is quite likely, we would be in an even worse state than we are today. We would have the endorsement of a treaty for reasons that were not clearly understood and the spurious underpinning of progress in Europe. Again, that would need to be understood, but it would not have been understood through the process of a referendum.
I am also concerned that the Bill, its supporters having failed to win the argument in the House, is an attempt to take a second bite at the cherry by requiring a referendum outside. A referendum would solve nothing. Whatever the result, it would be unsatisfactory. The right way to protect the interests of the House is to increase the power of ordinary Members of Parliament.
I shall reduce my remarks in recognition of the fact that other hon. Members wish to speak.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) who has temporarily left his seat, in recognising the sincerity with which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) introduced the Bill, suggested that other hon. Members may have attached themselves to the argument less because of the referendum but in order, once again, to "indulge in Euro-bashing". It is quite unacceptable that hon. Members who have a different vision for Europe from many of us constantly assert that, when we dare to criticise what is happening in the European Community or question some of the policies of our Government in that respect, we are somehow engaging in Euro-bashing and that they are better Europeans than those of us who are sceptical about much of what goes on in the European Community.
No one has to be anti-European to question the developments that have occurred in the European Community in recent years. I, for one, regularly visit Rambouillet, which is twinned with Great Yarmouth. It is one of the original twinning agreements and the mayor of Rambouillet, Senator Gerard Larcher, is vice-president of the Gaullist group, the second largest group in the French senate. The views expressed by people there are not unlike those that I hear expressed by some of my hon. Friends who are concerned about developments in Europe.
The notion that the people in 11 European countries are content to see their sovereignty reduced and live in a supranational state, and that we are the odd ones out, with a handful of people on the right and a handful on the left who do not agree, is nonsense. They may not have the same opportunity to debate as we have, but the fact remains that there are just as many French people—and Iknow some of them—living in Rambouillet whose views on the subject are the same as mine—that yes, we are part of Europe, and yes, we must remain part of Europe, but that that does not mean, as the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) said, that our lawnmowers all have to make the same noise. The Gaullists and many other French people have no more time than we have for Jacques Delors and all that he stands for.
My right hon. Friend the Minister said that he was confident that, in a referendum, there would be an overwhelming majority in favour of what the Government have been doing. What is the problem, then? Why is it assumed that those who want the referendum are fearful of the result? I do not mind whether those who have sent me and other hon. Members to this place say, "Yes, we want a closer unified union; yes, we want to be more closely involved in Europe; yes, we want our lawnmowers to make the same noise in Great Yarmouth as they make in Maastricht and in Waterloo."
I remember when the town of Rambouillet was presented with a Council of Europe plaque for all that it had done in the interests of European unity, as distinct from a federal Europe. A senior diplomat—a deputy ambassador—from the Belgian embassy attended the ceremony at Rambouillet because that town is also twinned with Waterloo. That was at a time when my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), who I am glad to have sitting at my side today, was making sterling efforts to protect British interests in the European discussions. She was speaking not just for people in this country but for people in Germany, Belgium, France, Holland and all the other countries which no more wanted to be part of a Brussels-dominated surpranational state than I did.
When my right hon. Friend was leading our country in those intergovernmental conferences, that diplomat from the Belgian embassy in Paris asked me, "Why are you British so concerned about all this? Why are you so worried?" It was an occasion on which we were supposed to be diplomatic, so I brushed aside the question by asking her whether she would like another cup of coffee. However, she repeated the question, and said, "But you British just don't seem to want to go along with us. Why is that?" I continued to try to evade her question, but she kept pressing and I said, "Madam, we have had a Parliament in our country since 1295. My borough of Great Yarmouth has been sending representatives there for 700 years. Your country has not existed as a state for more than 160 years. That is why we are worried. We have a tradition of parliamentary democracy that none of the other European countries can claim."
I mean no disrespect to those other countries. As soon as I leave the Chamber, I am flying to Holland. I have many friends there and I agree with what has been said about the Dutch. No one is more concerned than I am to ensure that they are not dominated by Germany or any other country. They are a wonderful people, and their country is only 90 miles from my constituency. They built the port in my town 500 years ago. I like the Dutch, but I do not want them telling me, for example, that my lawnmower is too noisy compared with theirs.
There is much more that I should like to say, but I am conscious that other hon. Members wish to speak. I do not like referendums. Of course, we are sent to this place to make decisions. Someone said that we did not have a referendum when we went to war. Of course we did not. One cannot have a referendum when one is going to war.
We did not have a referendum before signing the NATO treaty. Of course not, but that is wholly different. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) tried to draw a parallel between our membership of NATO and this business. We are talking now of changing the whole character of this Parliament. NATO did not do that. We entered a defensive alliance. We trusted our Government to negotiate. There is nothing wrong with that. Here, we are changing the very purpose of this institution. For over 700 years Parliament has existed to control, albeit ineffectively sometimes, the Executive, whether the power of the King or, as more lately, of executive government. I am choosing my words carefully, bearing in mind the power that my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley exercised so effectively on our behalf in Europe. Now we are talking about having no control over those decisions.
There is so much that I want to say, but I shall make one final point as I am aware of the time. A constituent of mine who is in horticulture has glasshouses. He is worried about the proposed directive on carbon dioxide emissions and asked me about it. I said that there was no point discussing it with me because I would not have a vote on it. He said that he would talk to the European man about it. Paul Howell, the Member of the European Parliament for Norfolk, will have no vote on it. The matter will be decided by bureaucrats in Brussels, followed by a majority vote in the Council of Ministers.
Those are all tiny, insignificant matters beside the great ideal of European unity and peace in our time, but, my God, they affect our constituents—those whom we have been elected to represent. Why are we afraid to say, "This is your country. Sovereignty is too great to be handed away by 650 people sitting in Parliament"? It would not denigrate the sovereignty of this place, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills said at the beginning, this place exists only as an expression of the sovereignty of the people. Why be afraid of the people? Let us put our trust in them and have this referendum.
My hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Carttiss) spoke with great passion and courage. He made me think of my father who sat for that self-same seat some 70 years ago and who would probably have concurred with him. I have to say that I do not. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) who opened the debate with a speech of all the nobility of thought and utterance that we have come to expect of him. I disagree with him, but salute him.
Some 27 years ago I made my first speech in the House on this very subject of Europe. This is almost certainly my last speech here and I have not changed my views in the meantime. The United Kingdom has long-term interests and it is the job of government to protect and advance them. We have a parliamentary system and a party system that enable the Government to do so, often in the teeth of great waves of public opinion urging courses that would be contrary to the country's long-term interests.
In recent years we have had several referendums, each of which may have been justifiable on its merits, but each referendum eats away at the credibility of our parliamentary institutions. That to my mind is a more insidious and profound threat to those parliamentary institutions than the loss of sovereignty to Brussels which, to a large extent, merely reflects the diminished ability of our nation or any other nation to go it alone in the world today. Government by referendum is government by Gallup poll.
Conservative Members are under constant pressure from our consitutuents to have a referendum on capital punishment. I am against capital punishment and I am against holding a referendum on it. I cannot pretend, however, that it would be all that disastrous for our national interests if we had regular referendums on capital punishment. We all know what the result would be. Hanging would be brought back. Some capitalist Home Secretary would come under irresistible pressure to execute some murderer, probably a terrorist, and the terrorist would hang. Then we would discover that we had hanged the wrong chap. There would be great revulsion and another referendum, and capital punishment would be abolished the following year. It would not matter all that much if we had capital punishment in even years and did away with it in odd years, but foreign policy cannot be conducted on that basis.
Thirty years ago a Conservative Government, under Harold Macmillan, decided reluctantly—and it was very reluctantly—that we could not prevent the emergence on our doorstep of a new economic super-power and that we had no choice but to join it. Of course there were positive and much nobler reasons for joining, but, for the purposes of my argument, I shall leave them on one side. We made the choice. For 20 years we have been members of the European Community. It has taken all of those 20 years to settle down into membership of the Community. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for AldridgeBrownhills ever really has.
The Labour party has only just grown out of the habit, every time that it is in opposition, of promising to take us out of the European Community, only to turn turtle when they are back in government. Splendid. However, just when we have finished the dangerous game of see-saw, with Britain's membership of the European Community seemingly at risk every time there was the threat of a Labour Government, we find that people on this side of the House, including some who really should know better, are saying that we should submit the country's long-term interests to the unpredictable hazards of a referendum.
The proposal, as I understand it, is to hold a referendum on the Maastricht treaty terms and to close off the option, for the United Kingdom, of moving to a single currency. Just what will happen if the referendum leads to the answer no? The issue might well be voted on in a week in which French farmers set fire to a lorryload of live sheep, or a British girl gets murdered in Italy, or there is a great neo-Nazi demonstration in Potsdam. Such events, joyfully whooped up, as they would be, by our egregious tabloid press—I can visualise already the headline in the Evening Standard—could have a substantial, possibly even a decisive influence on the results of that referendum, which is bound to be more of a popularity test than a careful balancing of the issues.
The individual voter in a referendum does not have to find a policy to replace the one that he has rejected. That is our job, our responsibility. We have to live with the consequences of the policy decisions that we vote for and we have to defend them if they turn out to be disastrous. Those who vote for a policy in a referendum can wash their hands of the consequences. There is no way in which they can be held to account. They do not have to say what alternative policies they want. There is no way in which they could, even if they wanted to. If we vote for the Bill, we shall do infinitely more damage to parliamentary democracy then even the most authoritarian president of the European Commission could ever do.
We have been talking about democracy all morning and there is little time left. I hope that no hon. Member will try to prevent our coming to a decision today by talking out the Bill. I have been in this place for 26 years. There is no one more akin to the lowest species of pond life than someone who makes a speech for no other purpose than deliberately to prevent Members of Parliament from coming to a decision.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) made a splendid speech in which he referred to The Independent. He said that it has not been telling people what has been happening about the European Community. If that newspaper is guilty of that charge, may I appeal to it, if any hon. Member tries to talk out the Bill and prevent a vote being taken, to publish his picture on the front page tomorrow. Whether they be Labour, Liberal, Ulstermen or Conservatives, The Independent should let the people know who is stopping Members of Parliament from coming to a decision.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills is a credit to democracy. We are about to face a general election. If all of us had been successful in the ballot for private Member's Bills, would we not have been tempted to do something nice about old people, or dogs, or helping people across the road—something popular, something positive? However, my hon. Friend has rightly said that even though it will make him unpopular with some, he wants to face up to this basic democratic issue. It is time that we did. Our complaint is not against the Conservative or Labour parties but that people have simply not been told what is happening with the EC.
An hon. Friend said, "Why not have a Committee?" I am on one of these stupid Committees that consider European legislation. What can we do? If we say, "We think that this is dreadful, is scandalous, will destroy jobs and will cost a fortune", it is not necessarily reported to the House. The Government can table their own motion, but what happens if we table a motion? Nothing.
I have had complaints from bus owners in my constituency about a recent regulation on the speed of buses. They said that it was silly, would cost a fortune and would not help anyone and asked what I could do about it. I said that it was discussed at the Council of Ministers and that it was passed under majority voting despite Britain not wanting it. The Minister was not present because his bus or train had been held up.
We have no power. The time has come to tell people what is happening. If they vote for the EC, that is fine, but let them decide. It is wrong to hide it from them. If anyone knows, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know how we hide what is happening from people. You have to sit in the Chair late at night—at midnight or I am or 2 am—when we discuss all the nasty things that are going on in the EC. Nobody hears about them because there is hardly anyone here to comment on them. You also know about the Committees where power is disappearing.
People must be told. If we simply allow more and more power to pass to the EC without telling people, at some point they will wake up, but what will they do when they wake up? How will they vote? It will not matter at all. If people's democratic powers continue to be removed, there will be a huge explosion from them. That should be the fear of every democrat.
We cannot say that people are not worried about it. We find that people are worried about the disappearance of their laws. Hon. Members should think about the number of people who have written to them about Sunday trading. We have had to tell them, "We cannot do anything until the European Court tells us what we are allowed to do." People complained to me last week that the European Community is spending more than £1,000 million on growing and dumping high-tar tobacco in the third world. People are suffering and dying in the third world, but we can do absolutely nothing about it.
We know that expenditure on the CAP is breaking all records, but we can do nothing about it. Despite the wonderful rebates that the previous Prime Minister achieved, Britain still has to pay £2·5 billion. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills is so right. If people want this to continue, they can vote for it and if they complain in the future we can say, "You voted for it; it is your responsibility." But if we take away all the people's powers, step by step, and if we hide it from them deliberately, as we do by having late-night votes and pretending that things do not happen, at some stage there will be an explosion in our country. People will get very angry if they feel that their powers have been thrown away.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) said that we do not want a referendum because people will vote against the CAP and not for more money for farmers. He suggested that, irrespective of the views of people, there are some things that we cannot allow them to do. That is one point of view. I think that my hon. Friend is a Conservative—I am not sure—but that is what he was saying.
Hon. Members have powers entrusted to them by the people. The Labour or Conservative parties can do what they like with those powers. They can pass the laws that they want. They can govern stupidly, which might happen under the Liberal Democrats, but at some time every five years the people have a chance to say, "We think that you have done well" or "You have made a mess of it." The only thing that we do not have the right to do is to pass that power over. We do not have the right to do that unless the people give us their support. That is the issue that we are discussing today and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, because he has done a service for democracy by making us face the issue. We must say yes or no and if any hon. Member from any party tries to stop us coming to a decision, that will be a shame on democracy and I hope that his photograph will be splashed on the front page of The Independent and every other newspaper in Britain.
The Bill so ably presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) relates to what I consider to be the biggest issue to have faced the nation in my lifetime, barring only one other.
In the 1950s and 1960s there was another political issue of fundamental importance to the nation on which there was no public debate. The public were not consulted and, more importantly, the issues, arguments and consequences were, I think deliberately, not presented. Those who spoke out in the House were pilloried for their trouble. The consequences, as the House knows, is that we now live in a multiracial society. Never again must the whole culture of our nation be so fundamentally altered without the people being consulted, because the people have an inalienable rights in these matters. It is the people whose lives will be affected, not in the way that those of Ministers and mandarins are affected but in every detail. It is important that we—the politicians of the nation—put fairly and squarely to the people the issues and arguments and, more to the point, the consequences. I stress in particular the consequences of the treaty of Maastricht, because, as many hon. Members have said, they are irreversible and, unlike domestic policy, they cannot be reversed.
I said a moment ago that I was most concerned that people should have the consequences of these steps pointed out to them. One has to look no further than the common agricultural policy to see the effect of political and economic union. The CAP is, to all intents and purposes, a microcosm of a political and economic union with its own form of legislation, its own currency in the green currencies and even its own monetary system through the monetary compensatory amounts. What are the consequences? They are the enormous, unsustainable high cost of the CAP, record low incomes for farmers and the production of food that people will never eat.
I represent a large and important rural constituency. My farmers tell me what they think about the CAP and about their future. I relay their concerns to the Minister and on many occasions he might agree, but the reality is that he can do nothing because unless and until he can get the agreement of the other nations in the European Community, we are lumbered with what we have.
I do not want the Chancellor of the Exchequer of this country ever to be put in the same hapless position as the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but that would be the effect of introducing a single currency. With one currency, we would have but one Chancellor and he would not be at No. 11 Downing street.
The danger to the House is that ultimately there would be such disillusionment with hon. Members and the parties represented in the House that we would see the emergence of that very phenomenon to which the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) who spoke for the Liberal Democrats, drew our attention—nationalism. An awesome example of where that leads us can be found in the events in the USSR and eastern Europe.
I profoundly disagree with this silly Bill, and I think that we would be doing a disservice to the House and to the country if it were allowed to get into Committee. It is for that reason that I am talking now. What we have to discuss is whether we approve of the mechanism of the referendum. I do not—
I think that I can anticipate the hon. Gentleman's point of order. I understand that the Division Bells have been ringing within the Palace of Westminster, but that there is some doubt whether they have been ringing throughout. In view of that, I propose to add two minutes to the time allowed before the doors are locked.
|Division No. 90]||[2.29 pm|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Marshall, John (Hendon S)|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Michael, Alun|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Beggs, Roy||Paisley, Rev Ian|
|Body, Sir Richard||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Robertson, George|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Ross, William (Londonderry E)|
|Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Carttiss, Michael||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Cash, William||Skinner, Dennis|
|Cohen, Harry||Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)|
|Cox, Tom||Spearing, Nigel|
|Cran, James||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Crowther, Stan||Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)|
|Cryer, Bob||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Dykes, Hugh||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret|
|Favell, Tony||Trimble, David|
|Gill, Christopher||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Hunter, Andrew||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Leighton, Ron||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Lord, Michael||Mr. Humfrey Malins and|
|McCrea, Rev William||Mr. Toby Jessel.|
|Bottomley, Peter||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Irvine, Michael||Sir Anthony Meyer and|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Mr. Robert G. Hughes.|