Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

European Union Bill

Part of Safe Standing (Football Stadia) – in the House of Commons at 7:14 pm on 7th December 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham 7:14 pm, 7th December 2010

We have only a short time. My hon. Friend will have time to make his own speech.

The Foreign Secretary's speech was to please the party faithful, as will be the one we hear during the wind-ups. The fact that it so singularly failed to do so was reflected in the speeches made by Mr Redwood and Mr Cash; perhaps we will hear that from other speakers, too, if they catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. One cannot please the Daily Mail and represent Britain faithfully and effectively.

I read through the Bill fairly carefully, as I hope we all have. It is not so much a mouse, as a mouse without definition. The key adjective-and I am nervous of legislation that is built around an adjective rather than a substantive-appears in clause 5, under which a Minister has to come to the House and say, "I think there should be a referendum because in my judgment there is a 'significant' transfer of powers." But "significant" is not defined; it will be in the eye of the beholder.

I am not sure whether that will lead to references to the courts. I hope not. I see before my eyes the gradual atrophying of Parliament, as judges decide bitterly fought election campaigns. Libellous and defamatory remarks have certainly been made about me in election campaigns that I would not dream for one second of taking to the judges, who can now set aside the sovereignty of the British people and say that an election is null and void. More generally, judges want to have a much greater say in our parliamentary democracy. I will not use the Pandora's box metaphor, but the Bill opens the door to a lot more of that.

The extraordinary shopping list in the Bill also worries me. The Library document refers to 57 items that must trigger a referendum, but I think that the list contains 56 items. Schedule 1 states that any change that involves an

"approximation of national laws affecting internal market" must trigger a referendum. As Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher did nothing of greater service to this nation than to bring in the Single European Act, which led to the greatest approximation of national laws affecting a market of many different nation states in the history of humankind. I utterly welcome that. We need more approximation and more open markets.

It would be good to have a single patent system, but if 26 other European countries followed our route, any approximation of the internal market, such as a single patent system, could involve a referendum in Estonia, Poland or Hungary, which would begin to role back that single market. What is sauce for the British gander will be sauce for 26 other member states' geese. Those member states will take the message from the Government and from this House of Commons today-sorry, I am about to use the animal metaphors that I decried at the beginning of my speech-that because this wretched little dormouse or shrew of a Bill will be passed tonight, Britain is turning its back on them.

Oddly enough, the Government are not completely doing that. I was always told the adage that money is power and power is money. We are blithely giving away £7 billion of taxpayers' money to help Ireland out of its hole without having any serious debate or discussion. This is a profoundly important point. It is not good enough for the Leader of the House on Thursday mornings or the Minister for Europe, Mr Lidington, who I like and respect, to say it is up to the Backbench Business Committee to decide whether to have a debate on Europe. It is of profound importance to the House of Commons that we have a thorough debate on Europe twice a year.

Tomorrow, there will be an EU-Russia summit. My hon. Friend Mike Gapes raised profound points about Khodorkovsky, human rights, Sergei Magnitsky and other appalling cases of the treatment of people inside Russia. In addition, we have huge worries about relations with Turkey. I am a supporter of Turkish accession. What a preposterous notion it is that the accession of Turkey, which is comprised of 80 million people from completely different backgrounds, should not be submitted to a referendum, but the question of whether there will be an extra advocate general or judge advocate should be. This is absolutely ridiculous and the British people-and I am afraid the people who hate democracy, such as those in the British National party and the UK Independence party-will mock us because of the issue of Turkish accession. Yes, the Foreign Secretary may say that it is some way off, but it will dismay a great number of people that we are legislating for eternal referendums on minor issues, but not on Turkish accession.

I will put my cards on the table. The Foreign Secretary said wrongly that Germany has similar provisions in its law. It does not. The German constitution was devised not by us but by the German people and it expressly forbids plebiscites for good, clear, historic reasons. Yes, there is a German constitutional court, but that is because it has a written constitution. Perhaps that is a road we need to walk down.

I hope that the Bill is opposed, because it weakens Parliament and Europe. It sends a message that, under this Government, the commitment, concern and leadership that Europe is so desperately lacking will not come from the present crop of Ministers. That is a shame. Europe needs leadership because it is going through a crisis, and the absence of that leadership from this Government is to be deplored.