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European Union Bill

Part of Safe Standing (Football Stadia) – in the House of Commons at 8:41 pm on 7th December 2010.

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Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Conservative, Cleethorpes 8:41 pm, 7th December 2010

I shall be as brief as possible, Mr Deputy Speaker. You will be pleased to learn that I have already crossed off my list a few points that other hon. Members have made. A short while ago, I heard a speech given by my own Member of Parliament, Austin Mitchell. He and I have shared common cause in our fights against the EU over the years, and only a few weeks ago we marched through the Lobby together saying, "North-east Lincolnshire against Europe." He opposes this Bill because he says that it does not go far enough, but I am going to support it because it goes some of the way towards what I would like to see. I am no friend of the EU.

We were given a bit of a history lesson by Kelvin Hopkins a short while ago. He was reminiscing about his part in the 1975 referendum and I, too, am sadly old enough to have participated in that campaign. Hon. Members will recall that my party was very pro-European at that time, and I must tell the House that I was a rebellious young Conservative who drove around with "No to the Common Market"-as it was then-on my battered Austin 1100. For many years I would have described myself as "anti-European", but I would now say that I am "a Eurosceptic". One can go on fighting the same battles for only so long. I concluded some time ago that the only Governments likely to be elected were going to be Conservative, Labour or some combination involving one of those two and the Liberal Democrats. Being realistic, none of those were going to achieve what I would like to see, which is withdrawal from the EU. That may change and I hope it does, because I agree with the earlier comments that the nation state is the natural unit of government-long may that continue.

However, we are where we are. I speak for my constituents when I say that, in general, they are very much opposed to EU membership. Grimsby and Cleethorpes are geographically one town, although they have their own identities. The scars from the fishing negotiations run deep, and we recognise that Mr Heath's Government sacrificed the deep-sea fishing industry in those negotiations in the early 1970s. On membership, an instant reaction among my constituents would almost certainly be, "We want out." Perhaps the more reflective view might be, "We might just about get a majority to stay in."

The big failing of successive Governments has been their reluctance to secure popular support-preferably, in a referendum-for the various treaties and moves towards more integration. We would probably still be in exactly the same position, although a week or two ago I discussed this matter with my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg and he pointed out that we might have got a "no" result in a referendum on Maastricht. We need to correct the mistakes of the past and repatriate more of our powers, and I hope we will make some moves towards that in the not-too-distant future.

The Bill talks about "significant changes", so I acknowledge that we shall have endless dancing on a pinhead and legal decisions about what is "significant". In an ideal world, I would go further than the Bill, but the important thing is that if in future, if Governments wriggle, duck and dive in their interpretation in order to avoid a referendum, they will suffer the same fate as the previous Government, who argued that a constitution was not a constitution and were discredited in the eyes of the public.

We should accept the fact that the EU is a political project. There is nothing wrong with that, but I do not happen to agree with the destination of the project. Ultimately, irrespective of any court decision, a decision about whether we remain in or leave the EU will be a political one.

The Bill as it stands is not perfect. I would like it to go further, but it is better than nothing and I shall certainly be in the Lobby to support the Government.