'In order to meet the referendum condition referred to in section 2, section 3 and section 6 of this Act, the Act providing for the approval of-
(a) a treaty under the terms of section 2; or
(b) a decision under the terms of section 3; or
(c) a decision or draft decision under section 6
shall also provide for a further binding referendum to be held on continuing United Kingdom membership of the European Union, if the majority of those voting in a referendum held under the terms of the relevant section are opposed to the ratification of the treaty, decision or draft decision, as the case may be.'.- (Mr Bone.)
Brought up, and read the First time .
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Priti Patel, who made such a powerful speech. I hope that I am able to tempt her into joining us in the Division Lobby later tonight, given what she said about new clause 7. It would be wrong of me not to pay tribute to the Whips' Office for allowing me this time tonight, and for arranging matters so that my amendment 48 was not debated last week, when there clearly was not enough time for it. Now, we have absolutely hours and hours to discuss new clause 11, and I congratulate the Whips on that.
The new clause, which stands in my name and those of other hon. Members, reads:
"In order to meet the referendum condition referred to in section 2, section 3 and section 6 of this Act, the Act providing for the approval of-
(a) a treaty under the terms of section 2; or
(b) a decision under the terms of section 3; or
(c) a decision or draft decision under section 6 shall also provide for a further binding referendum to be held on continuing United Kingdom membership of the European Union, if the majority of those voting in a referendum held under the terms of the relevant section are opposed to the ratification of the treaty, decision or draft decision, as the case may be."
What does that actually mean? For the first time, this Parliament would have an option to debate whether we should have an in/out referendum on the European Union. In other words, there would have to be a binding in/out referendum on our membership of the European Union if the new clause were passed and two hurdles cleared: first, a referendum would have to be triggered under the European Union Bill, owing to a proposed transfer of competency; and secondly, the British people would have to vote against such a transfer of power.
I am very grateful for having stumbled into this debate. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept the danger that, although people might not be in favour of voting yes in the first referendum, they would be forced-with the proverbial gun to their head-to vote yes to such a transfer of powers because they did not want an in/out referendum?
My name is also on the new clause. I was cheered when I heard the hon. Gentleman say that we had a long time to discuss it, because unfortunately I have to be out of the Chamber for about an hour on an important matter, and I want to be here for the vote. I therefore hope that the debate will continue for a very long time. Does he believe that this proposal offers a way out of the current situation whereby the one thing that unites all the establishment parties is that they do not want the British people to have a say on whether to stay in or move out of the European Union?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady's intervention. Her views on this have been most helpful and supportive. I am sure that other Members will try to catch your eye, Mr Evans, and I hope that the debate will still be going on when she returns. She makes the fair point that when both sets of Front Benchers agree on something, it is almost certainly wrong.
I think that the hon. Lady might have been excluding the Liberal Democrats from the establishment parties, which I would obviously be very pleased about.
The hon. Gentleman will acknowledge, I hope, that Liberal Democrat policy remains in favour of an in/out referendum, although not in the way that his new clause suggests, and we argued for it strongly during the passage of the Lisbon treaty Bill.
I was extremely cheered, as I am sure was my hon. Friend, to hear Martin Horwood asking for an in/out referendum, and I very much hope to see him and his colleagues in same Lobby as those who feel the same way. He was denied the opportunity the first time, so I hope that he might grasp this second opportunity.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support and her argument. In fact, I would take it a stage further. Because there is support for the new clause on both sides of the Committee, and because I am moving it in a coalition spirit, as Members will discover, I have every expectation that there will not be a vote tonight and that the Minister will accept it.
Let me explain why the Committee should support my new clause. First, it would not alter in any way the purpose of the European Union Bill. The Bill is designed, under certain circumstances, to give the British people, through a referendum, a say on our relationship with the European Union. My proposal would merely extend the referendum lock, under certain circumstances, to whether we should remain part of the European Union.
Why do I think that this would improve the Bill? If the British people have a chance to approve or disapprove of a transfer of power in the future, and they say yes, then there is clearly no need for an in/out referendum, as it would show that the British people are happy with their relationship with Europe. If they say no, clearly they are unhappy with a proposed change to the European Union. Surely it is right that the alternative question is then put as to whether the British people wish to remain in the European Union.
An added advantage is that the in/out referendum would be triggered by an event, not by politicians. In the past, referendums have been timed to favour the proponents of the referendum, not necessarily for the benefit of the British people.
Would not my hon. Friend's new clause strengthen the referendum lock, because Her Majesty's Government, in proposing a transfer of powers to the European Union, would have to think even more carefully about doing that, if they did indeed value our membership of the European Union, because they would know that if it failed, they would then be subject to his referendum as well?
As usual, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Again, I will return to that point later.
I was talking about the gerrymandering of referendums, and that brings me rather nicely to the AV referendum, which is being gerrymandered for a particular day to maximise a particular outcome. Because my trigger for the in/out referendum would be decided by an event, such gerrymandering could not take place in future.
"Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?"
This referendum took place nearly 36 years ago, which means that only people who are lucky enough to be over the age of 54 have had any say on the European issue. It is wholly unacceptable that a generation of Britons have not had a direct say on their relationship with Europe.
I will let the Committee into a secret: I am old enough to have voted in that referendum. It is not only younger people who would like a chance to have a second look at this, but older people who believed what they were told in the course of the campaign and the safeguards that were set out in the literature sent to every household, nearly all of which have proved to be unfounded.
As usual, my hon. Friend is absolutely spot on. Again, I want to explore that a little later in my speech.
The relationship with Europe affects everybody, no matter what their walk of life, in the most profound of ways. Other countries have consulted their citizens through a referendum, but not the United Kingdom. The issue raised by the 1975 Wilson referendum was whether we should stay in the Common Market: it was about an economic relationship, not a superstate. In 1975, guess what our net contribution to the Common Market was: £1 billon, £500,000 million, £250 million, £25 million? No-the EEC paid us. They paid us £56 million, but of course that was at 1975 value; the current equivalent is £500,000 million. In fact, as far as I can see, this is the only time it paid us a net contribution. Strange that the European referendum was held in that year. It rather backs up what my hon. Friend Mr Clappison said about the facts and figures.
Since then, of course, things have changed. It is no longer just a free trade area: it is a European union, with a huge price tag for Britain. Instead of receiving money from the EU, over the next five years our net contribution to it will be a staggering £41 billion. However, it is not just our economic relationship with Europe that has changed. There is a European state with its own president, Parliament, flag, currency and courts. It now has its own foreign service and its own embassies.
The European Union came into force on
My hon. Friend mentions the astonishing sum of £41 billion that will be paid over the next five years by the coalition Government. Is he aware that that is more than twice the £19 billion that was paid to the European Union under the previous Labour Government?
Order. This is a fascinating and amazing debate that would clearly take place if the in/out referendum came about, but if we could now focus on new clause 11, perhaps we could make a little progress.
Of course, Mr Evans. I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, but I will not respond to it, because I might mention it later if I can sneak it in.
If anyone doubts that an EU referendum is what the British public want, they should check my e-mail inbox or my post to see the hundreds of letters and e-mails of support that an in/out referendum is getting. These are coming not only from my constituency or from Conservatives but from Liberal and Labour voters. They just want to have their say on the important issue of our membership of the European Union.
A recent ComRes opinion poll on
"David Cameron and his Coalition will ignore this Poll at their peril. How long will the political elite bury their heads in the sand and misread the public mood. As this Poll clearly shows, the people of Great Britain feel that the politicians have let them down. Only 12% feel that Britain's contribution to the EU is sustainable and yet the Prime Minister tells us he 'won the battle' in Brussels. The Chancellor keeps telling us 'to tighten our belts' and yet we still send £48 million a day to the EU. The British public will get angrier until they are given a say on our relationship with the EU and the politicians will have to live with the consequences."
My hon. Friend is giving huge figures. Asking the question does not necessarily mean that there will be a negative answer. If he is saying that when one asks the question, there is an affirmation that this is a good idea, surely it would be a good idea at this time to check whether we are down the right path. If we do not get a negative answer, it will be all to the good for the Government.
My hon. Friend argues an important point, which, again, I hope I can touch on in a little while.
I shall turn to the Daily Express and its crusade to get Britain out of the European Union. Yesterday, I and a number of hon. Members from across the House helped to deliver a petition of more than 370,000 names, which were collected by the Daily Express, demanding an in/out referendum.
From a sedentary position, the hon. Gentleman says that that is its entire readership. It is amazing if everyone who reads the Daily Express has signed the petition. I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention.
Those referendum pledges were sent in individually by readers of the Daily Express. They had to cut them out, fill them in, write an envelope, stick a stamp on it and post it in. For 370,000 of our citizens to go to that length shows the strength of feeling about a referendum. I congratulate the Daily Express on its efforts. By passing new clause 11 today, we will show that Parliament has been listening to the British people.
Is my hon. Friend aware that some Liberal supporters on the Isle of Wight vote Liberal because when there was a referendum on Europe, in which they voted no, they recognised that it was the Conservatives who took us into Europe? I was not there at the time, but I have consulted them since. That is how they saw it-we were taken into Europe by the Conservatives. They found that a reasonable justification to vote Liberal. They were unhappy voting Labour, so they voted Liberal. They have voted Liberal ever since because we-the Conservatives-took the country into Europe. I was not among those Conservatives because I voted no, but many voted yes.
As usual, my hon. Friend speaks on behalf of the people of the Isle of Wight and in response to their views. However, I do not want to get drawn away from new clause 11 by debating whether people deserted the Conservative party at the last election and stopped us having an overall majority because we went back on our pledge on Europe. I do not want to discuss that point.
Recently, I was browsing through a thoughtful, persuasive and enlightened book entitled, "Invitation to Join the Government of Britain-The Conservative Manifesto 2010". I admit that it was interesting and had some bold ideas. More importantly, all Conservative candidates stood on that manifesto at the last general election, and all Conservative MPs should be committed to it. One bit jumped out at me. On page 67, under the heading, "Make government more accountable and representative", it talks about
"providing more free votes, and protecting the principle that issues of conscience...remain subject to a free vote".
There we have it-more free votes for Conservative MPs.
If there is a free vote, it will allow Parliament to do the job that the British public elected us to do. Each and every one of us who is fortunate and honoured enough to sit in this Chamber was elected not just on party policies, but because our constituents wanted us to act on our independent judgment in representing them. They want us to hold the Government to account, whichever party-or parties-is in power. They want us to scrutinise and improve legislation. They certainly elected us to put country first. The only way in which we can do that is to have more free votes, particularly on issues of constitutional importance, such as new clause 11.
Is the hon. Gentleman therefore arguing that Government Members should have had a free vote on whether there should be a referendum on the alternative vote?
The hon. Lady will have heard the Leader of the House confirm in the past three business questions that we have free votes in Committee of the whole House. This is not retrospective. We have free votes in Committee of the whole House.
I shall quote from somebody else, because I can see that the hon. Lady-I will not say that she does not believe me-is concerned:
"The House of Commons' historic functions were to vote money for governments to spend, and to scrutinise laws. It now barely bothers with the first, and does the second extremely badly. There was a time when legislation that had been formulated after months of civil service and ministerial deliberation was sent to the House of Commons which would pore over it, shape it, send it back, get it back, look at it again-and improve it some more. Bill by bill. Clause by clause. Line by line. Every piece of legislation would be put under intense scrutiny. Is it legally sound? Will it be effective? Is it worth the cost?"
I will link this quotation very carefully with new clause 11 in a moment, Mr Evans, but it would be wrong if I did not give the full quotation, because otherwise it would lose its impact and it could be suggested that I was misleading the Committee. It goes on:
"Compare that to today. Let me take you on the journey of a piece of legislation as it passes through the modern House of Commons. It's likely to have been dreamt up on the sofa of Number Ten. A Bill gets drafted. It's sent to the House for a couple of hours of routine debate among a few MPs. Then the bell rings, the whip gets cracked and suddenly, out of nowhere, all these other MPs turn up to vote."
Order. That is a good try and the hon. Gentleman is smiling nicely, but perhaps he will now return his comments to new clause 11. I would have thought that there was enough meat in the new clause to mean that he does not need to go outside it.
I apologise, Mr Evans. I am also sorry that I did not finish the quotation from my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister.
I wanted to make it clear to the Committee that Conservative Members will have a free vote if the new clause comes to a vote. I think that there is some confusion about that, and that the Chief Whip does not quite understand the Prime Minister's instruction. I just hope that some of my colleagues are not put off voting for new clause 11 tonight because of that.
The people of Britain put us in a coalition Government. We must therefore work together as a team-a unit-that works in the very best interests of this country. The public must have seen certain aspects of the Liberal Democrat and Conservative manifestos that they liked. I will deal with the point that my hon. Friend Martin Horwood raised. I would like to think that the following part is what particularly caught the eye of Liberal voters. To quote another piece of literature that was interesting, although not quite as good as the first:
"The European Union has evolved significantly since the last public vote on membership over thirty years ago. Liberal Democrats therefore remain committed to an in/out referendum".
That is straight out of a good piece of literature, the Liberal Democrat manifesto 2010, "Change that works for you-Building a fairer Britain". It certainly works for me, and I hope it works for the country.
The end of the sentence, which the hon. Gentleman omitted, stated that we were committed to a referendum when a significant transfer of power takes place from the British to the European level. In essence, that was an alternative to the current Bill, which the Conservatives instigated. We can have one or the other, but not both.
I really should have added that, because it helps my case, and I apologise for not having done so. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and that is exactly what my new clause would achieve. If there were a significant transfer of power, an in/out referendum could occur. That is exactly what the Liberal Democrats want, so the new clause should gain their support more than a proposal to have a referendum that was not even in the Conservative or Liberal manifestos, such as on the alternative vote.
I am afraid that what the hon. Gentleman is proposing is not what was in the Liberal Democrat manifesto. The question is, what should trigger a referendum? In our view, it should be a substantial transfer of power. His new clause suggests that it should be the loss of a previous referendum, presumably only weeks or months before.
I am afraid that we are in a coalition, and we do not get everything we want, but we get the best of it. I am taking the best of the Liberal suggestion, and it is only fair that I go on to examine the Conservative view.
My hon. Friend and I sat for many an hour on the Opposition Benches discussing the matter, and I remember some gentle teasing from the Liberal Democrats about whether we would support holding an in/out vote. Now is their golden opportunity to have the next best thing to what was proposed in their manifesto. I would have thought that we would have their support in that.
I agree entirely, and of course when the Liberals brought forward a vote on an in/out referendum in the previous Parliament, I and a number of my hon. Friends voted for the motion.
Does the hon. Gentleman not find it strange that so many Members are afraid of consulting the people about such an important issue?
Yes, and I will turn briefly to that point later, if I may.
I wish to turn to the Conservative position-having been helpful to the Liberals, I now want to be helpful to the Conservatives. At the European elections, the Conservative party pledged a referendum. In fact, it was so keen to get the message across that it produced car stickers to support it. They were about a foot long, in Tory blue and had a picture of a loud hailer. In huge, bold letters, they said, "Give us a referendum." For the convenience of the Committee, I have removed mine from the back of my car, where it has remained since the last European elections, and I have it with me for the Committee to see. [Interruption.] Members apply to a higher authority; I wish that I could invoke it to get the Government to accept the new clause.
Surely, then, my new clause 11 is not a Tory new clause or a Liberal new clause. It is a coalition new clause, and it should unite all Members on the Government side of the House.
To respond to Dr McCrea, there is only one reason not to support the new clause, which is the fear of the outcome of a referendum. Is that a reason not to let the people of Britain have a choice? An in/out referendum would be a momentous occasion. It would finally put an end to the debate about whether the British people want to be in the EU. Whether the people voted to stay in the EU or to withdraw from it, at least they would have a choice. It would also allow Euro-enthusiasts and Eurosceptics to unite in allowing the British people to have the final say.
In my opinion, most of the public want a chance to vote on whether we are in or out of the European Union, and the new clause would give them such a chance. If it were law, it would prevent a future Government from supporting a transfer of powers to the EU. It would also give us, or whoever was in power, a very strong bargaining position with the EU in relation to a possible transfer of powers. Any future Government who tried to transfer powers to the EU without the safeguard of an in/out referendum would be in most serious difficulties.
When there are job cuts, tax increases and spending cuts, which I believe have all been essential to cut the deficit, how can it be right that in the last five years of the Labour Government our net contribution to the EU was £19.8 billion, while in the next five years, under the coalition Government, it will be £41 billion? With drastic cuts at home and vast spending in the EU, I think that enough is enough and that we should come out of the EU. However, what I think is totally irrelevant. It is what the British people think that matters. It is time for an in/out referendum on the European Union.
My hon. Friend Mr Bone has performed a significant service for us today, because I believe this is the first time since the 1970s that we have had a discussion here about whether the British people should be allowed to decide how they are governed.
I believe that we should be an independent country, trading with Europe but governing ourselves. More than that, however, I believe that it is up to the British people to decide how they are governed. Do they prefer to be governed, and have their laws made, by this House, so that they can throw out the people involved if they do not like how those laws are made, or by a qualified majority including 26 other countries? Do they prefer to have those countries decide their laws for them, and to pay £10 billion a year for the privilege? That question is subject to conditions in the new clause, but for the first time since the 1970s, that issue of principle is before us for debate.
My hon. Friend Nick Boles put it very well earlier in the Committee stage, when he said that for a long time-since the late 1980s, I think he said-the British people had had a settled view about the European Union. They thought, "This far but no further." Yet there is a logical inconsistency in that position, because the process began in the late '80s by which we had the Single European Act, then the Maastricht treaty, then the treaty of Amsterdam, then the treaty of Nice, then the proposed European constitution that the Labour Government then re-described as the treaty of Lisbon. Each and every one of those treaties has given more and more power to the EU.
I believe it is true that by the late '80s or early '90s the settled view of the British people was that we had gone quite far enough and that they did not want to go any further, yet they keep on being dragged further and further. One reason why there is a growing detachment between the people and politicians, of which I would say the expenses issue was a mere symptom, is that year after year the British people hear their politicians-particularly those on the Conservative Benches-tell them that they are Eurosceptics. Those politicians say, "We don't support all these transfers of power to Europe. We want to get power back, and we want more power here in Britain." They tell people that we can be in Europe but not run by Europe, and they suggest that Europe is coming round to our way, that the British agenda is winning and that there is compromise. The truth, however, is that the House and the country want only to decide whether or not to be part of what is happening. New clause 11 gives us a chance to vote on that, subject to conditions.
Many Government Members describe themselves as Eurosceptics. I first met the Minister in October 1992 at a dinner at Southampton university, at the invitation, I believe, of my hon. Friend Conor Burns. The Minister was sitting between me and a friend over the water, as I shall describe Mr Hannan, who believes so strongly in the European issue that he also believes we should be able decide to abolish the Parliament that pays his salary. That evening, the talk was of the Danish no vote and of a motion before the House of Commons that called for a fresh start in Europe. I am pleased to say that the day after that conversation, the Minister, whom I congratulate on eventually becoming Minister for Europe, signed that motion. Eighteen or so years later, our constituents now ask, "Where is that fresh start in Europe?" They want to decide how our country is governed, and it surely their right to do so.
The people of the UK are well renowned for their freedom of speech and liberty. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a referendum would allow them to express themselves more adequately and correctly? A referendum of all in the UK would provide a marker for the House.
Indeed. I support giving a referendum to all in the UK. That is how we should decide our future. I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. That principle is why I support new clause 11.
There is also a political issue at stake. We have heard some description of the Liberal Democrats' position and the in/out referendum they demanded. Indeed, I believe that the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Mr Davey, felt so strongly that we should have an opportunity to vote in an in/out referendum that he was suspended from the Chamber for a day. As far as I can tell, that is still the Liberal Democrat position.
The Conservative position is that the Lisbon treaty should have gone to a referendum. When the treaty was pushed through the House and we were not allowed that referendum, we had to consider our position.
As somebody who took part in the Lisbon treaty debates, I am slightly surprised to hear of the Liberal Democrats' current position. They have an honourable position on Europe-they are in favour-but they would now like a referendum on a substantial transfer of power to Europe. They wanted an in/out referendum on the Lisbon treaty, but voted in favour of the treaty.
My hon. Friend is correct, but the key point is that we can still have the referendum that the Liberal Democrats wanted. The Conservatives cannot go back to the pre-Lisbon EU position because the founding treaties have changed. We have the Lisbon treaty, but we could still decide to hold an in/out referendum.
It is no surprise that the Liberal Democrats voted for the Lisbon treaty-we were in favour of it. Is the hon. Gentleman arguing against the logic of the Bill? Under new clause 11 there would be an in/out referendum when a transfer of power happens, but the Bill proposes specific referendums on those transfers of power. There is absolutely no logic to having an in/out referendum after a transfer of power is defeated in a referendum, because no transfer of power will have taken place.
I am saying that the principle of an in/out referendum is important. The Liberal Democrat position, as I understand it, is that the British people should decide whether we stay in the EU with Lisbon, or whether we leave. Let us have that referendum.
The most important point in respect of the Bill is that Ministers seem not to have noticed that the world has moved on. A Bill that would have been perfectly satisfactory in 1992 at the time of Maastricht is now, after 19 years of further transfers of powers to the EU, utterly inadequate for its task. My constituents are not especially concerned about referendums on technical transfers of power five or six years-at the earliest-down the road; they want to vote on our membership of the EU, and they want to do so now.
Ministers have made a serious mistake in thinking that the Bill will somehow buy off dissent, or that my constituents will believe it really changes the EU situation. My constituents believe that the transfer of powers to the EU has already gone much too far. The only thing that can deal with that situation is an in/out vote, so that we can re-establish our independence as a nation.
I am more surprised about the political error that Ministers are making in thinking that the Bill is sufficient. They do not consider what they leave themselves open to if Edward Miliband flips position, as I believe he might. We have debated the Liberal Democrats' position, but Conservatives cannot assume that we will always be on the popular side of the argument relative to the pro-European Labour party. There are very few Labour Members in the Chamber, but what defines the Labour party in respect of Europe is not that it is pro-European but that it does not feel that strongly about Europe relative to other issues.
My friend over the water whom I mentioned says that there is a first rule of politics. He says that, essentially, all parties in government are pro-European, and only Opposition parties become genuinely Eurosceptic. What will happen if in two or three years, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North flips position and says, "The Labour party is pro-European and we want to put that case, but it is for the British people to decide." Where will that leave the Conservatives? Will the Minister accept that the principle of the in/out referendum is now overpowering? Will he allow the British people their choice?
New clause 11 is extremely interesting and worth looking at with care, because it comes out of a mix of genius and anger. The genius of it is that it has succeeded in initiating a debate on the question of an in/out referendum, which is clearly not the purpose of the Bill. I know that deft parliamentary draftsmanship was required to have such a proposal selected for debate, and I am full of admiration for that and for the genius that is generally the attribute of my hon. Friend Mr Bone, who is a great parliamentarian. Every time one listens to him, one is inspired by the thought that people care about the powers of this House and of the people who send us here.
The proposal is also, however, the product of anger-a righteous anger that the British people have seen their powers given away, but been denied the opportunity to decide whether that ought to have happened. Whether that was done by the Single European Act, or by the Maastricht, Lisbon, Nice or Amsterdam treaties, does not really matter. The British people were not properly consulted, and many of them are upset about that.
Unfortunately, that combination of genius and anger leads to a proposal that makes no sense, which is why-reluctantly-I oppose it. The difficulties are manifold, but the main problem is that it proposes that one thing leads to another automatically, without any consideration of the first thing. My hon. Friend Martin Horwood made the very obvious point that we cannot have it both ways. Under the new clause, we could decide by referendum not to transfer powers, and then follow that up with a vote to stay in altogether. If we vote to stay in altogether, surely we would be signing up to everything with gusto, but that is the last thing we would want to do if we had recently objected to a treaty that gave more powers to the EU. Therefore, if we vote to stay in, we could contradict a no vote that we had just achieved.
I am following my hon. Friend's logic, but it is possible to say, "I want to stay in the European Union, but I am not happy with that transference of powers." I do not see that a no vote on a transference of powers and wanting to stay in the EU are mutually exclusive.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, but I think there is a slight confusion. If we have an in/out vote, and it is won by the pro-Europeans, it is a vote for the EU as it exists and with all the powers that it has. Those of us who support this referendum lock Bill do not want further powers going to the EU or to get accidentally into a situation in which we sign up to things we probably opted out of. That is the complication of having an in/out vote that is won by the "in" side but not on the issue discussed and subject to the referendum lock. That is the danger; that is the unintended consequence.
The unintended consequences go further than that. Should there ever be a Labour Government again-I am sorry to say that there probably will be, although possibly not in my lifetime-those of us who support the Bill would want them to accept it and ensure that the referendum lock held as an important constitutional change. We would also want any change to the powers of the Europe Union to be subject to a referendum of the British people. However, if the Government concerned were unpopular, as happens to Conservative Governments too-and even, possibly, to coalition Governments-and felt they had to sign up to some marginal European treaty requiring a referendum, but knew that it could result in an in/out vote, they would be more likely to repeal the Bill lock, stock and barrel and say, "Look, we cannot do that because we would then have a vote against us at the second stage". The second unintended consequence, therefore, is that we would weaken the whole effect of the Bill by making it less likely to become the accepted constitutional practice, which is what I would very much like to see.
Does my hon. Friend accept that this is in fact a debate about an ingenious device-I hope I am right in thinking he mentioned the word "genius"-and that it is about the principle of continuing membership? Does a question not then arise that has not yet been answered-namely, membership of what?
My hon. Friend always puts his finger on the nub of any European matter. I agree that the new clause is a device concerning a strong principle-that is the genius and anger I was talking about. The problem is that in its anger, it could achieve the wrong result. We do not want to set our firm principles on a weak base and a new clause that would actually undermine what those of us who are supporting the Bill wish to see achieved.
I agree with many hon. Members that there may well come a time when we would want an in/out referendum, but it needs to come when it has been the subject of important and urgent debate up and down the country; it needs to come when the British electorate are marching to say, "Now is the time to decide whether we should stay in this rotten institution, corrupt as it is, or whether we will put up with it in spite of its corruption, its inconvenience and all the problems associated with it, because there are some marginal trading advantages and we have got a few sanctions against Iran-or whatever the other arguments are in favour of it." We need to have the referendum at the right time, as a matter of a discussion of and about itself, not as a result of the random collision of atoms and following a debate on something completely separate-for example, a minor extension of some European power or competence.
Neither should an in/out referendum suddenly follow a referendum in which 20 people or 20% of people-let us be generous-have voted. Suddenly, we would have thrown all the balls in the air without any proper consideration or deliberation, and without having set out the framework for the debate we want. Those of us who are broadly Eurosceptic should oppose the new clause, because it undermines exactly what we want to achieve, and should support the general thrust of the Bill, which is designed to protect this country from further sacrifices of our authority and the people's power. We should rightly remember-it being a referendum lock-that it is not the power and mystique of these green Benches that are being given away, but the power and mystique of the British people themselves. They are the people we should trust. We should trust them with a referendum lock, and not rush headlong out of anger into a confusing and mistaken new clause that would undermine this lock that we are giving to the Great British people.
I do not intend to speak for long; I just want to make a few observations about the new clause.
I listened intently to my hon. Friend Mr Bone, who will know from our communications that I have some concerns about how the new clause would work. I have some sympathy with what my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg said about the new clause's unintended consequences, but I take a slightly different view from him as I think that it is worth supporting, if for no other reason than to send a message to Ministers about what many people in my constituency and of my generation feel about the European Union. I was not born when we last had a referendum on the EU-I am a few years younger than the proposer of the new clause. My generation has never had the opportunity to express its view at the ballot box on the EU as an institution.
I stand corrected. Many of my constituents who took part in that referendum, including my own parents-at least one of them was sound enough to vote no-tell me that it was not what they voted for. My hon. Friend is entirely right to correct me.
My generation has had no opportunity through the ballot box to express a view on whether we should remain a member of the European Union, because broadly speaking both parties have always supported membership. My view is firm-I do not think that we should remain a member-but I am not arrogant enough to suggest that it is for me to dictate to the British public. I simply want the British public at some point to have a say on whether we should remain a member of what has become a very interesting institution-as one hon. Member called it.
Over the past few days, I have had nearly 100 emails and letters about forests, but since
On the point about the letters and postbag, how many letters has the hon. Gentleman received in support of the European Union?
If we are going to judge from our postbags, we would not be having a referendum on the alternative vote system, which has been mentioned to me by only one person-a local Liberal Democrat, who said, "You'll never again be able to say, 'Nobody has ever mentioned AV to me'". We cannot use the postbag of my hon. Friend Ben Gummer as some sort of barometer of opinion.
All we would end up debating from my postbag is the state of our roads following the recent cold weather-but that is not how politics works.
I have been led away from my line of argument, which is that it is time that the people had a say on the EU. As I said in response to my hon. Friend Ben Gummer, many people in communities such as Goole, which has seen large amounts of immigration as a result of EU expansion, would say, "Lots of people come here to fill jobs people here won't do. They come here to work incredibly hard, but we have had such a mass influx, and nobody asked us for our permission through the ballot box for the extension of immediate rights to come to this country and work without any requirements or immigration controls." Nobody asked the British public, who are rightly angry about that, and that is why they wish to have a referendum.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, with whom I share a boundary, for giving way. Is he aware that his Government, whom he so vigorously supports, are maintaining the current level of European immigration over five years, with an extra 700,000 projected by the Office for Budget Responsibility? Government Members seem unwilling to discuss that in the House.
The hon. Gentleman-my neighbour on my southern border-makes an interesting point. Thanks to what was given away by the previous Government, it is pretty much impossible to do a great deal on this issue, which is one reason why we now either accept a mass influx of uncontrolled immigration or we get out of the European Union. That is really the only choice that the public have.
There are some technical problems with the new clause. If we had an in/out referendum following the rejection of an initial referendum, that would lead to problems with the debate on the first referendum. It would probably become a debate about whether we should have an in/out referendum, which would be undesirable. I mean no disrespect to the genius of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough when I say that new clause 11 is not perfect. However, from my point of view, I could not vote against anything that introduced an in/out referendum, which is why I shall be supporting this imperfect but well-meant new clause.
I hope to be as brief as Andrew Percy. I came into the Chamber this evening to support new clause 11. That support was underlined by the thoughtful contribution of Mark Reckless. I was then a little confused by the speech of Jacob Rees-Mogg, because he is very clever and I wondered whether I had the right new clause. However, I then listened to the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole, who spoke about the one factor that will weigh most in my mind, which is the fact that he has not had a chance to vote. We therefore need to have an in/out referendum, to give him the opportunity to do so.
I am teasing the hon. Gentleman. In fact, I believe that it is important that at some stage in the near future-I am not saying that it should be
It is 11 years since I was the Minister for Europe. I can well remember the day that I was appointed. I think I got a call from either Alastair Campbell or Tony Blair-I cannot remember which of the two it was, and I have not checked the diaries to see whether either recorded this important footnote in history-to inform me of my appointment. I was completely shocked. I was a junior Justice Minister and was on my way to Blackburn when I got a call to say that I had to go down to Downing street because I was the new Minister for Europe. I remember my first conversation with the Prime Minister. I said, "I know absolutely nothing about the European Union," and he said, "You are the perfect Minister for Europe," so I was appointed.
What was interesting about those two years is that my instructions from No. 10 were to make the domestic argument to the British people about the importance of being in the European Union. We therefore had a Foreign Office roadshow, as part of the public diplomacy team. We had a coach that went round various parts of the country. We did not get to Somerset, but we did get to Wigan and other interesting places such as that, to remind the British people of the benefits of being in the EU. At the same time, the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Foreign Secretary, decided to have his own roadshow. He hired a lorry-you may remember this, Mr Evans; I think you were in the House at the time-and went round the country on the back of it, trying to convince people of the need to save the pound. He was convinced that the Labour Government were about to get rid of the pound and make us join the euro.
What was interesting about those visits was that the British people really did not understand enough about what was happening in the European Union. They did not understand what we were doing there, something that has become part of the sub-culture affecting summitry when Ministers have gone to defend this country's interests, including my successor, the current Minister for Europe. An in/out referendum would give the British people the opportunity to know all the facts about the European Union, so that they did not have to rely on some of the tabloids and some, if not most of the broadsheets; rather, they would rely on Members of this House going into the towns, villages and cities of this country and talking about our membership.
I know that those on my Front Bench will probably be a bit upset with me about this, because they know my record on the European Union. However, I am with Mr Bone, for whom I, too, have great respect, for all the work that he does in this House, and those other hon. Members who support an in/out referendum. Indeed, that is what I thought the Liberal Democrats' position was. When the question was raised at the tail end of the previous Government, I can well remember the then leader of the Liberal Democrats, now the Deputy Prime Minister, supporting that view in this very Chamber. I think I was sitting where Martin Horwood is now-we were in government then-and I remember those very words: "Let us put this to the British people, because in the end it is they who will have to make the decision."
I rise with some fatigue, having I thought made this point three times already, but the Liberal Democrat position was to support an in/out referendum at the time of a substantial transfer of power from the British to the European level. The Bill provides for far more referendums. That is not necessarily what the Liberal Democrats would have wanted in the first place, but this is the Bill before us and our Conservative colleagues believe that it is very important. Those referendums will be referendums on the specifics of a transfer of power. There is no logic to the new clause-and certainly no consistency with the Liberal Democrat position-because it says that only when a referendum is lost, thereby establishing that there will be no transfer of power, should an in/out referendum be held. It is barmy.
I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman has had to explain that three times, because I am afraid that he lost me in the first sentence. I do not think that what he said is logical at all. I understand what the Government are trying to do. The Minister is here, and I know that the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood said that he had met him a few years ago at a dinner party. I first met the Minister for Europe when I was 18 years of age- [ Interruption. ] The hon. Gentleman was 18 as well? Goodness, that is rapid progress. Perhaps it was the same dinner party. Anyway, what the hon. Member for Cheltenham has set out is an illogical position. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having such a referendum.
I would just like to point out that, as I think Martin Horwood was trying to set out and as Jacob Rees-Mogg so eloquently and clearly set out, new clause 11 would trigger an in/out referendum only if it were preceded by a referendum on a transfer of power that was then lost. The new clause would not introduce an in/out referendum before a referendum on a transfer of power.
I am grateful for that, but I feel very insecure every time my hon. Friend mentions the hon. Member for North East Somerset, because he is an intellectual powerhouse on these and other issues. I shall therefore stick to whether such a referendum would take place before or after. My hon. Friend will have to excuse me, because she is obviously also an expert on- [ Interruption. ] Yes, she is an expert: she is pointing at the provisions. I take this new clause to mean that the British people ought to have the chance to vote on this crucial issue. I am not afraid to put this vote to the British people.
I am grateful for the slightly delayed acceptance of my intervention. I simply wanted to say that I thought the right hon. Gentleman's speech, apart from being massively entertaining, was absolutely right about the Liberal Democrat position. One thing was missing from the gobbledegook that we heard by way of justification. There was only one reason why the Liberal Democrats were going for an in/out referendum: it was to try to disguise and camouflage the fact that they were reneging on their promise for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty.
That may well be so.
One problem is that, in the end, we have to accept the judgment of Ministers about the transfer of powers. We all have our own views, but Ministers will go to a summit, come back and announce to the House that they do not believe that a massive transfer of powers is at stake. They view it perhaps as a semi-massive transfer of powers, so a referendum will not be required. The problem is that this issue will go on and on and on. It is a fundamental issue that should be resolved. The country needs to know where it is going on Europe, and there is nothing wrong with putting that question to the British people.
We have had an excellent debate. I know that my Front-Bench team will not be pleased when I announce that I am going to join those who support new clause 11. When we get this referendum-I think we will need one of this kind at some time in the future-we will see the leader of the Conservative party, the leader of the Labour party and the leader of the Liberal Democrat party all on the same platform together, supporting Britain remaining in the European Union. I am pretty confident of that, which is why I have no problem with the new clause, which I look forward to supporting in the Division Lobby.
I was honoured to be asked to add my name to the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend Mr Bone. I, too, would like to celebrate his genius not only in drafting the clause, but in taking advice from the Clerks and outdoing the Government Front-Bench team in having such a long debate on the provision this evening. He has worked tirelessly to get this issue debated on the Floor of the House, and I would like to congratulate him.
I am proud to say on behalf of my Kettering constituents that I am in favour of an in/out referendum and that if there were one, I would vote to leave the European Union. I have absolutely no doubt that if that issue were put to my constituents, a majority would vote to leave the EU. That would not necessarily always have been the case. Had there been a referendum 10 or 15 years ago, there might well have been a majority for staying in. I have no doubt that a majority of voters in the Kettering constituency would have voted to stay in the Common Market in the referendum of 1975. Now, however, people are so fed up with European issues and with the effect Europe is having on their country and their way of life that we have crossed over so that there would no longer be an overwhelming majority in favour of staying in. The majority would want to leave so that Britain can be a proud, self-confident nation once again, without having to pay a massive annual membership fee-soon rising to £10 billion a year-and without having to open our borders to all and sundry from across the European Union, allowing them to flood to these shores.
Immigration is a European issue. It did not used to be, but it is now. People in my constituency and across the country are fed up with the numbers of people coming into our country from abroad and fed up with uncontrolled immigration from the European Union. Frankly, my Kettering voters feel let down by the political establishment that our being in the European Union should have been allowed to take over so many aspects of our lives.
Does my hon. Friend share my embarrassment at the very idea that people from Australia, Canada and New Zealand-our Commonwealth brethren -are made to wait at our borders while we have absolutely no control over people coming here from 20-odd countries in Europe?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention because he has hit the nail on the head. In the few times I have had the misfortune to go abroad, whenever I come back into this country, I always try to do so without coming through the European Union section. I have been told several times that a British passport holder has no choice and has to go underneath the blue flag with the yellow stars. I just think it is a huge shame that our country has come to that.
The Minister gave the game away early on when he had difficulty responding to my perfectly reasonable request that Her Majesty's Government undertake a comprehensive audit of the costs and benefits of our membership of this European club. I would have thought that everyone would be in favour of such an audit. After all, if the argument for being in the European Union is so strong, why not get the evidence together and put it to the British people? Those who feel strongly that the time has come to leave the Union would also like to see the facts and figures presented. I perfectly understand that it is going to be apples and pears, and that some things are not perfectly calculable, but Her Majesty's Government should at least make some kind of effort to tell the British people why it is so important for us to remain in the EU. As far as my constituents and I can see, the membership subscription is now too high, we have no effective control over our borders with the EU, and business and other institutions in our country are being strangled more and more, month by month, by the red tape emanating from Brussels. It is time that it stopped.
I cannot think of a single reason-a straight answer to a straight question-and my Kettering constituents would greatly welcome the repatriation of powers that we have given away all too freely. Another example is the disgraceful common fisheries policy. I notice that a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister is now on the Treasury Bench; he is doing his best in Brussels to try to end the scandal of fish disregards, but it is like pushing water uphill. We are not going to get anywhere with Brussels because it will not see sense on these issues. If I were to ask my Kettering constituents whether we should repatriate our powers over Britain's fishing waters, there would be an overwhelming vote to do just that. We have given all these things away.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour for giving way. On that very point of the repatriation of powers, is he not concerned that new clause 11 presents a fourth choice to the British public? It offers a straight in/out choice. It does not lay in front of the British public what many of us would like to see, which is perhaps the most significant element that the Conservative party lost in the coalition agreement-a vote on the repatriation of powers. Many of us do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but would like to see some of those powers repatriated to our country.
That would be very nice, but I do not see the coalition Government repatriating any powers. For many people, it has now come to the issue of whether we are in or out. I do not believe that we can be "In Europe, but not run by Europe". That slogan is, I am afraid, no longer valid.
I know that many Conservative Members believe that we can reform Europe to make it better, but some of us have reached the point where we simply do not believe that that is achievable. I do not want to spend the rest of my life arguing that we can improve Europe for the better. I believe that Britain's best chance is to be an independent, sovereign, self-governing nation, with an enterprise economy looking out into the world, free from the restrictions that the European Union imposes upon us.
If Britain left the European Union, that would not mean the end of the European Union. It would still exist, but we would be freed from its shackles. We would be able to look out on the wider world, regain our economic self-confidence, and start to trade properly with superpowers such as China, India, and all the other countries with which we used to have such a wonderful relationship. Membership of the European Union is increasingly holding us back from both our past and our future as an entrepreneurial nation.
Our best hope of securing a decision in this Parliament lies in new clause 11. The new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough may well present us with the only opportunity that we will have in the five years of this coalition Government to decide whether we are to have an in/out referendum. I know that the new clause does not provide a perfect solution, but part of the genius of my hon. Friend is that he has got this far.
Does my hon. Friend agree that members of the Labour party are generally in favour of winning elections, and that if there is a strong enough demand from the British people for such a referendum, it is very possible that Edward Miliband will flip his position on the issue?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Conservative party did not win the last general election with a sufficient number to form a majority. As for his other point, I know that many Government Members are very interested in this subject, but they may have noticed that not many Opposition Members are present. The simple fact is- [Interruption.] If hon. Members will hear me out, I will give them the reason. Since I was elected in May, not one of my constituents has raised this issue with me. I believe that the next general election will be won on the basis of the economy, jobs and the NHS, and I believe that this Government are putting those things at risk. They are what will be at stake in the next election, not the European Union.
The fact that we are having to pay more than £10 billion to the European Union every year is not helping the economy. The increasing burden of red tape from Brussels is not helping job creation. The hon. Lady speaks of those issues as if they were separate from Europe, but in fact the European Union is increasingly having a say in them.
The hon. Gentleman uses the words "even if we accept", but that is a fact. As Foreign Office Ministers now tire of telling us, many more of our exports go to the European Union than currently go to China. Our jobs and our economy rely on the European Union for our exports, which is why the single market is such a good thing.
Even if we accept the hon. Lady's opinion-which is not a fact-that a small majority of our exports go to the European Union, the question for her is this: is our future with Belgium or with China? There is another fact that she needs to address. We now have a permanent and ever-growing trade deficit with the European Union, which our membership of that organisation is doing nothing to solve.
I returned from a parliamentary visit to China in September. Although they were very polite about it, I know that the Chinese are actually interested in trading with the EU as a bloc, and would like to see agreements between China and the European Union. We should understand that fact.
Of course the Chinese are interested in trading with the EU bloc, because it is a big economic entity. Were we outside the EU, however, China would also be interested in trading with us. As for the idea that if we left the EU we would lose 3 million jobs, that has never been proved by the Labour party, and it is misleading to tell the British people that so many jobs are tied to our membership of the European Union.
I cannot get away from my old job as a teacher. I want to help to disabuse Emma Reynolds of a couple of assumptions. Does my hon. Friend agree that businesses are not buying British goods just because we are in the European Union? The French are not buying goods from this country out of the goodness of their hearts; they are doing it because they make hard-headed business decisions, and they will continue to buy things from this country whether we are in the European Union or outside it. It is extremely likely that if we were outside it, we would continue to have a free trade agreement with them.
The point is that if we left the European Union, we would continue to trade with the European Union. The idea that, if we tore up our membership slip, suddenly no one would talk to us or trade with us any more is nonsense.
I think that the hon. Gentleman has reduced my argument to absurdity. [Interruption.] But my argument is not absurd. My argument is that countries throughout the world, from Latin America to the far east, are queuing up to sign free trade agreements with the European Union. If we were not part of the European Union, we would not be part of those free trade agreements, and would not benefit from them or from the additional exports resulting from them.
Those countries would still be able to trade with us. The big difference between 2011 and 1972 is the fact that trade barriers have fallen all over the world and continue to do so. As a free independent trading nation, Britain would still be trading with China, India, South America and the European Union, with lower trade barriers than we had 40 or 50 years ago.
If the hon. Gentleman is not persuaded by the argument about the jobs that would be lost if we left the European Union, what about the democratic deficit that would result from our trying to trade and have full market access to the EU, while having absolutely no say in the regulations and legislation that would deliver that access?
If Labour Members are so confident about their position, why did they not support the proposal for an in/out referendum so that they could put their views to the British people and let them settle the issue in that way?
Exactly. It is not necessary to believe that we would be better off out of the European Union to support new clause 11. If Members here are so confident that Britain has a bright, rosy economic future in the European Union, they too should welcome the opportunity to take their case to the British people and settle this wretched argument once and for all.
Is not the truth that Members are not confident enough to take the argument to the British people, because they are not confident about the outcome? At a time when major cuts are being made in every Department in the United Kingdom, are not the hon. Gentleman's constituents, like mine, concerned about the fact that we are paying endless billions to this European club?
The hon. Gentleman is spot on, but I would go rather further. I do not believe that Her Majesty's Government, and other Members, are not confident; I think they now know that they would lose. They may not be drenched in e-mails and letters, but many members of our electorate have simply given up. That is why turnouts at general elections are now far lower than they used to be. Powers have drained from the House of Commons and Her Majesty's Government to Brussels, and people are increasingly asking, "Why bother to elect Members of Parliament at all, given that all the decisions are made over in the EU?"
I believe that if we had a referendum, all those issues would emerge. I believe that most people in the country would be happy if we re-entered some kind of European Free Trade Association. I believe that most of them want a common market-a trading arrangement with European countries. What they do not want is membership of this political club.
Would my hon. Friend support a relationship with the EU rather like that of Norway and Switzerland? They sell rather more to the EU than we do, and are also rather richer.
Certainly, something along those lines would be most welcome. They also have substantially more control over their borders than we do. That is a big issue on the doorstep.
I come back to earlier remarks about the "Save the Pound" campaign in 2001. Opposition Members had the audacity to say that the British people did not understand it, but they did and if it had not been for the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary when he was the leader of the Conservative party, there would have been a grave danger of the first-term Labour Government ditching the pound. If they had, they would not be laughing now because the economic mess in this country in 2011 would be much like that in Spain, with 22% unemployment.
The Foreign Secretary's lorry and my bus met in Wellingborough, so I am happy that this issue has been raised by Mr Bone today. It was not because of the Foreign Secretary's campaign that the Labour Government did not abandon the pound: it was because they had no intention whatever of joining the euro.
I am most grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. This shows the tragedy of what has been happening since 1997. There has been huge disinterest in matters European from Labour Members both when they were in government and now they are in opposition. That is why there was a massive loss of sovereignty to Brussels over the Blair and Brown years.
I am going to support the Bill. I supported it on Second Reading and I will happily vote for it on Third Reading, because it provides the referendum lock that the British people want. The purpose of new clause 11 is to strengthen that referendum lock so that no future Government would dare to propose a transfer of power that they thought they might have the slightest chance of losing. That entrenches the little bit of sovereignty that we have left. If Her Majesty's Government stood back and thought about this, they would welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough's proposal and agree to the new clause without the need for a Division.
I shall speak for just a few minutes on this particularly interesting clause, which I support. I should like to make a big apology to the Whips; I am sure that the eye-rolling and head-banging has gone on already, because they see the usual suspects rising to speak on this matter, but I think that it is important. I know that rather a tortuous device was used to get it debated today and I am grateful to my hon. Friend Mr Bone for his ingenuity.
I do not agree with my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg that the measure would somehow negate the referendum lock. Let me put that on its head: if we were to have a referendum about a significant transfer of powers and the public said no, where would that leave us? We would be standing alone saying no. It would be quite logical to go on and say, "We have been hearing grumbles over the years about your unhappiness"-for 19 years, as my hon. Friend Mark Reckless has pointed out-"over bits and pieces of legislation that you believe have come from Europe and may have impacted negatively, let's have an open debate about it and have a referendum on whether we should be in or out."
I completely agree with Keith Vaz, who spoke very eloquently. As I said in an intervention earlier, an in/out vote would not be a foregone conclusion. Indeed, I would look forward to a robust debate airing the positive aspects. Perhaps we could look forward to people being persuaded, despite some misgivings about whether or not we should give prisoners the vote, which we will debate next week, or whether they agree with human rights legislation being imposed on us from Europe-I believe that we were somewhat opposed to that in our manifesto-
I thank the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to clarify my position, although if she had listened the first time perhaps she would have been clearer on it. I said that my hon. Friends have very pressing concerns that reflect those of their constituents about the massive programme of Government cuts taking place in this country and the risk to our economy and economic growth, as we saw last week with the shrinkage of our economy. That is what we are worried about, and we would rather have more time in the House to debate the NHS and the trebling of tuition fees. That is what I was saying and I do not think she should misrepresent my position.
From the hon. Lady's rather tetchy remarks, I gather that most of her right hon. and hon. colleagues are off somewhere else debating more pressing matters, but this is being debated now and unlike her I think it is crucial that we debate it clearly. If we are game enough tonight to let people have a little sniff of the freedom of choosing, it could be the first time that many of them have a chance to hear the arguments for and against staying in the European Union.
That was not quite on the subject of the debate, but I take my hon. Friend's point.
Opposition Members could have had a referendum on the Lisbon treaty and I believe that my party and other hon. Members here felt that the people should have had a say, but they did not. Martin Horwood advocated quite strongly having a debate on the in or out issue; I do not feel that the treaty's ratification negates that aspiration. I am sure that he would make a very robust defence for having an "in" vote, whereas other Members on the Government side who have concerns about it would make a robust argument for an "out" vote. That said, I am fed up with hearing constantly the mantra that now is not the time. It is never the time; it has not been the time for the past 19 years. When will be the time? The Bill offers us the opportunity to have a little hook on which to hang the possibility-that is all-that at some time in the future, if the people were unhappy about the relationship with Europe, they could say so.
I do not know how the people of St Albans or Cheltenham would vote or how the country would vote on this issue. I could be surprised and find that they wholly endorse our position within Europe, in which case any future Government could go forward with a robust mandate for referendum locks on transfers of power within treaties, because that would not necessarily mean that people want to give away more powers. People might say that they are happy with exactly the level of power that has been given away but that they do not want to give away any more. They might say yes to staying in but no to further transfers of power. That is why I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset: I think that one can be in that position. Indeed, that is the position we are in now, because we are not taking a vote on this-we are staying put but saying that no more powers should be transferred.
I would like the good people of this country to have a say, because they do air their concerns when one talks to them in supermarkets, pubs and cafés. They air their concerns when they hear about some of the nonsense legislation we have to put up with and when they hear that we cannot do anything about some issue because it is a result of EU legislation. I think they would like a say, but that does not mean that they cannot be persuaded. I say to hon. Members, "Give us the chance to put the argument to the people and let them decide. Don't be frightened of giving them the chance to make a decision because you think they'll make the wrong decision. It's their country and we're here to represent their views." I do not believe in not asking them their views. If we can have a referendum on the alternative vote, which was never raised on the doorstep prior to its being raised in the House and which was not being advocated by a single party in the House, we should be able to have a referendum on something that was raised on the doorstep and on which some parties stood as a sole issue-Europe. I do not agree with Emma Reynolds that the Opposition Benches are empty because Opposition Members are not interested; I believe they are empty because they have been told to go off and play away at something different. It is the complacency demonstrated by those empty Benches that has led us to where we are.
In conclusion, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough for his ingenuity in getting the new clause debated on the Floor of the House tonight. I am sorry that the Whips and other hon. Members feel they have been kept here tonight because the usual suspects are making a noise and a row about Europe. But if we did not, I believe our constituents would say to us, "Don't ever say to me that you're unhappy about Europe, because when there was a chance for you to give us a say-at some point in the future not yet decided-you shut down that avenue, because you could." Tonight, I do not believe that avenue should be shut down. I believe it is the fear of knowing the answer that is shutting it down, not any logical reason.
I can assure hon. Members from all parties that the Opposition Benches are not empty. Indeed, some of us feel roused to contribute to the debate, having heard the exhortations of Mr Hollobone, for example. It is an extraordinary saga. Every time one looks outside and sees the dark clouds and the moon hovering, Europe must be being debated again.
This is the party that, under Edward Heath, took us into the Common Market; the party that, under Margaret Thatcher, took us into the Single European Act and everything that flowed from it, including unlimited immigration from across the European Union; the party that, under John Major, signed the Maastricht treaty-on every occasion it is the Conservative and Unionist party of Britain that has deepened and strengthened our European ties, and yet when they are in power Conservative Members love nothing better than to debate these things. How many days was it last week? How many hours has it been this week, as they queue up demanding a referendum? Voters have had the option to vote for UKIP. UKIP stands proudly, clearly, as a voting option in my constituency and others, as it did at the last general election, and when it stands, the voters have the opportunity in their tens of thousands to flood to the polling stations to the rallying cry of UKIP. But such is democracy, they fail to do so.
With this Euro-fanatical Conservative party in power, we see yet again the rebellion from the discontented masses. They understand fully what is going on among their Front Benchers, because the Conservative party appeals to two different values. One is that of the little Englander, amply represented by my neighbour Andrew Percy, as one of the few Members who have attended this debate and joined the traditional long-standing contributors to Conservative thinking on these matters. The other is the vested interest of big business: when it comes to the crunch, the Conservative party in its very blood, and its Front Benchers at every opportunity, wish always to strengthen and deepen the ties with Europe. By giving space to its discontented Back Benchers, as it has done repeatedly in this Parliament, the Conservative party shows that it likes to announce to the British people that it has a great tradition of Englishness and Britishness-of separation from Europe-but when it comes to the decisions, every single time it is the Conservative party that throws us further and further, deeper and deeper into the European Union. This new Government, albeit a coalition with the Euro-fanatical Liberals, are doing the same.
The independent Office for Budget Responsibility outlined in great detail how, under this coalition Government, immigration from within the European Union to the United Kingdom in this Parliament will be not the same as under the previous, so-called federalist, Labour Government. It will be not less, but more-significantly more. Why is that? It is because the Conservatives' paymasters-big business, as documented in the Register of Members' Financial Interests for all to see-demand that the Conservative party in power strengthens those ties with Europe while talking a different game and filling the parliamentary agenda with opportunities such as tonight's. So, yet again, we will see vast amounts of new labour joining this country-
The hon. Gentleman is rather verbosely explaining why we cannot trust politicians with these matters. Is that not a further argument for an in/out referendum, in which the people have the final say?
There is nothing verbose in these remarks; if the hon. Gentleman wants verbose he can have verbose, but that would be quite improper. These are succinct remarks on the inherent contradictions of the Conservative party, which can never, ever break from the pressures of big business, which demands that once in power, it strengthens those links. That is why 700,000 new EU migrants will enter this country in this Parliament. When the Conservative party talks about growth and trade, what it really means is cheaper labour, and worse conditions for workers in this country. That is the free market that the Conservative party represents: allowing competition at the lowest common denominator. No doubt, I will again be going on rallies at power stations, where British workers are finding their pay and conditions and ability to apply for their jobs undermined by the so-called European single market that the Conservative party took us into.
I am approaching my conclusion, when I will do that, but first there is another factor that ought to be re-stressed. There has been a lot of talk about what the people think. I will tell the Committee what the people think: the people think it is an absolute disgrace that, when the health service is being cut to ribbons and maternity units across the country are being destroyed, time is being taken up constantly discussing the Conservative party's obsession with the European Union rather than major issues.
New clause 11 should address whether what the Conservative party signed up to under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, in the spirit of Edward Heath, which allows unfettered labour migration into this country, is the way forward, or whether there should be restrictions that protect the jobs and livelihoods and standards of living of workers in this country. That is the debate that this Government are scared of, and that is why they like to pander to the pretence that there could be some debate about whether the country is in or out of Europe. This Government should be held to account for their failure to negotiate properly in Europe on that and on bankers' pay. They are wholly miserable in their efforts in doing so. That is what Parliament-
Fair point. That is precisely why, on those demonstrations at Staythorpe with Unite and other unions, I was the only parliamentarian who spoke on behalf of the workers in my constituency and others. However, I know that I am not the only one; perhaps the hon. Gentleman would wish to join me on such picket lines in future, in protecting the interests of British trade unionism and British workers. That is the debate-on what is really needed in the future, in this Parliament and in Europe-that this unholy coalition alliance Government are refusing to allow to take place.
Those Back Benchers who wish to strengthen against the ever-onwards and upwards movement of big business in Europe should also create the opportunity for votes on these things, rather than simply going back to basics. Therefore, I call on them to join in the battle for a real debate on Europe, but not to the exclusion of the cuts in public services that this coalition, with these Liberal traitors, is bringing to this country, because that is the debate that the country wants.
At the end of that roaring speech, I am not sure whether John Mann is for or against the new clause. I shall just reflect because, for some of us, this is an important debate. Even the recent history of the Labour party seems to have passed the hon. Gentleman by: Kinnock's opposition; Kinnock being in favour-all the pastures of the past 30-odd years-but where are we?
I take the debate quite seriously. I have supported referendums on the European Union and its treaties for many years now. What started as a Common Market and is now a European Union touches and reaches into every level of our Government and our life, from employment laws to what hours doctors may work. These things are now determined elsewhere. I suggest that undoubtedly the most major constitutional change of the past 100 years has been the development of the European Union as an almost sovereign body, with a legal system that sits above our own regard for our constitutional verities.
The central proposition of the Labour party, which we heard much about just now and which most hon. Members respect the history of, was the vote, organising and the creation of the unions, so that the party might one day hold seats in the House and come to determine the shape of national policy. That was the great goal, and it succeeded. Yet, within a generation, Labour, which was cautious about the development of the European Union, has changed. Peter Shore wrote that great, very cautious speech, "A thousand years of British history". "We do not know how this will develop," said Hugh Gaitskell, "We have to wait and see." It was a cautionary speech. Of course it is true that it was characterised as demonic by the Conservative Administrations who were still negotiating to enter into the European Community, or Common Market as we called it. That is the background to why the Labour party wanted power, universal suffrage, the right to determine the conditions of the working people of this country and to distribute wealth.
Now, this new generation-the Kinnock age-has so integrated into the European Union that it has Front Benchers who believe almost with the passion of a religion that it cannot be challenged or contradicted. Let us consider the very words that are used-this clerisy of the Community, where these high priests of Brussels try to determine, and largely do determine, the laws under which we live. So I see this as a matter of principle.
I have watched the development of this new constitution over the past 30 years, from when we did not do referendums to when we now do them at the drop of a hat. At one time, they were meant to be consultative. We have already had a referendum thrust on us on the voting arrangements that we have had traditionally, because of course it is part of a coalition agreement, as the hon. Member for Bassetlaw mentioned just a moment ago. So there is no absolute bar to holding a referendum on a great constitutional issue. That is the proposition that I am putting to the Committee.
I make an observation from my own experience over the years that I have served here. The sovereignty of Parliament that we talk of is, in fact, shorthand for the sovereignty of the people. That is what the Labour party once believed in, and that is what animated and generated the clash of ideas about how a society should self-govern. When Peter Shore, who wrote that original great speech for Gaitskell, stood on the Opposition Benches to debate a referendum measure-a Bill, as it happened-before Maastricht in the dying days of the Mr Major's first Administration, he made the argument about that most prized thing: the self-government of the people of these islands, to determine their policies and their laws in the best interest of the people of this country. That runs beyond and before the Labour party was ever created, and it was the great driving dynamic of our constitutional development. It was unthinkable that we should pass to others the determination of employment, our banking regulations and every level of government that we can think of. That is why there is an urgency in this. It has done something very profound to our view of ourselves and this country's view of its constitution and its own people. It has degraded it.
I mentioned during the early stages of the Bill the question that people ask all around the place, irrespective of party-they are intelligent people, although not of course as formidable as my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg. They know not who governs them, who was responsible for this particular law and who was insistent on this change in long-tried and settled practice. How did we ever end up with an election system called a d'Hondt system, no less? Perhaps the hon. Member for Bassetlaw will explain to us the reasoning behind the former Home Secretary's insistence that that was a very necessary new development that made incomprehensible to us those who now represent us as MEPs.
We had one item in the Bill that truly we could have had a referendum on: one new Member of the European Parliament. The place goes to the west midlands, unless, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe said, further and better particulars come to note and it may go to another region. That is what we are fiddling about with.
The Bill is paper-thin, and I think most of us know that. It is here to salve a conscience. We gave a clear undertaking on these matters. It was the most joyous part of my election address to talk about the recovery of the powers over certain essential laws. We were then advised by the Prime Minister, when he was still the Leader of the Opposition, that this treaty had been passed. There was no remembrance that Mr Wilson had a referendum after the passing of a treaty on a renegotiation.
When we play across the Commons like this, we are actually talking about something that is precious to this civil and political society, to these islands. It is about our governance and our Government. If people no longer have confidence that we are able, when there is a settled will, to execute the great measures necessary for the recovery and reconstruction of this country, what is the purpose of this place? That is the challenge that every Member of Parliament faces. It is also the challenge for the Labour party, which is almost married to the European Union after the conversion of Kinnock. Except for that dour soul from Dunfermline, it accepts everything.
If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I will not. I did not intend to speak for long on this.
I listened to the hon. Lady, and to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe's exegesis on the marvels of the provisions, and his aspirations for how, with the new thrust and trust, we will somehow make a dynamic entity of the European Union for the benefit of the British people. That might be so; I do not know, but I have heard that story from Governments of both parties over more than 30 years. They are often good people who stand before us and bring forward these measures. They believe in them at the time. The unfortunate coincidence of the elapsing of time demonstrates how often they were wrong in their interpretations and understanding of the commitments that they entered into by prerogative power and supported by legislative process. As my hon. Friend Mr Cash consistently points out without hesitation or deviation, that is the fault of the Whips. I do not believe that we are simply biddable, but that is what it looks like to the outside world.
There is therefore a purpose behind this proposal. It is an expression of something that is alive not only on this side of the House. I do not want to disillusion the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, but this sentiment is shared across the Chamber. I see the same souls: they might say that they have converted, but, like the slaves in Babylonia, they got back to Israel. We have to return to this question: what is the purpose of this House? Who do we represent and why do we represent them?
There is merit in the fact that we have at least had the opportunity to discuss this proposal. It is not the perfect vehicle to achieve this aim, however. We are in the midst of a crisis. I have always supported the idea of holding a referendum, but that was slightly challenged when the former Minister for Europe, no less, Keith Vaz, proceeded round the country in a caravan. Members will remember that he was the only man in Britain who met two Eurosceptics. I think he gave us their names-Ken and Dave, or whatever. It was almost impossible, during the conflicts over the treaties, to go round the whole of the United Kingdom in his van. We asked for reports. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made great humour of the situation, but humour is not the same as intent. That is what this is about.
Behind all this, I sense a growing intent on the part of the British people to have a greater resolution than the flim-flam that we are dealing with in this Bill. I respect my hon. Friends for saying that it is at least something, but that is what we have heard about all the brakes. This party was united against the social chapter in the Maastricht treaty. In fact, the opposition to it nearly brought the then Government down. There was the threat of a Dissolution if we lost that argument. I remember the Chief Whip telling me that we would be decimated, and we faced that in that arcane and silly way that people do when they are under pressure: "Only one in 10; that's not a bad result." The truth, however, was that this party knelt, in government. That is the progress that has been made.
Trade statistics have been mentioned. I grew up in an age when the port of London was perhaps the greatest entrepreneurial port, with the greatest volume of trade. Times changed; labour relations changed. Entrepôts grew on the continent of Europe, and they are the means by which we now export. It was pointed out earlier that we had a trade surplus, but today we have a trade deficit with Europe. This might merely be a reflection of the changing patterns of the way in which we export. No one brings forward the figures.
These are the little stones that begin to build a wall, and the wall is growing. I believe profoundly that the people of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland ought to have a say on this. I shall approach the matter from the point of view of realpolitik, however. The very threat, and the very undertaking, of a referendum put fear and aghastness into the heart of Brussels and the other members of the European Community.
If we are to be able to manage our own economy, to recover our place and standing in the world and to become economically secure, we have to recover some of these powers. There is no doubt in my mind about that. Many of us on these Back Benches are now committed to seeing that that comes about. Let no one doubt it: there will also be people on the Labour Benches who will give a cheer for this proposal. There might well be people in Ulster who will also give it a cheer. I caution Emma Reynolds, and I also say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that it was his expression of hope and belief that really undermined my confidence in his judgment after all the years that he has been in the House, given that he has seen this ratcheted, one-way transference of authority.
We are now challenged over our home affairs and justice system. The common law of England, Wales and Ireland is under threat. We are transferring much of our criminal justice system to another system that does not understand the common law because its civil tradition is different. I do not knock other people's systems of law. If it works for them, they must have it. But we know what has worked and given confidence to us across generations. I heard the flimsiest defence of how we were going to preserve that in the face of Strasbourg and Luxembourg. This is a big, big issue. It has haunted part of our debate. It is not seriously addressed. Opt-ins can take place and profoundly change who we are, even now.
I urge my hon. Friends to reflect. The rights that we are talking about are not our own rights. We are just citizens in this matter, as are those whom we represent. It is their rights that we should be mindful of. They are entitled to determine the course that we take in respect of these European matters.
It is a great pleasure to follow Mr Shepherd, who for many years has been a voice in Parliament for democracy and civil liberties. I share many of his views on the issue. It is a shame, in some ways, that we are debating such a hugely important matter as whether we should have an in/out referendum in the context of the Bill, because that is not what the Bill is about, as I know the Minister would agree.
I congratulate Mr Bone on persisting and pushing new clause 11. I am one of the signatories to it, and I am glad that we finally got a debate. As someone said about two hours ago, the debate is giving us a great deal more time to discuss these issues than we would normally get.
I said earlier that I hoped hon. Members would keep talking until I got back from an engagement. I am grateful that they not only managed to keep talking, but are still talking. I was opening a new climbing wall at the Westway centre in London, and I was reminded there of a practical aspect of the European Union that people find so irritating. Some time ago the European Union working at heights directive was issued, which seemed sensible. Everyone assumed that it would apply to people working in industry, building sites and so on, but our officials-our zealots-always want to gold-plate. They thought that those who taught mountaineering should be subject to the working at heights directive.
It took nearly three years to bring that to an end and to ensure that the way we taught mountaineering and climbing in this country would not be ruined by a directive that insisted, for example, that certain ropes should not be used. Hon. Members who are mountaineers will well remember that. While the Committee was debating the new clause, I was reminded of a practical example of where the European Union starts off with a good idea, a few people agree with it, no one is ever asked about the detail, and when it finally comes to be implemented, the officials, the bureaucrats and those who love to be able to impose things on other people strengthen the directive so that it sometimes goes way beyond the common-sense reason behind it.
It was in the previous Parliament, as chair of the all-party mountaineering group, that I negotiated the end of the working at heights directive, or rather its subjugation in relation to mountaineering. Does that not emphasise the point that the regulations were easy to deal with-the meeting took five minutes-but the problem was how officials in Whitehall had chosen to interpret a straightforward directive that, in relation to certain professions, was extremely important?
My hon. Friend is right. I recall vividly that he was instrumental in that.
The same happens with practically every directive. It is all very well saying that the problem is just the officials. They are not elected. Ministers and Members of Parliament are elected. Directives are always gold-plated by civil servants. My hon. Friend remembers how long it took to get the argument across and to get Ministers to understand it and realise that the way the directive was being applied was not sensible. In other areas where directives are implemented, people may not realise that until the last minute or until it is too late. The European Scrutiny Committee is a brilliant Committee with its current Chair and with Kelvin Hopkins on it, but it can never perform the necessary scrutiny.
I support the new clause, although, as has been said, it is not ideal or what we would really like. It has been a long time since the people of the United Kingdom had the opportunity to say whether they support the direction of the EU and where it is now compared with where it was when I opposed entry into the Common Market. I accepted that the country had decided to support it, but, over the years, what people voted for then has changed, as we all know, and now we need that debate again, not only as to whether the country supports the direction in which the EU has come and where we are now, but where it should go in the future.
I may be wrong, but my guess is that the vast majority of the British people do not like the direction that the EU has taken and the fact that this Parliament and this country have lost control over many areas. As I have said, there is no point blaming one party over the other. Both major political parties have, in their different ways and not always in the way they intended, conspired to stop the real debate. We saw that with the Maastricht treaty and with the Lisbon treaty, on which the Labour party acted disgracefully, having given a commitment to a referendum. Then the Conservatives, who had given a commitment to a referendum managed to get out of it because the decision had been taken. But, as has been pointed out, just because the decision had been taken to sign it, there was no reason why the British people should not have been allowed a referendum immediately afterwards to decide whether they wanted to continue with the agreement that had been ratified.
Even the most avid supporter of the EU, of which there are many on the Labour Benches, would have to accept that when the EU and the Commission do not get what they want in a vote they simply find another way to have another vote, as happened in Ireland. That is why there is no confidence in the EU. I have a lot of respect for the Minister, who, certainly in the past, will have been seen as not necessarily a Eurosceptic but a Eurorealist, or some other term. He may feel that he is doing the right thing, but the reality is that no one in the country trusts any of the politicians in power, of whatever party, on this issue. Something seems to happen to people when they are elected to Government and go to Brussels. They experience some kind of transformation. For some reason, they suddenly become part of it all. In many cases they become more ideological about it than some of the other European countries.
A long time ago, when I was a Minister in the Home Office and went with the then Home Secretary to meetings in Brussels, we would have a clear line about what we were doing on a justice and home affairs position. We would argue passionately. France would argue the other way and other countries would argue differently. Then in the tea breaks or wine breaks, they would ask us why we felt so strongly on a particular matter. They would say that they did not particularly like it, but they would support it, although they did not really intend to implement it. There was a general feeling that it did not really matter to many of those other EU politicians; they were part of it because they wanted to be part of the club and the whole European project. But they knew jolly well that when they went back to their own countries they would do the bit that they wanted. We were the exact opposite. We would fight our corner, but we would then have to give in because the Prime Minister would decide he wanted something else in some other department in Brussels. Not only would we agree, but we would implement the policy zealously.
I am sorry that I missed the contribution made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East when I had to leave the Chamber. We were both in Europe for a short period when my time in the Home Office coincided with his time in the Foreign Office, so I know his views on the matter and I am pleased that he has them.
I genuinely do not understand what we are afraid of, and neither do the public, particularly those who are strongly in favour of a referendum. What is the problem? We can no longer put it down to cost, because we are having this ridiculous referendum on the voting system, which most people are bored silly with-they yawn when it is brought up, even at political party meetings. I accept that it was set out in the coalition agreement, but there is no huge enthusiasm for that referendum, and yet we are spending so much money on it.
A referendum on the European Union would revitalise the political debate within this country. We would enliven things and go back to days of having public meetings. I accept what my hon. Friend John Mann said about the economic problems the country faces, but I do not think that having a debate on the EU would be a diversion. It would be a way of showing that there are other ways of running this country's whole economic policy. We would get that debate and get out there among the people, because I know that they feel strongly about it.
I will not speak much longer, other than to say that I have been quite proud-others will laugh-to be associated with the campaign on the in/out referendum run by the Daily Express. As some Members might already have mentioned, yesterday a number of us took 373,000 envelopes, which had been returned from across the country, containing the slips published in the Daily Express asking for an in/out referendum. Those were just the envelopes, so many more were sent via e-mail. I think that we should be proud of the fact that a newspaper has managed to arouse that debate, and I would not care whether it had been done by the Daily Express, the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, The Sun or even the Daily Mirror.
Mr Shepherd talked about a growing mood in the country. We can sit here in isolation and ignore that mood, or we can grab it and lift it as an opportunity to get some decency and honesty back into politics. We should get that debate and have a referendum at some stage on whether we are in or out of Europe. I know that the Whips do not want Members to vote for this small new clause, but I say to Government Members that I have opposed my Whips on many occasions and am still alive and still here. To vote for it would send out a little signal that the issue will not go away.
For me, the debate is not about the wording of the new clause, but about a question of principle. It is also about whether we are a democratic nation. As my hon. Friend Mr Shepherd pointed out, and as many of us have argued for so many years, the question of why we are here in this House, ultimately, is entirely dependent on our relationship to the electorate. This is about democracy, not government.
We began our proceedings on the question of sovereignty some time ago, when we debated clause 18. In that debate, I made it clear-I believe that we won the argument-that the real question was whether this country would be able to govern itself or would end up being increasingly governed by judicial supremacy, and the European Scrutiny Committee report clearly demonstrated that point. For those of us who watched, for example, the recent BBC 4 programme on the Supreme Court, there is no doubt at all about the attitudes of some of the Justices in the Supreme Court and of many senior academics who are deeply influential in the Foreign Office and elsewhere. I know that the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, understands that extremely well; I have heard him say so.
There are serious questions about whether the judiciary seek to undermine-not deliberately, but by their language-the sovereignty of this House. So a referendum is about whether sovereignty-the ultimate authority for the government of this country-belongs to the Government, the Prime Minister, No. 10 Downing street and the like, who are elected and accountable to this House, which in turn is accountable to the electorate. Of all those different components of our constitutional arrangements, untidy as they may be, the most important is the sovereignty of the people.
Indeed, under our constitutional arrangements, we cannot even have a referendum unless it is endorsed by Act of Parliament, but that is the moment when the people of this country speak to their representatives, who by mutual accord reply, "This issue is too big for us. We have dithered for too long. We have not resolved these questions. We have allowed your self-government and your Parliament to be subsumed into and absorbed by the decisions that other countries take, by majority vote, so that the laws passed by this House are no longer passed exclusively by Members of Parliament, but by the process of the Whips, the process of government and by the acquiescence and the Europeanisation of this country, which nobody can deny."
Anybody who has listened to these debates over the past few days will be in no doubt that, whatever this Bill purports to do-the window-dressing that it represents, the aspiration to hold referendums after this Parliament-there is a continuing process of Europeanisation on criminal law, criminal procedure, civil matters, the whole immigration process and the issues of citizenship. They are increasingly being taken away from this House and transferred to the European Union. It is a policy of transfer.
The talk is of the transfer of competences and powers. What about the political transfer that takes place on a daily basis? Only this afternoon, I was in a European Committee on the stabilisation mechanism. A total of £8 billion of British taxpayers' money has now been committed to the prospect of bailing out Portugal and Spain, for no other reason than that, during the interregnum between two Governments a few months ago, the outgoing Chancellor entered into an unlawful agreement and the incoming Chancellor effectively endorsed it. For the British people, £8 billion is now at risk in times of austerity.
The question is, who made those decisions? I wager that the people responsible include those in the Treasury. The legal advice that I asked the Minister to provide and the other advice from the Treasury has been denied to me. The answer will be published tomorrow. It was given to me only 20 minutes or so before these proceedings began, and it effectively states, "You can't have the answer to these questions, because if we give them to you it will be inconvenient for the running of government."
That is an absurd comment. I am speaking in terms of the vires of the treaty. It is a different question; it is nothing to do with what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It was a serious misjudgment. It was an agreement that cannot be justified by the legal base. The European Scrutiny Committee said in its report that the agreement on that particular mechanism was legally unsound. That is what I mean. It has exposed the British taxpayer to a very significant sum of money.
However, that is just one example. The real question, ultimately, is one of democracy and trust. It is a matter of principle, and that principle is demonstrated by what happened in respect of the Lisbon treaty. We stood here in this House, month after month, debating the Lisbon treaty. I tabled perhaps 120 or 130 amendments. We united the Conservative party: for the first time since 1972, we had complete unanimity. Of those with a different view, only one is still in the party now-the others have all fled to other parties-and he is the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. He is entitled to his view and I respect him for the consistency with which he pursues it, however much I may disagree. The Conservative party was united in opposing every aspect of the Lisbon treaty and united for a referendum, and we voted accordingly. For reasons that have been put forward, but which I simply do not accept, that promise of a referendum was torn up.
Other promises with regard to the European issue-promises made in our manifesto-have not been sustained. These are serious matters. It is no surprise that the people of this country lose faith and trust in their politicians if such decisions are taken. This applies just as much to the Labour party or the Liberal Democrats. Broken promises are broken manifesto promises. Manifesto promises are the basis on which people ask to be elected and get into this House to represent the interests of the people who vote for them in the polling booth. If we break our promises, it is hardly surprising if the people of this country begin to feel a sense, first, of unease, and then of contempt for the political system.
This is constitutional reality, but also practical reality: it affects people in their everyday lives. We heard from Kate Hoey about the working at heights directive. We heard from John Mann about the posted workers directive. We have heard about the working time directive, the nurses agencies directive, and so on. The EU affects every single corner, every single nook and cranny of our lives, and we appear to be powerless to do anything about it.
A few days ago I got the figures from the Library on the balance of trade between ourselves and the European Union. They are alarming. In relation to the 27 member states, between 1999 and 2009-it has got very much worse in the past 18 months-we had an imbalance of £5 billion. With the rest of the world, we have had an improvement of £11 billion. There is a message there: you cannot trade with a bankrupt organisation if you are a successful company. The European Union, with its low growth, its riots and protests, and its failure, demonstrates why a referendum is required, as the new clause says, on the question of
"continuing United Kingdom membership of the European Union".
For me, this is not just a question of in or out, but of to be or not to be a democratic nation state. This is not a matter to be trifled with.
I have profound views about the manner in which the coalition Government are dealing with this issue. As the Minister for Europe said in the debate last week, the Government have a European Affairs Committee, two thirds of which is Conservative and one third of which is Liberal Democrat. I pointed out to him that that Committee clearly could not have a vote, because we would win every time and we would have the policies that we stood on in our manifesto. So who is wagging the tail? It is clearly the one third of the Committee that are Liberal Democrats, combined with the instincts of those on our side of the equation who want more Europeanisation, although they disclaim it. That is another problem for us.
In Prime Minister's questions a few weeks ago I asked why it is that at every turn, whenever an issue of integration comes up, we always go in the wrong direction. Why has repatriation been rejected? It is the repatriation of powers, using the well-known formula-notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972-that would enable us to re-grow our economy and answer the question that is now before the Chancellor of the Exchequer: why is our economy not growing? We can tell him that it is not growing because 50% of our trade is with the European Union, which is itself in deep trouble and has low growth. At the same time, we cannot grow our economy because we are strangled to such an extent by the red tape of Brussels. Those two situations can be retrieved only through a new relationship between us and the European Union.
This is not just a constitutional argument, but an argument of practicality. It is an argument of to be or not to be a democratic nation state, a great sovereign state and a successful country that represents the interests of the people we serve-not ourselves. As I have said so often, it is not our Parliament, it is their Parliament. They are entitled to know that if things have not gone right-things certainly have not gone right with Europeanisation-we have an absolute obligation to ask them for their opinion. That is democracy, that is trust and that is what will restore integrity to this House and the British political system.
I have considerable sympathy with the speech of Mr Cash. A year ago, his party was Cash and Carswell; now it is Clegg and Cable. His party has surrendered the authenticity of its position on Europe for the marriage of convenience with the Liberal Democrats. That is his problem, not mine.
I am not so sure that the European Union is to blame for the fact that we alone of the major European Union economies have zero growth, inflation of 3.6%, a shrinking currency and rising unemployment. This House and this Government could at a stroke tomorrow cut taxes, abolish national labour laws that they do not like and do whatever they think might turn this situation around. I gently suggest that perhaps it is the economic management that needs to be looked at.
I want to address the fundamental point that was made by Kate Hoey, who has left her place. Should this democracy be based on plebiscites and referendums, or on the authority of this House? In recent days, the issue that the people of Britain have been in touch with me about is the selling off of Sherwood forest, our woods and our free forest lands to private interests. Perhaps I would like to respond to them by saying, "Let there be a referendum on this issue." Previously, the issue about which people were in touch with me was the tripling of student fees, on which one of the coalition parties broke, in the most fundamental and flagrant way, a solemn promise that it had made and signed in public. We have no mechanism to have a referendum on that matter. I could also mention the education maintenance allowance.
I put it to the hon. Member for Stone and my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall that if they want a Britain governed by referendums, I can accept the intellectual argument for having one on the EU, but we must then have one on other issues that matter to the people of this country. If Members want referendums on the selling-off of forest lands, the cutting of benefits, the closing of Sure Start and the tripling of student fees, I am tempted to say crudely, "Be my guest".
In our democracy, which has been shaped, formed and hammered out over centuries, it is the 650 Members elected here-soon to be 600, because for the first time in British history we are reducing representation and claiming it as an advance for democracy, but I will leave that to one side-who have made the decisions, good and bad, that have been rendered to the people. The people have then decided at the next election whether they support the decisions that have been made. If we want a plebiscite and referendum democracy, we must have it for everything. Some people sincerely believe in that, and I respect their position, but let them stand up tomorrow and say, "I will vote to give the people the right to decide on the selling-off of forests, or the tripling of student fees". That is the fundamental problem.
My hon. Friend John Mann was right to point out the problem of the gold-plating of EU directives. Directives have arrived in this country and we have voted on them, and many of them have been in the name of business, to promote the single market and to allow British traders of every sort to function fully and freely in the world's biggest economic market. However, when directives are transposed into British law, they seem to double in size as every little worm and maggot in Whitehall gets into them and seeks to add his or her little bit of gold-plating. The House could resist that, but we have no mechanism for examining such problems when they begin to come down the legislative track. We receive the directives only at the end of the process, by which time it is often too late. I fully accept that complaint, which requires a different way of working and a process of engagement and argument.
I fully respect those who say that the answer is to quit the European Union. That is an honourable position. Their duty, it seems to me, is not to persuade the Daily Express and its pornographer owner that their cause is just- [Interruption.] There is a cry of "Shame" from a sedentary position, but on the whole, my belief is, "By how you make your money shall thee be counted." In the case of the owner of the Daily Express, he has made a great deal of his money out of the most hideous exploitation of women and young girls. It is for those who want to walk with that gentleman to decide whether that is the company that they want to keep.
The new clause is reasonable, but Members who vote for it tonight will have to accept certain consequences. It would fundamentally change our parliamentary democracy. From this tiny little wooden shed with its nice green leather benches, we would be giving other powers outside our Parliament the right to call for votes, energise democracy and create support for campaigns as they wished. Some might say that that is direct democracy, but I am not sure that giving someone the ability to sign a cheque for £1 million, £2 million or £5 million, is any kind of democracy-direct or indirect-but that is for the Committee to decide.
That is a problem for the governing parties. They must decide whether to support new clause 11. I obviously hope that they will not support it, because I believe that the strength of our country and our democracy is that such decisions are made here in the House of Commons-things are not decided by offshore proprietors, pornographers or others with very large cheque books.
This has been a passionate debate. Although I am unable to accept new clause 11 on behalf of the Government, I admire the integrity, commitment and, as others have said, the parliamentary ingenuity, of my hon. Friend Mr Bone. As befits somebody who is assiduous in his attendance and fierce in his affection for, and loyalty to, the House of Commons as an institution, he has gone through the rule book and explored parliamentary procedure to ensure that an issue about which he cares so strongly has ample time for debate on the Floor of the Committee.
I want to do my hon. Friend justice by responding in detail on his proposal on its merits. The difficulty is not simply that new clause 11 seeks to do something that is not within the scope of the Bill as the Government have framed it, but that it raises a number of important political questions.
I qualified my statement, Ms Primarolo, by saying, "as the Government have framed the Bill". The intended purpose of the Bill is to provide both additional parliamentary scrutiny and the ultimate sanction of a public referendum on decisions that would transfer powers and competences from this country to the EU. The Government's purpose was not to provide for the sort of additional referendum that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough seeks. It is indeed a tribute to his parliamentary skill that he has found a way, within order, to seek to address that issue.
I do not wish to intrude upon private grief among Conservative Members, but I agree with you absolutely, Ms Primarolo, and you are absolutely correct that there is no question of the proposal being out of order.
The Minister gave a very interesting summation of the Bill, but he did not mention one crucial aspect of it. He did not say that referendums will not apply in this Parliament.
Assuming that the Bill gains parliamentary approval and Royal Assent in the normal way, it will apply during this Parliament from the time when it comes into effect. As I said earlier today, one illustration of that is that the treaty change proposed by Germany and being taken through EU institutions at the moment will have to be ratified by primary legislation rather than simply by a resolution of both Houses, as would be the case under the current legislation, which was introduced by the previous Government in 2008. What distinguishes this Parliament is that the Government have said, as part of their coalition agreement, that we do not intend to agree at European level to any proposal to amend the treaties or invoke passarelle clauses that would require a referendum under the terms of the legislation that we have been debating for a numbers of days now.
The referendums authorised under the Bill are intended to be final decisions. They will give people the opportunity to judge whether a particular proposal to give new powers to the European Union is in the national interest. One of the things that is troubling about the new clause is that it implicitly assumes that those who vote no to a particular proposition also want to challenge the UK's membership of the EU, but I do not think that that can be taken for granted. As other hon. Members have said, there is a risk that some people could be influenced in how they vote on the substance of a proposal by a calculation of whether it would be likely to produce the end result of an in/out referendum. Such electors might take into account his or her views on the in/out proposal and not just the pros and cons of the measure on which they are being invited to cast a vote.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough overlooks the problem of a possible succession of referendums on Britain's membership of the EU. It is possible to imagine that under a future Government-not this one-referendums on moving to qualified majority voting for common foreign and security policy and on joining the euro might be scheduled for two successive years. The new clause would leave open the possibility of an in/out referendum after one-or, indeed, both-of those referendums, because under his new clause a rejection of the first proposition would trigger an in/out referendum, which might result in the public deciding to stay in the EU. A second referendum on a treaty change might come forward 12 months later and also be rejected, and then, in the course of less than a year, we would find ourselves with two successive referendums on the UK's membership of the EU. That is not a sensible way in which to conduct our relationship with the countries of the EU.
Nor does the new clause address what would happen if there were two questions on a ballot paper in one day, which we debated earlier. Why should a positive vote for one treaty change proposition and a negative vote for a second trigger a referendum? One cannot read into how people cast their votes on treaty change proposals what their view would be of the desirability of a referendum on membership. More fundamentally, however, the new clause does not capture the range of opinions held by the British people. Kate Hoey, whom I completely respect on these matters, said that she wanted people to be able to express a view on the direction that the EU was taking. However, that is not what people are being offered through the new clause, of course. They are being offered the opportunity not to express their view on the direction of the EU, but to say whether the UK should remain a member.
Withdrawing from the European Union is not the only choice for people who are dissatisfied with the current arrangements. There are plenty of people around who want Britain to remain a member of the European Union, but to have certain powers currently exercised in Brussels repatriated to this country. After all, that was the combination of views expressed at the last general election in the Conservative party manifesto, which sought the repatriation of certain powers, but said:
"A Conservative government will play an active and energetic role in the European Union".
My hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg made a strong point when he said that one of the disadvantages of the new clause was that it could weaken the chances of making stick under future Governments of a different political colour the new arrangements for a referendum on any transfer of competence and power to Brussels. It is very much part of this Government's intention that the arrangements embodied in the Bill should become a settled and generally accepted part of our constitutional order. No Parliament or Government can guarantee that any piece of legislation that they bring forward will be immune from amendment or repeal by a future Parliament. However, just as the previous, Labour Government's devolution legislation, which was vigorously opposed by my party at the time, has now become accepted across the House and is something that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister endorses and has frequently declared he is intent on making work better, so, I would argue, it will be possible over the course of time to persuade Mr David and his party that the measures in the Bill are in the national interest and that they will make for a system of government and relations between Westminster and the European Union in which the British people have greater confidence.
Finally, I do not believe that the new clause will provide the additional safeguard during European Union negotiations that a number of my hon. Friends suggested it would. What will strengthen the position of United Kingdom Ministers in negotiations is the knowledge around the table among Ministers from every other member state that if any treaty change is to be agreed and ratified, it will have to enjoy the approval not only of the British Government of the day, but of the British people, expressing themselves through a referendum as provided for in the Bill. I do not think that new clause 11 adds to the safeguards that we have provided. While respecting the integrity of the position of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough, I would ask him not to press his new clause to a Division.
I am grateful for the Minister's kind words at the beginning of his comments, and I am genuinely disappointed that the Government have not accepted my new clause, which would have moved things forward for this country. There is little between us on this issue, so it is a shame that the Minister could not accept the new clause. I will seek to divide the Committee because of what we have heard today. This has been a good debate; indeed, I am surprised that it took off. I was expecting the Division, if we were going to have one, at about 6.30 pm, so at this appropriate juncture I again thank the Whips for arranging for this debate to take place and for allowing so much time. If it had not been for their help last Monday, that would not have happened.
We have heard from a number of hon. and right hon. Members. Let me deal first with Mr MacShane and John Mann, who both made their points powerfully. I disagreed with them, and I entirely hope that they are not in the same Lobby as I am when the Division occurs. Right at the beginning of the debate-it is some time ago now-we heard a powerful and thoughtful speech from my hon. Friend Mark Reckless, who set the tone for the proceedings. We also heard a good speech from my hon. Friend Andrew Percy, whose remarks cheered me up enormously.
Keith Vaz is always worth listening to, and again he did not fail the Committee this evening. He took a principled view-he is greatly in favour of the European Union-that we should have an in/out referendum. An equally able parliamentarian, my hon. Friend Mr Hollobone, took exactly the same view that we should have a referendum, but a completely different view on whether we should be in the European Union.
My hon. Friend Mrs Main took the opposite view to that expressed by my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans, but I think that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset expressed the most important concern in his thoughtful speech. I disagree with his conclusion that the new clause would be more likely to lead to a transfer of powers, but the issue, as developed in today's debate, has not mainly been about that technicality, but about whether we support an in/out referendum. If hon. Members support such a referendum, I urge them to vote for new clause 11.
Once again, Kate Hoey made a remarkable speech. The particular point I took from what she said was that an in/out referendum would revitalise politics. As she rightly said, there would be public meetings up and down the country and the people would be involved in the issue again.
My hon. Friend Mr Shepherd kept the flag flying yet again, as he has done over the years. His speech went to the heart of the issue, but I will reserve my last comment for my hon. Friend Mr Cash, who has fought and fought again on this issue over many years. He summed it up very nicely when he explained that this is not an "in/out" referendum, but a "To be or not to be?" referendum. Are we to be or not to be a democratic nation state?
I urge all Members to make up their minds on the basis of whether they are for or against an in/out referendum. If they are for it, I urge them to vote for new clause 11. I also urge the Whips to allow this to happen, as promised in our manifesto.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the course of the last hour, President Mubarak has announced that he will not seek re-election as the President of Egypt-the culmination, but probably not the end, of the remarkable events of the last few days. Have you received any request from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, or indeed from any other Foreign Office Minister, to make a statement about the consequences of that decision, which will undoubtedly have an impact on British policy towards Egypt, and almost certainly on Britain's policy towards the middle east region?
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving me notice of that point of order. I have not received notification this evening of any intention to make a statement but I know that all Members of the House, as others, have been following this very closely and I am sure that those on the Government Benches have heard his comments this evening.