Amendment proposed (
‘(1A) Before the appointment of the day on which the referendum is to be held, the Secretary of State shall consult the bodies listed in the Schedule (Organisations to be consulted before a referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union) on the merits or otherwise of the United Kingdom remaining a member of the European Union and shall lay before Parliament a report of the consultation.’.—(Mr Bain.)
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
I remind the House that with this we are discussing the following: Amendment 76, page 1, line 4, leave out subsection 2.
Amendment 21, page 1, line 4, leave out from ‘held’ to end of line 6 and insert ‘on
Amendment 3, page 1, line 4, leave out ‘before
Amendment 25, page 1, line 4, leave out ‘
Amendment 22, page 1, line 4, leave out ‘2017’ and insert ‘2014’.
Amendment 23, page 1, line 4, leave out ‘2017’ and insert ‘2015’.
Amendment 24, page 1, line 4, leave out ‘2017’ and insert ‘2016’.
Amendment 26, page 1, line 4, leave out ‘2017’ and insert ‘2018’.
Amendment 27, page 1, line 4, leave out ‘2017’ and insert ‘2019’.
Amendment 77, page 1, line 4, after ‘2017’, insert
‘and not between
Amendment 4, page 1, line 5, leave out subsection (3).
Amendment 58, page 1, line 5, leave out subsection (3) and insert—
‘(3) The Secretary of State shall establish a European Union Referendum Commission to consider the date or dates on which the referendum is to be held.
(3B) The Secretary of State shall by order provide for the date or dates to be implemented as recommended by the Commission.’.
Amendment 59, page 1, line 5, leave out subsection (3) and insert—
‘(3A) The Commission shall consult with and seek to secure agreement from the devolved administrations on the date or dates to be appointed for the referendum.’.
Amendment 62, page 1, line 5, leave out subsection (3) and insert—
‘(3) The date shall be appointed in accordance with the conclusions of the Speaker’s Committee for the Referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union, as established under Schedule (Speaker’s Committee for the Referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union).’.
Amendment 28, page 1, line 5, leave out ‘
Amendment 31, page 1, line 5, leave out ‘
Amendment 29, page 1, line 5, leave out ‘2016’ and insert ‘2014’.
Amendment 30, page 1, line 5, leave out ‘2016’ and insert ‘2015’.
Amendment 32, page 1, line 5, leave out ‘2016’ and insert ‘2017’.
Amendment 33, page 1, line 5, leave out ‘2016’ and insert ‘2018’.
Amendment 12, page 1, line 6, at end insert—
‘(3A) Before appointing the day on which the referendum is to be held under subsection (3) above, the Secretary of State shall consult leaders of the principal faiths represented in the United Kingdom so as to identify days which it would be inappropriate for him to appoint for holding the referendum, and he shall pay due regard to the outcome of those consultations in appointing the day.’.
Amendment 13, page 1, line 6, at end insert—
‘(7) The day on which the referendum is to be held shall not be the same day as—
(b) elections to the European Parliament;
(c) a Scottish parliamentary general election;
(d) a Welsh Assembly general election;
(e) a general election for members of the Northern Ireland Assembly;
(f) any local government election;
(g) a mayoral election in London; and the terms above shall be defined as in section 4 of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011.’.
Amendment 70, page 1, line 6, at end insert ‘, subject to subsection (3A) below.
‘(3A) The Secretary of State may not appoint a day on which the referendum is to be held until he has published a detailed analysis of the consequences of the United Kingdom—
(a) remaining, or
(b) not remaining a member of the European Union, including—
(i) the economic and social consequences of withdrawal from the European Union for the people of the United Kingdom,
(ii) the consequences for the United Kingdom’s overseas territories,
(iii) the consequences for prevention of crime and terrorism in the United Kingdom,
(iv) the consequences for climate change and the environment of the United Kingdom, and
(v) the consequences for the effectiveness of the foreign policy of the United Kingdom.’.
Amendment 78, page 1, line 6, at end insert—
‘(3A) The date appointed under subsection 1(3) must not be less than 28 weeks in advance of the proposed polling day.’.
Amendment 9, page 1, line 14, at end add—
‘(7) The referendum shall be held on Thursday.’.
Amendment 10, page 1, line 14, at end add—
‘(7) The referendum shall be held over two days on a Saturday and Sunday.’.
Amendment 11, page 1, line 14, at end add—
‘(7) The referendum shall be held over three days on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday.’.
New schedule 1—‘Speaker’s Committee for the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union—
( ) There is to be a committee known as the Speaker’s Committee for the Referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union (“the Committee”) to consider the day to be appointed for the referendum.
( ) The Speaker’s Committee shall consist of the Speaker of the House of Commons, who shall be the chair of the Committee, and the following other members, namely—
(a) the Member of the House of Commons who is for the time being the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons;
(b) the Lord President of the Council;
(c) a Member of the House of Commons who is a Minister of the Crown with responsibilities in relation to foreign affairs; and
( ) The member of the Committee specified in subsection (2)(c) shall be appointed to membership of the Committee by the Prime Minister.
( ) The members of the Committee specified in subsection (2)(d) shall be appointed to membership of the Committee by the Speaker of the House of Commons.
( ) The Speaker’s Committee shall make a report to the House of Commons on the exercise by the Committee of their functions.’.
New schedule 2—“Organisations to be consulted before a referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union—
(a) the Confederation for British Industry,
(b) the National Farmers Union,
(c) the Trades Union Congress,
(e) the Association of Chief Police Officers,
(f) Universities UK,
(g) the National Council of Voluntary Organisations,
(h) Friends of the Earth,
(i) the Local Government Association, and
(j) other organisations as the Secretary of State shall see fit.’.
That is not a point of order; it is not a matter for the Chair.
I think the answer to the intervention is closely related to comments I want to make about the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Adam Afriyie, and by Opposition Members, which seeks to bring the date of the referendum forward from 2017, at the latest, to a date in 2014. In responding to those amendments, and accepting the good faith in which they were tabled—
I beg the hon. Gentleman’s pardon. He was hiding at the back. His question to the Minister for Europe two weeks ago was extremely pertinent. He asked when the Prime Minister—or perhaps the Minister—would reveal which powers and competences the Prime Minister wants to repatriate to the UK as a result of the treaty change that is coming. Two weeks ago the Minister would not answer his hon. Friend, so perhaps he will give us an answer today.
Oh dear, dear, Mr Speaker. Labour Members cannot think of something new today, so they just put on the old record and try to repeat it again. I am tempted simply to refer the hon. Gentleman to remarks I made last time we debated this Bill. I pointed out to him achievements that the Government already have to their credit in terms of significant reform of the European Union, from the first ever budget cut, to reform of the fisheries policy of a kind that Labour said it wanted during 13 years in office but was never capable of achieving.
Yet again, the hon. Gentleman has failed this morning to spell out whether his party and leader are prepared to commit themselves to giving the British people a final say over the terms of our membership of the European Union. [Hon. Members: “Give way!] I am giving the hon. Gentleman the answer I believe he deserves. He may believe that the right approach would be for the Government to spell out in 2013 precisely what terms Ministers in a future Conservative Government would hope to put to the European Union after the 2015 general election. I say only that if that is the sort of naive approach to negotiation he currently endorses, it shows why the Labour party so signally failed to achieve much while in office.
Let me return to the points I was addressing to my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor, and others who want to bring the referendum forward to 2014. First, I ask them to consider British circumstances in 2014. We will already have an important referendum on the future of Scotland in the UK. I believe it would be an unnecessary complication to that debate to have a European referendum as well next year. Secondly, I suggest to the House that we should bear in mind the European timetable. Next year there will be elections to the European Parliament and the appointment of a new European Commission. That period will entail a break from normal European business, during which it would simply not be possible to engage in the serious work of reform and renegotiation that so many people on both sides of the House and millions of our fellow citizens want to see.
The choice that the British people deserve is a choice between membership of the European Union on reformed and renegotiated terms or leaving. That is the right choice. I do not believe it would be possible to come to an informed view about that choice as early as next year. It is that understanding of the European context that has led the Government to propose a 2017 date.
I hope it is a point of order.
It is a genuine point of order, because I did not want the House to be inadvertently misled in any way. I simply want to put on record the fact that common fisheries negotiations were well advanced under the previous Labour Government. [Interruption.] I had to make the point.
The hon. Gentleman has made his point. It was not a point of order, as I rather feared it would not be.
I welcome the opportunity to speak to a number of amendments in this group standing in my name. [Interruption.] Given that you ruled on this matter previously, Mr Speaker, I should also make it clear to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Anna Soubry, who is shouting at me from a sedentary position, that these are not frivolous amendments. They are serious amendments. Some are intended to probe the Government’s position; some are amendments that I will wish to put to a vote. In the last few days I have also added my name to two other amendments—amendment 77, in the name of my right hon. Friend Mr Hain and amendment 3, in the name of Adam Afriyie—because it is important that the House should make clear its views about those matters as well as the others.
I have tabled a number of the amendments in this group: amendments 9 to 13, 21 to 33, and 58 and 59. They cover different aspects of this important debate about the timing of the referendum—if it is to be held—as well as related matters, such as the number of days on which the referendum would be held. The Minister—who I assume was speaking for the Conservative party and not the Government—made it clear previously that he believes there are problems with holding a referendum in 2014. One of his arguments is that the choice should simply be between a hypothetical and at this stage undefined renegotiated position and total withdrawal. However, we do not yet know what that renegotiated position will be.
I have received representations, including from people who disagree with my pro-European approach, arguing that the choice should be between the status quo and complete withdrawal. Rather than buying a pig in a poke, we would at least know what the status quo was. That would mean that those who are hostile to the European Union can vote to leave, while those who support it as it is, but with a commitment to work to change it—there are always changes; it is not constant—will know that what they are voting for is something like what we have today.
It might be, but we do not necessarily need to have a referendum. We could say that those who wish to vote to leave the European Union on
I am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. On the status quo, given the urgent question that I had to raise about the charter of fundamental rights, for example, as well as many other things, does he agree that we need fundamental change in the relationship and not necessarily nibbling at the treaties? In fact, we do not want nibbling at the treaties at all.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman, just as other Members, including his predecessor as Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, disagreed with his argument the other day. However, I do not think I would be in order if I went down that route, because that is not the subject before us.
Let me come to the detail of my amendments. As my hon. Friend Kevin Brennan said in his intervention, amendment 21 proposes that the referendum be on the same day as the next general election. One argument for that is that it would save a great deal of money, because the polling stations would already be there, and the publicity and the campaign could be part of the general campaign. There is also a second argument. Moving the referendum to that date would clarify the debate and resolve the issue at the beginning of the next Government, rather than allowing their first 18 months in office to be dominated by this so-called renegotiation, which would divert attention from their priorities for health, education and housing.
I understand the point my hon. Friend is making, but in practice would it not be confusing for hon. Members to be campaigning on behalf of their political parties one moment, but in another moment having to form alliances with colleagues from other political parties on the issue of Europe? Is that not a proposition that would simply not work in practice?
I understand my hon. Friend’s sympathy for those Conservative Members of Parliament who might find themselves having to campaign alongside UKIP, but we know that many Conservative MPs are already trying to reach local arrangements with UKIP so that they will be unopposed at the next general election. My proposal would be a fulfilment, in practice and openly, of what is already happening under the radar.
My hon. Friend’s amendment would not only mean some or most Conservative Members of Parliament campaigning with UKIP; it would also raise the difficulty of some—albeit a few—Conservative Members of Parliament having to campaign with us to remain within the European Union. There would also be the problem that if changes were made to the treaty a couple of years later, then whichever Government were in power would be forced to hold another referendum in the UK, two or three years after already holding one, because of our commitment under the European Union Act 2011.
I accept that; it is another valid argument.
The second amendment I want to comment on is amendment 3, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Windsor. His position is that the referendum should be held in October 2014, five weeks after the referendum on Scottish separatism. I believe that there are problems with that date, because of the proximity to the other date, but I also believe that he is making the same point that I am making about the futility of having a hypothetical renegotiation. The Government have ruled out renegotiating now—the Foreign Secretary told the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that there was no intention of starting any renegotiation in advance of a general election. This is therefore a status quo “as we are” alternative to a complete withdrawal. It is similar to the argument I have just made about holding the referendum a few months later, on the same day as the general election.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the amendment tabled by Adam Afriyie is more politically honest than what has been put forward by the Conservative party and the Prime Minister in that it would allow people to vote on whether we should be in or out of the EU and might force the Prime Minister to concede to saying which way he would vote in such a referendum.
I can see some of the attractions in that. Moreover, the fact that the hon. Member for Windsor added his name to my amendment 22 is indicative of the fact that he is not firmly tied to the date in October 2014; he would just like to hold the referendum before the end of 2014.
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly entitled to use parliamentary tactics to pepper this Bill with different dates for referendums, but I would like to know his real view. If there were a Labour Government, does he think there should be a referendum on whether we should stay in or out?
The hon. Gentleman is a great expert on Friday debates. I am prepared to listen carefully to him if he wishes to make further interventions, but at this stage of my contribution, I want to concentrate on the specifics of my amendments, not on hypothetical questions—[Interruption.] I will answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, but in my own time, a time of my choosing. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I do not have to disrupt the flow and the eloquence of debate on all the different amendments or the order in which I want to discuss them. I will come to his point later. As an expert on what happens on Fridays with private Members’ Bills, the hon. Gentleman will know that his intervention allows me to give more thought and more consideration to my contribution, perhaps making it a little lengthier than would otherwise be the case.
Does my hon. Friend see a real problem with the situation in Scotland, whereby votes will be given to 16 and 17-year-olds for the separatist referendum, as he calls it, yet those same individuals would not be able to vote on the European referendum that could be held on the same day? Is that not a recipe for conflict and confusion?
Yes. The previous set of amendments, on which we have not yet voted, included amendments proposed by a number of hon. Members and were spoken to by many Members, including my hon. Friend Seema Malhotra. They were about the importance of considering votes for 16 and 17-year-olds in any referendum on the European Union. Surely if the young people of Scotland, with the consent and agreement of the UK Government—it would not have been possible to do it otherwise—are able to vote in September 2014, they will probably feel a little bit miffed, to put it mildly, if they are not then allowed to vote a few weeks, months or years later in another referendum. That will not encourage the participation of young people, who will feel that they have been given a democratic right on the one hand, and had it taken away from them on the other.
My hon. Friend, as always, makes an excellent speech. Does he agree with me that to offer 16 and 17-year-olds a vote in one referendum and not in another sends out a confusing message about how mature we believe those 16 and 17-year-olds are to make a decision that is really going to affect their future?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, but I would not wish to stray back into the debates on the earlier group of amendments. We are now talking about other matters.
I was commenting on the possibility of holding the referendum by the end of 2014, as suggested in my amendment 22. To meet people’s concerns about that issue and about whether to hold the referendum on the same day as the general election in May 2015, I have tabled an amendment to allow for greater flexibility. My amendment 23 would allow the referendum to be held by the end of 2015. That would mean, of course, that the Government would have to give some thought rapidly to how their renegotiation strategy could be developed prior to the general election. I am sure that the Liberal Democrats would, as usual, be very accommodating and helpful to their Conservative partners, as they always are on all matters.
This amendment would at least reduce the period of uncertainty. One of my big fears is that a referendum held a long way away will lead to potential delays or even cancellations of suggestions for inward investment into this country from countries such as Korea, Japan, China or the United States that have other European Union potential host countries such as the Netherlands, the Irish Republic and elsewhere. They might choose to go there rather than here if they thought that, four years down the line, the UK might be exiting from the single market and the European Union.
On that very issue, is my hon. Friend aware of what Nissan said a couple of weeks ago? It said that it would reconsider its investment in the UK if Britain leaves the European Union—and there are 6,500 people employed by Nissan in the north-east. Does not my hon. Friend find that to be an extremely worrying scenario?
Absolutely—and it is not just Nissan; it is any major international company that wishes to locate within the European Union to get access to the single market population of 500 million and wishes to be based in a country with a high level of education where large numbers of people speak the English language. Because there is an excellent education system in the Netherlands, that counts as one such country; the Irish Republic would also provide an easy alternative for location if, because of the uncertainty created by a potential referendum and renegotiation leading up to 2017, they chose not to invest in the United Kingdom.
I was dealing with amendment 23, but amendment 24 would allow a little bit more time for the renegotiation. It is not as good as holding it earlier because of the uncertainty and the issues to which I have just referred. Nevertheless, this would allow less uncertainty—one year less uncertainty—than this private Member’s Bill, supported by elements of the Government, would allow.
Given the questions over whether this issue should be properly considered and some doubts about how long the renegotiation might take, I have also tabled amendments to provide an alternative date after the next general election, going beyond 2017. I have suggested—although I shall not press amendments 26 and 27 to the vote—2018 and 2019 as alternatives to allow more time. With 27 other EU states, this renegotiation, if it were to happen, would be extremely difficult. If, of course, the renegotiation is going to be a modest figleaf-type negotiation, it could be done quite quickly. If, however, it is fundamental and has to meet all the demands of the people who want to leave behind all the aspects of the present European Union and go back to being a free trade area or a common market, it would involve a complete disintegration and disentanglement of the UK relationship, requiring an à la carte approach that the other 27 countries are not likely to—I would say, will not—agree to. That would be a problem, so we would need a long time to persuade those other countries of our case.
Does my hon. Friend believe that we would be better informed and able to make a more informed decision on his amendments if the Prime Minister and the Government told us and the British people exactly what type of renegotiation they have in mind—whether it be the all-day breakfast, the à la carte or simply a cheap snack?
Of course we would. However, as the Foreign Secretary made clear in giving evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Government do not propose that. They have this balance of competences review, which is being denounced on some websites, and by some of the more Europhobic commentators, as a put-up job by the Europhiles who run the FCO. [Interruption.] I am not making it up; that is what is being said.
The Prime Minister’s interesting speech to Bloomberg in January was going to happen in 2012, but was delivered in 2013; according to the Foreign Secretary, he made parts of it on behalf of the Conservative party and parts as Prime Minister of a coalition Government. It would greatly benefit this country’s future if the Prime Minister followed that up with another speech in January 2014, in which he set out in great detail his vision—if he has one—of the kind of green-friendly, environmentalist, European Union that he wished to put forward for the future.
I do not want to pre-empt a discussion that we will have later, but it is noticeable that the Electoral Commission has said during its comments on the suggested question that there is a lack of understanding among the population of the United Kingdom about what the European Union does and is. Does my hon. Friend agree that a slightly longer time scale would give the Government the opportunity to put objective arguments, both for and against, to the British people, so that they were better informed about the European Union?
That could happen if the Government were prepared to start putting those arguments. However, as things stand, because the tail is wagging the dog and because the Government are running scared of a party that is polling only 10% or 12%, they are prepared to put this country’s interests at risk and not make the case for European co-operation and the European Union in a positive, regular and consistent manner. Unfortunately, I do not think the issue will be resolved until there is a change of Administration and we have a Government with a commitment to take these issues seriously and put them forward in a positive manner.
I totally agree, although I would have said that the cart was being put before the horse rather than that the tail was wagging the dog. Clearly, the Government are talking about a referendum before deciding what particular competences they want to repatriate.
My hon. Friend has tabled amendments restricting possible later dates for a referendum. I can understand dates earlier than 2017 being up for discussion, but later dates would totally bring into question the likelihood of a new treaty—2019 is six years from now. Given the pressures in the eurozone, a new treaty would be much more likely to happen sooner; it would be fanciful to think that the other 28 members of the European Union could wait until 2019.
As I said, I did not table these amendments to push all of them to a vote. However, I would be interested in the Government’s response to my hon. Friend’s points and my previous remarks.
I want to make progress. I have been generous in taking interventions, but I need to allow time for others to speak. I have added my name to amendment 77, tabled by my right hon. Friend Mr Hain. It is an important amendment because, as the Minister well knows, there is a difficulty. Under the rotating six-month timetable, the United Kingdom is due to hold the presidency of the Council of Ministers between
There will be a period in which the Government—I am sorry; I mean the Conservative part of the Government. I must get that right, but it is very difficult. The Minister, speaking on behalf of the Conservative party from the Front Bench, has said that the preferred date for the referendum is before the end of 2017. Frankly, that could cause all kinds of difficulties and confusions for the United Kingdom presidency. If we had to have a referendum in 2017, it would be logical and sensible to hold it before
If we voted to stay in, the Government would no doubt say, “The British people have supported the European Union. Now we are great Europhiles and go forward in co-operation and friendship, harmony, peace, love and apple pie. Everything is fine.” If, however, there was the question of a referendum in August, September, October or November, we would be in the heat of a referendum campaign in the middle of the British presidency. How could Ministers behave in a governmental role, attending Council of Ministers meetings, chairing meetings and taking part in negotiations and discussions, without taking off the party political hats that they were wearing in their fight in that campaign?
We do not know the terms of the referendum: what, if anything, will have been renegotiated. It is possible that some Ministers will be arguing to leave the European Union, while others—in the same Department or even the same party—will be arguing to stay. What an absurd prospect for a British presidency of the European Union. The best solution is to support amendment 77, on which I hope we can divide the House, through which we can make it clear that the referendum should not be held during the six-month period of the British presidency. It would be absurd to hold it then.
My hon. Friend has made an extremely important point. If there were that element of confusion about where the United Kingdom stood, that would obviously be bad news for the UK and our national interest. Furthermore, it would be debilitating for the European Union as a whole.
The hon. Gentleman is making a good point about how absurd it would be for the referendum—or even the campaign—to take place during the British presidency. The best of his amendments is amendment 58, which would appoint a commission to look into the date and arrangements of the referendum. If that amendment were accepted, could we not do away with most of his other amendments, which one might be tempted to think were rather spinning out the debate?
The hon. Gentleman makes my arguments for me on amendment 58, so I will not repeat them. There are strong arguments to get the correct date through consultation, rather than there being an arbitrary decision put forward by elements within the Government. Better for there to be a commission and, as my amendment 12 says, for there to be consultation with faith organisations to make sure that the dates do not clash with religious festivals and holidays. We are a multicultural, multi-faith country now, so the Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Zoroastrians, Muslims and Christians will all need to be consulted.
I do not want to give way any more, as I want to make progress. I want to conclude my remarks soon.
We need to avoid the prospect of the date clashing with other elections. Amendment 13 deals with that issue because there are regional, local and national elections, by-elections and other elections. It is important for there to be clarity about the date.
Finally, in amendments 9, 10 and 11, I make the case for us to get into the 21st century. Gone are the days when we should vote on only one day—Thursdays. We no longer live in a world in which there is no flexitime or different hours, and in which most people live and work very close to the same place. Those days have gone. Like other countries, we should get into the modern world and allow voting on more than one day—Thursday, Friday and Saturday, or Saturday and Sunday. We need to be more flexible, more open and more democratic. It is crucial that we take account of the modern age. If we are to have this epoch-making referendum, we should at least consider it reflecting the situation in the 21st century.
I have introduced my amendments. I do not wish to delay the House any longer, but I would like to have votes on amendments 3 and 77.
I stand to speak briefly against any amendments, no matter how well intentioned, designed to bring forward the referendum date from 2017. Having campaigned hard with many other colleagues for a referendum in the next Parliament and legislation in this one to make sure that those outside this place really do believe our intent, I very much welcome this referendum Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend James Wharton on bringing it to the Floor of the House.
Only a few years ago, the word “referendum” had hardly passed the Government’s lips, and certainly not the Prime Minister’s, yet here we are today pushing for legislation. I have already sent my thanks to all colleagues on these Benches who supported that campaign. It involved a number of letters signed by 100 colleagues, and also an amendment to the Queen’s Speech, which was well supported on the Conservative Benches and by principled Members on the Labour Benches. Many Members on both sides of the House and, in particular, people outside this place have campaigned on this issue long and hard over many years. It has been a long journey. Indeed, the British people have waited too long to have their say on our continued membership of an organisation that has fundamentally changed since we first joined. As chairman of the all-party group on European Union referendum, I can say that it is a shame that the Labour and the Liberal Democrat parties still do not support the idea of a referendum. I suggest to Members on the Front Benches that they should trust the electorate.
The hon. Gentleman must not keep repeating this idea that the Liberal Democrats are against referendums. We supported a referendum at the time of the Lisbon treaty. We made it quite clear at our party conference that we support the concept of an in/out referendum, and we want the British people to have their say at the right time.
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman made that intervention, because it is clear to everyone, both inside and outside this place, that the Liberals are very good at promising referendums when it comes to a general election, but do not deliver the goods when the time comes. I am afraid that they talk the talk, but do not walk the walk.
Briefly, let me address the central point of the date of the referendum; I am conscious that other Members wish to speak. Pulling the date forward from 2017 would not make for a fair referendum. There would be less time to marshal the facts and to have a true consideration of them. The Prime Minister could rightly say that he has not had time fully to repatriate any powers. If the referendum was held next year, the political establishment would close ranks and push the case for an “in” vote—to remain in the EU—in addition to which we do not have a full explanation of the merits and otherwise of our membership. We need time to nail the lie that leaving the EU would cost 3 million jobs. We need time to allow small businesses, which tend to be more sceptical of EU regulations than big businesses, to find their voice. We need time for the eurozone crisis to play out. We do not know what sort of Europe or European structures we are dealing with in the EU.
I will not give way. If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will continue. We need time for the Prime Minister to try to repatriate those powers to the UK. Success will influence the outcome; failure—if no powers are repatriated—will be plain for all to see. I suggest that a referendum any earlier than 2017 would unfairly stack the odds in favour of staying in.
Obviously, the hon. Gentleman does not want to delay the House for too long, but could he define which powers he wants repatriating? He could even give us a sample.
From my point of view, there are no shortages of powers that need repatriating. Let us be clear—[Interruption.] Let me answer the question. If the Prime Minister fails to repatriate any powers, it will plain for the country to see and it can adjudicate on that. I urge those Members who have tabled amendments to speak to them, but not press them to a Division. The British electorate deserves this Bill; it has waited too long, and, having reached this point, we must not now allow these amendments to scupper our chances.
I want to speak to amendments 68 and 70 and new schedule 2. Before we have a referendum on whether to stay in or come out of the EU, it is important that we consult bodies and organisations. James Wharton should have undertaken such a consultation before assembling a Bill that was designed more to keep his own party together than to better the prospects of his Stockton South constituents in the north-east of England. Let me explain why consultation is so important.
I know that James Wharton has spoken a great deal in the north-east on television and to the newspapers. Does my hon. Friend not find it odd that, despite championing a Bill around the newsrooms and the newspapers of the north-east, he has been completely silent throughout this entire debate?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman intends to speak later. I know how vocal he has been in the region on this issue, but not in the Chamber.
One area that we could consult on is foreign direct investment in the north-east, which is important to the region. Let me explain why we should consult those organisations that promote such investment. Since 1992, inward foreign direct investment flows to the EU have doubled and the UK has become an attractive investment, with the second largest stock of foreign direct investment in the world, although it has fallen since 2010. I will come on to that later and explain why this Bill undermines future investment.
Nissan and Hitachi Rail Europe are two cases in point. On
“If anything has to change, we would need to reconsider our strategy and our investments for the future.”
Nissan employs 6,500 people in Sunderland, and supports 40,000 more jobs in the supply chain. Who in their right minds would jeopardise any further investment in Nissan’s Sunderland plant, especially when the person threatening to cause the uncertainty with this Bill is a north-east MP who lives just 20 miles down the A19 from Nissan itself?
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. The automotive sector is now a world-class success story. Key to that success has been inward investment. Key to inward investment has been membership of the European Union. Does my hon. Friend agree with the warnings not just from Nissan, but from Ford, BMW and Jaguar Land Rover that were there to be prolonged uncertainty or were we to leave the European Union, great damage would be done to the employers of hundreds of thousands of British workers?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and that is why I believe that we should have some consultation with people who bring investment into this country and with other organisations that want to promote jobs not just in the north-east of England but throughout the UK.
My hon. Friend, like me, has visited the Nissan plant in Sunderland and as a Sunderland MP I know just how important Nissan is to the regional economy. In the north-east at the moment, with high levels of unemployment and of long-term youth unemployment, is not this risk and uncertainty the last thing we need hanging over jobs and investment?
I agree with my hon. Friend. In a moment, I shall come on to the importance of Nissan. It is not just important to the north-east: 81% of Nissan’s cars are exported and 56%, or 279,000 vehicles, are exported to Europe. Nissan’s exports are worth £4.3 billion. It spends £1.4 billion on local suppliers and its wage bill is £331 million, money that goes into the north-east economy.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point about the impact on the automotive industry. Did he see “Channel 4 News” last night? It is not just the automotive industry that would be affected by the decision and is being affected by the debate. A senior representative from Goldman Sachs—from the banking industry in which the Conservative party places so much faith—talked about the prospect of that company pulling out of London altogether if there is a referendum to exit the EU.
None of the issues being raised by my hon. Friends should be considered lightly. They are important issues for the future of the economy and over the next four years, if the Bill is passed, it will create nothing but uncertainty for those people who want to see jobs for their constituents.
My hon. Friend referred to amendment 70. Is not one of the problems with that amendment the fact that the Secretary of State would be responsible for producing the report? Given that when my hon. Friend remarked on the dangers of investors withdrawing from Britain, Conservative Members shouted “Rubbish”, could we trust a Conservative Secretary of State to produce an independent report? Would it not be better for the report to be produced by an independent body?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We need an independent report to prove why staying in Europe is vital.
Let me finish my comments on Nissan by giving some other statistics. Nissan has said that if the UK leaves the EU its export potential to Europe would be hit by 10% tariffs on exports of vehicles and 5% on components. That is a company worth consulting before embarking on a Bill, the contents of which will cause four years of uncertainty for the UK and the north-east economy.
Nissan might be 20 miles away from Stockton South, but the Hitachi Rail Europe factory is even closer. It started its construction phase this month in Newton Aycliffe in my constituency, which is adjacent to Stockton South. The president of Hitachi, Hiroaki Nakanishi, said on
“any exit…could lead to less investment”.
He also said:
“The UK should be a member of the European Union from the standpoint of our operations”,
and went on to say:
“For Japanese businesses, the UK and the Continent are very complementary”.
Rather worryingly for my constituents and, I should have thought, for those of the hon. Member for Stockton South, Mr Nakanishi also said Hitachi
“would have to reconsider how to manage our total railways business”.
Alistair Dormer, the chief executive officer of Hitachi Rail Europe, was reported in The Northern Echo on
“We regard Europe as potentially our biggest market and we should not want anything to happen that would damage the relationship and put up barriers, we should stay in”.
Hitachi’s investment will bring train building back to the north-east of England, initially creating 730 jobs with 3,000 more potentially in the supply chain. As I said, the construction phase of the factory started this month. The Secretaries of State for Transport and Business, Innovation and Skills were at the launch on
Obviously, the hon. Gentleman wants Britain to stay in the European Union. That is perfectly okay and he can make those arguments in a referendum. Is he in favour of a referendum, and if so, when?
I do not agree with a referendum in four years’ time given that nobody knows what the question will be. That will create a lot of uncertainty which will threaten jobs not just in my constituency but everywhere else in the country. Those are the issues that I believe the hon. Gentleman should recognise.
“Mr Wharton is the Conservative MP for Stockton South, whose private member’s Bill will see MPs vote this Friday on whether to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership with the EU.”
The report went on:
“It’s ironic that the Tory backbencher was happy to celebrate the investment Hitachi is making in the North-East, while championing a cause that jeopardises the region’s chances of securing similar job boosts in the future.”
I could not agree more.
I thank my hon. Friend for reminding the House of what The Northern Echo said. Would it not be greatly advantageous not only to the House but to his constituents, the people of the north-east and The Northern Echo if James Wharton at least made a contribution to the debate? This is yet another occasion on which he has remained silent.
I have been as disciplined as I can, Mr Speaker, as I do not wish to drag out the debate. However, I am tempted to remind the hon. Gentleman, who has taken such an interest in investment and job creation in the north-east, that it was Margaret Thatcher who brought Nissan, it was under this Government that we got Hitachi and that it was this Government who returned steelmaking to Teesside after it closed under Labour. A referendum will end uncertainty by giving people a clear choice. He might want to use the arguments he has put forward to argue that we stay in, and that will be his choice when the time comes. The fact remains that if we want to end uncertainty we need to give people a say and bring the debate to an end.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should make a speech on these issues. Let us not forget that I am pleased about the investment Nissan brought to this country in the 1980s. I also remember that for every job it created five other jobs were lost. Also, let us not forget that a Conservative Government brought in the Single European Act in the first place.
I agree with my hon. Friend.
The next time the hon. Member for Stockton South wants to turn up to a Hitachi event in my constituency to try to get his photograph in the paper, he should not be surprised if my constituents ask him, “What are you doing here? Aren’t you the man whose private Member’s Bill is threatening our jobs?” They know that the investment from Hitachi was the result of a Labour initiative, not a Conservative initiative. The intercity express programme was nearly stopped by this Government but was put back on track by a north-east-led campaign, which did not include the hon. Gentleman. We know the importance of foreign direct investment.
It is not only major companies that need to be consulted, as tens of thousands of other jobs are reliant on the EU, whether they are with exporters or suppliers.
I want to make some progress, if my hon. Friend does not mind.
More than 140,000 jobs in the north-east will be affected if we left the EU. That is 33,000 in County Durham, 25,000 in Teesside, 19,000 in Northumbria and 30,000-odd in Tyneside. Jobs would also be lost in Cumbria. In Stockton South, 5,200 jobs would be affected or are reliant in some way on the EU. In Sedgefield, the figure is 6,500.
Of those north-east firms that export, 89% do so with EU customers. Three of the north-east’s top five export markets are in the EU: the Netherlands, France and Spain. If the hon. Member for Stockton South had consulted the North East chamber of commerce, he would have heard the organisation’s head of policy, Ross Smith, say:
“For a Region so successful in exports, the EU…remains crucial. Our…studies clearly demonstrate that our businesses want to remain part of the single market.”
I would like to make some progress.
Total exports from the north-east to the EU last year were worth £6.5 billion, which was nearly half the region’s total. In a survey for Business for Britain, 6% of businesses said that they would close if we left the EU. That would mean the loss of 1.5 million jobs in Britain, including 40,000 in the north-east, at an average of 1,300 per north-east constituency. I am pleased that I am not jeopardising those jobs by supporting the Bill.
Foreign direct investment is important to the UK economy and the north-east. FDI has fallen in the north-east since 2010, but let me explain why the Bill, given the lack of consultation on its creation, would make matters worse. A recent Ernst and Young report on FDI called “No room for complacency” said:
“The number of FDI projects secured by most English regions, excluding London, declined in 2012. Investments in England outside of London were 24% below their level in 2010—a decline that has coincided with the closure of the Regional Development
Agencies…and the switch to Local Enterprise Partnerships…If it continues, the weakness of the English regions could damage the UK’s overall ability to attract FDI in comparison to countries such as France and Germany”.
“56% of investors in Western Europe feel that if the UK were less integrated into the EU it would become less attractive for FDI”.
It also says:
“the position of London is now so pronounced that if the UK were to be considered without London, it would be placed joint third alongside Spain in attracting new investment.”
All that underlines my basic point that at a time of difficulties in attracting foreign investment, it is absolutely ridiculous to create even more uncertainty by proceeding with the Bill.
Perhaps there are other people whom the hon. Member for Stockton South should have heard from, because if he had consulted more widely than just the various factions of the Conservative party for whom coming out of Europe is an anecdote for the loss of empire, he would not have touched this Bill with a bargepole. He should have spoken to people such as Paul Everitt, the chief executive of the ADS group, who says:
“UK exports are crucial to rebalancing the economy and last year alone, aerospace sales to Europe were worth £7.5 billion. But the EU is more than just a large market for ADS’s sectors. It’s also a significant source of additional funding for R&D investment in the UK and plays an integral role in shaping the regulatory environment for the sector’s key customers and suppliers...The priority must be to maintain these opportunities for exports, investment and influence in Europe in order to support the UK’s growth and global competitiveness.”
Does my hon. Friend agree that one European success story has been Airbus? This week’s announcement by the Emirates airline of its order of 50 A380 aircraft is a good sign that Britain benefits from EU membership, but such benefits could be jeopardised if we were not part of a single market.
Despite everything the hon. Gentleman is saying, does he agree that it is essential that we have a referendum before the end of 2014, because we are already in a process of constitutional and fundamental change? Renegotiating the treaties will do no more than nibble at things, so it is absolutely essential that we have a referendum in the interests of the British people.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman would make an intervention during my speech, so I looked at the number of jobs in Stone that are reliant on Europe. The number is nearly 6,000, so he should think carefully about supporting the Bill.
The hon. Member for Stockton South should also have consulted Steve Elliott, the chief executive of the Chemical Industries Association. That industry is very important in Teesside, and Mr Elliott said:
“With 50% of our exports destined for continental Europe, the UK’s largest manufacturing exporter—the chemical industry—has every reason for the country to remain as part of the European
Union. It is earlier and smarter engagement at all levels—member state, the Commission and the Parliament—that will address our sector’s chief concerns around energy and regulation and strengthen Britain’s chances when competing globally for sustained economic growth and jobs.”
I shall finish by saying this—[Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] Conservative Members obviously do not want to hear the facts of how the Bill would impact on the north-east of England and the UK economy. I honestly do not know how the hon. Gentleman will be able to explain to his constituents the need to extend the age of uncertainty that he intends to thrust on them through the Bill, but I believe that they will pay him back at the ballot box in 2015 by returning a Labour MP for Stockton South.
I rise to speak to amendment 62 and new schedule 1, which I tabled, and to support a range of other measures, including new schedule 2. As has been clear from the debate so far, this contentious matter is dividing the House and, to an extent, the country at large, so getting the date of a referendum right is crucial, which was why I tabled my amendment and new schedule. I am worried about the uncertainty that is being generated by the Conservative party as a result of this debate, yet that uncertainty is added to by the question of the date. If there is to be a referendum, it is crucial that it is held on a date whereby it will cause the minimum amount of disruption and difficulty, and the least uncertainty for the business community on which many millions of people rely for their livelihoods and on which the strength of the British economy depends.
I therefore propose establishing a Speaker’s Committee, because there could be no better way of providing reassurance than for such a Committee to determine the referendum date. That process would offer some comfort to those who are alarmed by the current debate, because they would understand that there would not be an arbitrary date, with all the ramifications that flow from that. A Speaker’s Committee would be able to consider the matter in the cold, calm light of day, instead of it being determined in the cockpit that is the Floor of the House.
It might be helpful if I illustrate my point by quoting George Cowcher, the chief executive of the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire chamber of commence, who says:
“As the world’s largest single market, Europe will always be a key trading partner for the UK. Being successful there remains central to the future growth and development of a significant majority of companies in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Business hates uncertainty and that’s what will be caused by this.”
There is no justification for adding to that uncertainty, so surely it would be better to minimise it by establishing a Speaker’s Committee to address that real concern.
There is a lot of merit in my hon. Friend’s suggestion because there are a number of precedents of the Speaker taking the lead by establishing a forum, Committee or conference to discuss complex constitutional matters. Does he agree that such precedents enormously reinforce his argument?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point, which I was going to incorporate in my speech. I agree that there are such precedents, so it would be sensible to consider establishing a Speaker’s
Committee on one of the most important—if not the most important—issues that we have ever had to face, certainly in modern times.
The British public and British business want to ensure that the date is set in the national interest, not in the partisan interest of the Conservative party. Business knows and we all know—I would like to think that anyone here with a modicum of common sense knows—that the single market is absolutely key. In his comments, my hon. Friend Phil Wilson referred to Nissan, a massive investment in the north-east of England which is put in jeopardy as a consequence of the uncertainties created by this debate. Those uncertainties are added to by the uncertainty as to whether the date of the referendum is in the national interest.
My hon. Friend was speaking about the potential negative economic consequences of the proposal to delay the referendum as long as possible. Does he believe that this economic uncertainty and the damage that it causes is one of the things that was in the mind of Mr Cameron when he said in 2010 that he was against an in/out EU referendum?
Indeed, but the problem for the Prime Minister is that he has been taken prisoner by extremists in his own party who are determined, irrespective of the national interest—their little Englander mentality has captured the Prime Minister. He is being held hostage by the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative party and he has done a volte-face on the date of the referendum.
We are offered a choice between a Speaker’s Committee made up of elected Members in amendment 62 and a kind of quango in amendment 58 to which my hon. Friend Mike Gapes spoke earlier. Does my hon. Friend Chris Williamson agree that it would be better if such a body comprised elected politicians, rather than it being some worthy appointed quango, as in amendment 58?
As my amendment 58 has been mentioned, I thought I should make a brief intervention. I have considered carefully what my hon. Friend has been saying and I think there is merit in his position. I was not aware of the amendment that he had tabled when I tabled mine, but I can see that on balance it would be better to have a committee of the kind that he proposes, so if we get the opportunity to vote on it, I shall support his amendment.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was in no way seeking to be critical of him. His amendment was a big improvement on what was available in the Bill. There is a very real concern across the country and in the business community, which has been articulated by senior business leaders, that the referendum and the date on which it is held could jeopardise a huge benefit to the country, because the single market is worth between £62 billion and £78 billion to this nation. That is £3,000 per household, so if we are to have a referendum, getting the date right is crucial. We do not want to put in further jeopardy that huge benefit to the British economy and all those millions of British workers who rely on the European Union for their livelihood.
When the hon. Gentleman refers to extremists, is he aware that France, Ireland, Holland and Denmark have all had referendums? There is nothing extreme about that. Furthermore, to hold a referendum before the end of 2014 has enormous attractions and I will vote for it. I raised the issue in my debate against Nigel Farage in the party conference this year, and I also made a speech and put out a press release the previous year, calling for the same position.
Mr Cash refers to referendums in Ireland and Denmark. He is well aware, because he is very experienced in these matters, that they were not in/out European Union referendums. They were referendums on aspects of treaty change, similar to what might happen if there were another European convention or treaty change in a few years, which is the existing Government policy. His argument is therefore not valid.
My hon. Friend is right and makes the point that I was about to make in response to Mr Cash.
We need a much more measured approach. That is why I have proposed my amendments. This is a vitally important constitutional issue. Consideration must be undertaken calmly, not in the cockpit which is the Floor of the House of Commons. What could be better than a committee chaired by the Speaker, whose membership included the Lord President of the Council—the Deputy Prime Minister—the Minister responsible for foreign affairs and five Members who are not Ministers, to deliberate on the issue? That would be far better than a knee-jerk primary legislative approach, which is what is available to us under the Bill.
The question of a referendum is such a divisive issue, so it would to some extent be legitimised by the establishment of a Speaker’s Committee. For that reason I hope Members on the Government Benches will have heard the points that I have made, will reflect calmly on their position, and if they insist on going forward with a referendum, will at least accede to this reasonable request for a Speaker’s Committee, which would enable a measure of consensus to be brought to bear on the issue.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Chris Williamson and the contributions from my hon. Friend Mr Bain, my right hon. Friend Mr Hain, and my hon. Friends the Members for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) and for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson), and to have had the chance to listen to the contributions from Adam Afriyie and more recently Mr Baron.
I shall come to amendment 68, the lead amendment, in due course, but I begin with amendment 3 in the name of the hon. Member for Windsor. I pay tribute to him. Despite considerable pressure to present a façade of party unity, he has stuck to his guns and followed through on his determination to press for a referendum next year. I can immediately see three tempting reasons why the House might want to support the hon. Gentleman’s amendment. First, as the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay reminded us, the whole House knows that the Prime Minister and many in the Conservative party are obviously on different pages with regard to Europe. Amendment 3 therefore offers us the chance to underline once again just how divided the Conservative party is on that great European obsession of theirs.
The second tempting reason to support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Windsor is that if one believed that the Prime Minister will not or cannot repatriate sufficient powers and competences from the European Union to Britain, which I think is the view of Mr Cash, through the treaty change that he believes is coming, and by the entirely arbitrary deadline that the Bill establishes, one might be tempted to think, “Well, let’s just crack on with a referendum next year.” The third tempting reason is that the pragmatist in all of us in the House today can recognise that the British and the European calendars are likely to be so busy in the run-up to the end of 2017 that the best time for a referendum might be next year.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman attended the Second Reading debate. My right hon. Friend Mr Alexander, the shadow Foreign Secretary, clearly set out our position on the question of a referendum. Let me restate it for the benefit of the House. If there has been a significant transfer of powers to the European Union, of course we are committed to the principle of a referendum.
Indeed, that was the position of every one of the main parties in this House. The only party that has changed its position since is the Conservative party, and we all know that that is because Sir Edward Leigh and other Conservative Back Benchers have bullied the Prime Minister into bringing forward this commitment now.
Let me go into a little more detail on the three tempting reasons to support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Windsor. All of us remember that the Bill and its 2017 end date is the Prime Minister’s best effort to bridge the chasm within the Conservative party on Europe. It is the product of the unprecedented Back-Bench rebellion against the Queen’s Speech earlier this year. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman and many of those who want to vote for his amendment either simply want to leave the EU or are quite frightened of UKIP. They know that the Prime Minister’s pledge is a stunt to keep them on board. Conservative councillors in the constituency of James Wharton certainly know it is a stunt. We have seen a three-line Whip, photos on College green, and Michael Green getting involved. It is just Lynton Crosby weaving away at the emperor’s new clothes so that the Prime Minister can put on the pretence of a united party.
With the greatest respect, I do not accept that. Both sides of the House, if they are being honest, recognise that the Bill, in the words of one of the Conservative councillors in the constituency of the hon. Member for Stockton South, is nothing more than a cynical political stunt.
I wonder whether the hon. Member for Windsor really thinks that the 2017 referendum will actually happen. I think that the Foreign Secretary possibly, but the Minister for Europe certainly, has already contemplated circumstances in which the commitment could be overturned. Perhaps it was that very fear that led the hon. Gentleman, like me, to read the Committee stage reports. Pressed by Martin Horwood during the Committee’s second sitting on
“I think that having a deadline in legislation usually focuses minds on the notion that negotiations cannot and should not be open-ended.”
That is a line that the Foreign Secretary would not be embarrassed by. It is a line of which Lynton Crosby would have approved.
So far, the Minister for Europe was sticking to the Conservative party line. But then the edifice began to crumble. He went on:
“Clearly, no Parliament can bind its successors”,
so why on earth do I have to be here on a Friday when I could be in Harrow helping my constituents if this is nothing more than a party political stunt? The Minister for Europe did not stop there, but went on:
“It is always open for new primary legislation to be introduced in a crisis”.––[Official Report, European Union (Referendum) Bill Public Bill Committee,
What we have there is the Minister for Europe quietly saying, “We might need to change this legislation”; quietly saying that the 2017 deadline is not an absolute after all; that legislation could be introduced to change it, or even, presumably, to scrap it. So yes, I am drawn to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Windsor, and want to reject the cynicism of the Prime Minister’s supposed pledge.
I come to the second tempting reason why I and other Labour Members may want to vote for the hon. Gentleman’s amendment. I share his scepticism that the Prime Minister will be able to deliver what the hon. Gentleman wants. The truth is that none of us knows what powers and competences the Prime Minister wants to bring back, because he has kicked that question into the deepest of long grass, called the balance of competences review.
And my right hon. Friend rightly points out that the Minister would not answer the question today.
I have searched high and low for a hint of what the Leader of the Conservative party might want to do on that question. As my right hon. Friend said, the Minister for Europe has been asked directly a number of times, and has not given a straight answer. The hon. Member for Gainsborough asked him directly, and did not get a straight answer either.
One hopes that the Prime Minister might listen to the warnings of the former Deputy Prime Minister, and that he will listen to other business leaders who have warned about the uncertainty of a referendum.
But I come back to this search to understand what powers and competences the Prime Minister might want to bring back to the UK. The Minister for Europe will not give us an answer, so I read the Hansard reports of the Committee stage at great length, but there is no sign there either of what powers and competences the Prime Minister wants to bring back. In desperation, I faced up to the challenge of reading the speeches of the Minister for Europe. During all that time that I will never get back I fought the urge to sleep, and I am sure that, being the excellent boss he is, the shadow Foreign Secretary will now want to make sure that I get more than just a Christmas card in the post at the end of the year.
Having waded through the Minister’s speeches, I reached two conclusions: first, his civil servants are just finding him things to do. The speeches were not that different, although they were in lots of different places. Secondly, and much more serious, I do not think he has a clue what powers and competences the Prime Minister wants to bring back to the UK.
I cannot speak for the Minister, only for myself, but some of us want something very simple. We want to be able to control our own borders, fishing, agriculture and courts, and we want to stop small businesses being hit by ever more regulation. That is very clear and very simple, and that is the renegotiation that we want.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and it is one of the reasons why I have always supported the campaign to get him on to his party’s Front Bench. I hope that the Minister for Europe has listened to the call for clarity from his Back Benches, and even at this point will intervene on me to tell the House what powers and competences he wants to get back.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I want to make a bit more progress on something in which I think he will be very interested.
The hon. Member for Windsor tabled his amendment before the European Scrutiny Committee had completed its task of reviewing the significance of the justice and home affairs opt-out decision, and all those responsibilities that the Government want to opt back into. At paragraph 552 on page 148 of its report, it said that the Home Secretary had made it clear that the block opt-out was
“first and foremost about bringing powers back home.”
That is a view apparently shared by the Justice Secretary, who is also quoted in the report as saying that he regarded it as
“part of a process of bringing powers back to this country.”
But, sadly, the European Scrutiny Committee reached a very different conclusion. After examining a series of witnesses, it said:
“We see little evidence of a genuine and significant repatriation of powers.”
Given that the balance of competences review has dragged on and on, and will no doubt drag on some more, if the Minister for Europe cannot tell the House soon what powers and competences the Prime Minister wants to repatriate, the scepticism in his own party’s ranks, never mind throughout the country, will just grow and grow.
What we really want is to bring the government of the United Kingdom back to the United Kingdom, which will require fundamental constitutional change, so nibbling at the treaties will make no difference to that.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for intervening on me to tell the Minister for Europe what he wants, but the Minister shows no signs of getting up to intervene and tell the House what powers and competences the Prime Minister wants to get back and whether they will meet the Gentleman’s ambitions.
Thirdly, I suspect that the hon. Member for Windsor can make common cause with other Members who have tabled similar amendments to change the date of any referendum. My right hon. Friend the Member for Neath and my hon. Friends the Members for Ilford South, for Glasgow North East and for Derby North have suggested in amendment 77 that the period from July to December 2017, when Britain holds the presidency of the European Union, should be avoided. Surely that will be this country’s moment of maximum influence in Europe, when the Prime Minister of the day chairs the European Council and can set the agenda and force the rest of the European Union to consider Britain’s priorities. At that moment the Conservative party would have all the machinery and influence of Government focused not on fighting Britain’s corner but on fighting Tory Eurosceptics. It is diplomatic nonsense. It is not worthy of a Foreign Secretary supposedly serious about fighting for our national interest.
As the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South, amendments 21 to 27, and his speech underlined, the complete lack of flexibility in the Bill over dates for a referendum is surprising. In Committee the hon. Member for Cheltenham set out the perfectly plausible possibility that negotiations on treaty change might be ongoing as the Bill’s arbitrary deadline approached. Indeed, in Committee the Minister half accepted that such negotiations, involving many countries and considerable complexity, could still be taking place, but he was not prepared to allow any flexibility in the legislation. Ministers could be in the middle of crucial negotiations, but rather than concentrating on completing them just when they are in their most sensitive stage, they would have to switch all their attention from fighting Britain’s corner to fighting a referendum campaign. How on earth could such a situation be in the national interest? Is not the truth that the fruitcakes are not in UKIP; they have just been gobbled up by Ministers.
Despite my sympathy for what I think are the motivations of the hon. Member for Windsor, I cannot recommend support for his amendment. Given that for 40 of the past 41 months since the Conservative party took power prices have risen faster than wages, as a country we should be spending the next year concentrating on improving living standards, increasing the number of well paid jobs and tackling energy bills. A referendum next year, or indeed in four years’ time, would make that task harder as a result of all the uncertainty it would bring.
Consultation with a wider field of national bodies and local government, as amendment 68, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East, suggests, might have enabled the Prime Minister to withstand the pressure from the Tory right over timing. Why was a referendum later in the next Parliament ruled out? There does not appear to have been any input in that decision by any recognised national or local grouping, yet the Bill rules out such flexibility. Is not the truth that too many Conservative Members, because they do not trust the Prime Minister on matters European, are unwilling to trust him on the issue of a referendum beyond the halfway point of the next Parliament?
Let us consider the merits of amendment 68. When the Prime Minister decided to take the risk of allowing Britain to leave the European Union, at a potential average cost of £3,000 to the living standards of the British people, there was probably no one in the room who was not a member of the Conservative party, apart from Lynton Crosby. There was no one else to give the Prime Minister a view on whether a referendum might be in the national interest, or indeed, if a referendum were in the national interest, how it should be conducted and what information should be available when it took place.
On the amendment tabled by our hon. Friend Mr Bain, does my hon. Friend not agree that this consultation is extremely important and necessary, given that the Bill has not been treated, as it should have been, as a constitutional Bill, with pre-legislative scrutiny and an opportunity for evidence-taking? We must have the amendment; otherwise, we will never know what enormously important stakeholders in this country believe.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, as indeed has our hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East. She points to the consultation deficit that is implicit in the way the referendum has been brought forward.
Nobody seriously doubts that a referendum will inject uncertainty into British economic life, putting at risk our constituents’ jobs and opportunities for higher living standards. The amendment offers the prospect of serious voices from outside the narrow confines of the Conservative party contributing to the debate on whether a referendum might be held and, if so, when and how. They would be calmer voices than those of Conservative Members terrified of losing their seats. When there is increasing talk about the possibility of interest rates rising, it is hard to believe that the Prime Minister is willing to risk such a huge cut in the living standards of the British people—£3,000 a year per household, according to the CBI—simply to try to maintain the fiction of unity over Europe among Conservative Members.
New schedule 2, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East, specifically suggests that the CBI should be consulted. I would welcome that, because a dose of realism about the stakes involved in a decision to leave the European Union is sorely needed. Any debate on whether, when and in what circumstances a national referendum should be held should surely be informed by contributions from those recognised as representing some of the major interests and communities in the UK.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Does he agree that a strength of amendment 70, also tabled by our hon. Friend Mr Bain, is that it would flush out hidden agendas, because it is apparent that behind the notion of repatriation lies a desire to move down the path towards Beecroft Britain? Our country cannot succeed on the basis of a race to the bottom on pay and conditions.
My hon. Friend makes a good point on the case for amendment 70 and the real motivations behind the Conservative campaign to get us out of Europe.
A formal consultation with the organisations listed in new schedule 2 could certainly help the whole House, and Conservative Members in particular, reach a more rounded consideration of the circumstances in which a referendum would be in the national interest. It is far from clear that on matters European the Conservatives are able to reach a rational judgment on what is in the national interest, so consultation with a range of organisations beyond the 1922 committee may help us all.
We have heard from some Conservative Members about their dislike of the idea that business should be consulted formally. That is extraordinary: Conservatives turning away from business voices in this debate. Perhaps it is because one part of the business community, TheCityUK, last month published research into the views and mindset of captains of the financial services industry on the issues we are discussing in these amendments. It revealed that over 40% of those surveyed agreed that the prospect of a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union in 2017 has created an uncertainty that is affecting decisions in their business. Over a third said that it was likely that their firm would relocate at least some of its headcount from the UK to a location within the single market if Britain left the European Union. That is just one part of the business community.
I am not going to give way.
That is just one part of a critical national interest that should be consulted on whether a referendum should be held and, if so, when, underlining the risk the Prime Minister is creating of British jobs being lost to France, Germany or some other country in the single market as a result of his wanting to sleepwalk out of the European Union.
I have given way to Government Members a number of times and I want to conclude my remarks.
My hon. Friend’s amendment lists a whole series of sensible organisations that have a view on the arrangements for the referendum. He has excluded one group, but his catch-all line on other bodies that the Secretary of State might see fit to consult would perhaps allow for ex-Prime Ministers. Both recent Labour Prime Ministers could offer sound advice to the Conservative party on Europe, and it would appear that the most recent previous Conservative Prime Minister could offer it sound advice too.
My hon. Friend’s amendment ought not to have been even remotely necessary. I welcome the fact that he tabled it and look forward to his winding up the debate, but I say gently to the Minister for Europe that he really needs to give this House some clarity soon about what powers and competences the Prime Minister wants to bring back to the UK as a result of the treaty change he believes is coming.
This has been a very interesting and timely debate. Sadly, nothing we have heard from James Wharton—the promoter of the Bill—or from the Minister who speaks for the Conservative party but perhaps not for the Government has dissuaded me from my view that we need to test the opinion of the House and ensure that this debate is not simply an issue for different factions of the Conservative party but involves the proper consultation of wider interests in this country before the date for a referendum is set.
As the debate has continued, we have seen increasingly clearly the number of jobs and the amount of prosperity that would be put at risk if the voices of businesses, trade unions, farmers, environmentalists, universities, the voluntary sector, local government and other institutions throughout our society are not listened to. These bodies have a strong interest in remaining part of the European Union and in seeing the benefits of the single market continue for decades to come.
We heard short speeches from the hon. Members for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) and for Windsor (Adam Afriyie)—
I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the No Lobby.
The House having divided:
I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the Aye Lobby.
The House having divided:
I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the Aye Lobby.
The House having divided:
I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in both the Aye and No Lobbies.
The House having divided: