Tuesday, 25 January 2011

BILL CASH "COUNTRY FIRST, CONSTITUENTS SECOND, PARTY THIRD"

Clause 1 — Interpretation of Part 1
European Union Bill (Programme)(No. 2)
House of Commons debates, 24 January 2011, 4:12 pm

William Cash (Stone, Conservative)

"The hon. Gentleman has referred to Professor Hix's evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee. Will he note that the professor also said that previous EU amending treaties-Maastricht under a Conservative Government and Amsterdam and Nice under a Labour Government, as well as the Lisbon treaty-should all have been subjected to referendums? If the conditions of the Maastricht referendum campaign, which I founded and which had about 750,000 signatures, had been implemented by the Government at the time-let alone those for Amsterdam and Nice-is it not right to say that we would not be sitting here today discussing this nonsense?"

Wayne David (Caerphilly, Labour)

"I am aware of all Professor Hix's comments, and I was careful to say earlier that I did not agree with all his remarks. The point remains, however, that he is fundamentally opposed to the idea of having a multiplicity of referendums, for the reasons that he outlined to the Committee."


Charlie Elphicke (Dover, Conservative)

The hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that Professor Hix also went on to say:

"I think there should have been a referendum on Maastricht, on Amsterdam, on Nice...on the Lisbon treaty".

"That is surely significant. The Bill is all about ensuring that, having been cheated of referendums on those treaties in the past, we can now have referendums on other matters, enabling the House to give greater consideration to them before passing away powers to Europe. The committee proposed in the hon. Gentleman's new clause 9 would not achieve that."

Wayne David (Caerphilly, Labour)

"With all due respect, I must point out that the hon. Gentleman has made exactly the same point that Mr Cash has just made. I therefore give him the same answer: I was careful to say earlier that I did not agree with all of Professor Hix's comments, but the central thesis that he presented to the European Scrutiny Committee was that there should be referendums on major constitutional issues, not on the minutiae of legislation as is proposed in the Bill, and this Bill is what we are now debating.

It is important for us to recognise that having a proper national debate on technical issues presents a real problem. If this were to happen, it might mean that debates focused on other issues and voters might not vote on the question on the ballot paper. That is perhaps a fundamental problem with all referendums, but it is certainly the case with referendums on issues that are highly technical and very specific. A second problem is that such referendums might attract only very low turnouts. For many people, a shift from unanimity to qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers on the issue of permanent structural co-operation might not be a huge motivator to come out and vote."

Anne Main (St Albans, Conservative)

"I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman really means to imply that the voting public are so dim that they cannot understand the question asked of them. I seriously hope that that is not what he is saying."


Wayne David (Caerphilly, Labour)

"The hon. Lady should realise that all Members have had enormous difficulty understanding this Bill. Can she, hand on heart, say that she understands every dot and comma of the Bill before us? Please answer."


Anne Main (St Albans, Conservative)

"With the greatest respect, I think the hon. Gentleman is dodging the question. I asked him whether he felt that the voting public were too dim to understand the question put on a referendum, as he seemed to imply that they were."


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Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry, Conservative)

I thank my hon. Friend, because every time he stands up, he educates me with a fact that I do not know.

The Labour proposals, in particular amendment 92, seek to redefine the referendum condition for UK ratification of amending treaties. As I will spell out in a couple of minutes, the proposed referendum committee would have to ask both Houses for agreement. As my hon. Friend Stephen Gilbert said, there must be agreement by both Houses before there is a referendum. The amendments are anti-referendum, anti-people and anti-common sense.

Currently, the referendum condition is that an Act approving an amending treaty must provide that its approval will not be effective until the ratification of the treaty has been supported in a referendum. Under amendment 92, the referendum condition would require an Act approving a treaty to provide that its approval will not come into force until the whole procedure has been completed. If the hon. Member for Caerphilly is to be believed, that procedure would involve the European Union referendum committee delivering a recommendation on whether a referendum should be held, both Houses of Parliament opposing or agreeing to the holding of a referendum, and a majority being in favour of ratification in a referendum on the treaty. The Bill's main alternative, which is the exemption condition for UK ratification of amending treaties, would remain intact. That means that an Act approving an amending treaty could state simply that the treaty did not fall within clause 4-the definition of a transfer of competence or power-and a referendum would not be held.

Essentially, the hon. Member for Caerphilly is selling us a sop. There would be a whole procedure to go through, but a clause that says that there might not be a referendum would not be amended. Amendment 92 is not clear. It is probable that the redefined referendum condition would be met if an approving Act required a referendum to be held on the amending treaty, and if that produced a supportive result, without the EU referendum committee having made a recommendation on whether a referendum should be held. By seeking to amend some parts of the Bill and to leave other parts standing, the hon. Gentleman is confusing the point. I suspect that that is a deliberate ploy, because I am not convinced that the Labour party is willing to trust the people with decisions about significant moves in Europe. I am not convinced that many hon. Members understand the significance of the amendments.

Amendment 88 suggests that the intention behind amendment 92-both were tabled by Labour Front Benchers-is that no referendum should be held unless the European Union referendum committee has delivered an opinion on whether there should be a free public vote. Amendment 88 makes it clear that all amending treaties or article 48(6) decisions, which simplify provisions, that fall under clause 4 must be referred to the procedure involving the EU referendum committee and both Houses to determine whether a referendum is required. In other words, even treaties or article 48(6) decisions that are deemed to fall under clause 4, which require a referendum under the Bill, would be exempted from a referendum under the Opposition proposals. Again, that would take away the British people's chance to have a say in these important areas.

New clause 9 would establish the referendum committee and the procedure for deciding on referendums on treaties and certain decisions, including article 48(6) decisions. It would report to Parliament in all cases on whether an amending treaty or relevant EU decision

"involves a significant transfer of power or competence, and if so...whether it requires a referendum to be held."

In other words, only if the Committee judged there to be a significant transfer of competence or power would it provide an opinion to Parliament on whether the referendum should be held. For all other decisions, it would not have to report to Parliament. That is a recipe for keeping decisions on which the British people might want a say behind closed doors in this place, rather than for adding more transparency.

Wayne David (Caerphilly, Labour)

"Why does the hon. Gentleman assume that the meetings would be in camera? They would not; they would be open and public."


Wayne David (Caerphilly, Labour)

"Why does the hon. Gentleman assume that the meetings would be in camera? They would not; they would be open and public."

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry, Conservative)

"That is not what is contained in the hon. Gentleman's amendment. Perhaps we can have this conversation elsewhere at a later date, because I do not wish to take up the Committee's time, but the Labour amendments would confuse the situation. Rather than open up the chance of our having referendums, they would close it down. I would like to think that we will not have to vote on amendment 85, but I fear that we probably will.

I wish to talk about the significance condition in the Bill, and about amendment 11, tabled by my hon. Friend Mr Clappison-an important amendment on which we should divide. The British people have given up on politicians and political parties a bit when it comes to Europe. They elect representatives to this place on party platforms that do not necessarily reflect their views on Europe, because matters European do not stack up in their priorities at a general election. People make decisions based on reforms to the health service, education, defence and a bunch of other matters, and when we ask them how significant Europe is in deciding how to vote, we find that it falls way down the list. They are therefore trusting us, in a way, to do a job for them when we discuss the matter in the House. We, the political classes of this country, and I as a former MEP, have let the people of this country down.

The hon. Member for Caerphilly might say that the Lisbon treaty was not the constitution, but the fact is that the British people do not trust anybody on these matters now. They think that we are all the same, and that whatever we say will simply not happen. As Ms Stuart put it, we are all in favour of referendums when we are in opposition, but we are certainly not when we are in government. I welcome the Bill, because we can say to the British people that that has stopped.

There are matters in the Bill on which a Minister must judge whether something is "significant". I understand the fact that it sets out 44 vetoes, 12 decisions and eight ways of increasing EU competences on which a referendum will be mandatory and there will be no significance test. I hope that the Minister will say in what situations the significance test will be used, because I should like clarification of that point.

I believe that the significance test will apply when there is a possibility of conferring on an EU body or agency new powers or the ability to raise sanctions against the UK. There is a whole list of exciting and interesting EU agencies, and I understand that the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders having an extra competence might not seem a huge issue for the Committee. However, I should like the decision to be taken by the House, not by a Minister. Such decisions are best taken by the Members of this place and those of somewhere else a bit further away. I should like the Minister to state why he believes such minor matters, as it were, do not warrant debate in the House."


James Clappison (Hertsmere, Conservative)

"My hon. Friend is making a compelling case. He is talking about minor matters, but does he agree that the Government concede that they could be significant enough to warrant a referendum? The question is not whether they are significant enough, but who decides whether they are significant enough. Would a Minister alone or the House make that decision?"

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry, Conservative)

"I concur with my hon. Friend. Although I completely trust the Minister, I am slightly concerned that, in future, the role might be played by a Minister who was not so interested in those matters"

Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston, Labour)

"As a former Member of the European Parliament, the hon. Gentleman knows that the decision-making process on those minor amendments is infinitely longer in the European Parliament than in the House. I cannot remember how many Ministers for Europe there were in the 13 years of Labour government, but although I hate to say it, collective memory in this place is vested not in the Minister for Europe, but in the civil service. It is not even a Minister who makes the decision, but the civil service."

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry, Conservative)

"I concur with the hon. Lady. Several manoeuvres have taken place under previous Governments to determine who is Minister for Europe. The incumbents do not often stay in the role for long. Either they are, like the current incumbent, sufficiently ambitious to move up the ministerial pay scale, or they could easily be a journeyman on the way out. There is a historical context to some decisions about conferring a competence on an EU agency, and one needs to know what the agency was formed to do in the first place. I perceive such conferral as part of the mission creep in Europe. The European Commission, in establishing so many new agencies on such a regular basis, creates its own quangocracy.

When I was a Member of the European Parliament, it was difficult to police the spending and powers of an agency that the European Commission set up. Indeed, it was more difficult than policing some of the agencies and quangos that Governments of different complexions established in this country. If those agencies grab power and take more competences-even for a valid reason at the time-it is important that the Minister of the day understands the historical reasons for setting up the agencies and the intended limits on the powers. I was present when Eurojust and Euro-magistrate were set up-all part of the European public prosecutor, which I look forward to debating tomorrow, and all part of a significant salami-slicing approach of taking powers away from individual member states, and building something that nobody particularly wanted.

I understand that any ministerial decision on the significance test has a kind of double lock. It has been drawn as narrowly as possible, and I would therefore like the Minister to answer a couple of questions. First, I want to check whether any treaty change will require an Act of Parliament. I should like to think that Parliament will have every opportunity to vote for a referendum on such a change. That is why I support amendment 11. Secondly, the decision on significance is subject to judicial review to ensure that decisions not to hold a referendum only on genuinely insignificant matters are backed.

Those matters are important because, as I said, they are about getting the British people to trust the decisions that we make on Europe again. No member of the public wants decisions to be made behind closed doors, without reasonable explanation. I emphasise strongly to the Minister that the amendments are not about trust in him, his ability to undertake the role or his decisions. I would like clarification that Parliament will have a say because that is what we were sent here to do.

My hon. Friend Mr Cash has tabled some tempting amendments to which the Minister and Ms Stuart alluded. In amendment 1, my hon. Friend manages to do a fantastic decapitation job on the Bill that would basically put all changes up for referendum. Although there is validity in my hon. Friend's reasoning-he has seen through the years a lot more of what goes on in this place than I have-I do not want everything to be decided by a referendum. The British people will not take that. They want Parliament to say, "These are important decisions and there will be a referendum, a debate in both Houses, or an Act and a vote," and the Bill makes such provisions. We can then choose whether to amend a measure so that it is subject to a referendum because we believe it to be so important. If we think that a subject is insufficiently important, we can decide not to have one. I am tempted by amendment 1, but I am simply unable to support it for those reasons.

I was tempted by amendment 1 because of the accession exemption, which the hon. Member for Caerphilly and a number of hon. Members mentioned. I tabled an amendment on accession to the EU that we will not decide on today, just as we will not decide on many amendments that have been tabled. Amendment 21 is exactly as the hon. Gentleman described it. It would mean that a 3.5% dilution of our voting powers on the European Council triggered a referendum. That is a catch-all-it is completely designed as such-so that we would have a referendum on the accession of big countries.

Given that, amendment 1 all of a sudden comes back into play and I am once again tempted. I would much rather have had a comprehensive and sensible debate on clauses 4 and 5 today or tomorrow or in extra time."

William Cash (Stone, Conservative)

"I understand where my hon. Friend is coming from, but there is a difference between significance and the opinion of the Minister on the one hand, and the question of exemption on the other. Clause 4(3) says that certain matters are forbidden territory. I am tempting my hon. Friend by saying that that whole category of exemption should clearly be removed, even if there will be a debate on what is or is not significant."

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry, Conservative)

"I understand what my hon. Friend says and I am quite sorely tempted, but my problem, as I described earlier, is the minutiae that might be sucked in under amendment 1."

William Cash (Stone, Conservative)

"I understand my hon. Friend's reasoning, but the specific exemptions are set out in clause 4(4)(a), (b) and (c). I understand that he would not want my proposal to go too far. The British people expect these things, which after all include matters such as Turkey and treaties of the type proposed by the French only the other day, not to be exempted. The British people would be left out and not taken into account on such decisions and treaties, yet they would have the most incredible impact on them. I shall explain that later"


Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry, Conservative)

"I always appreciate the lessons that my hon. Friend can teach a humble new Back Bencher and member of the European Scrutiny Committee, and I very much look forward to receiving them, but he makes a salient point. This is about what the people who put us here expect. That is why I ask the Minister please to listen to what hon. Members say about the significance clause and amendment 11. The proposal is not against him; it is about enhancing Parliament and its transparency.

I stood in two European elections, in 1999 and 2004, and I think that when I got elected in 1999, more people voted to evict Bubble from the "Big Brother" house than voted in the European elections that year. There is a massive disconnect in relation to what people want to see, do and say about Europe and how they express their views, and the Bill will give them a reason to be more engaged and interested. I know that it is not perfect; as I have said before, I would very much like an in-out referendum, but that is not provided for in the Bill. However, I would say to those who are keen for us to maintain our relationship with the European Union that maybe, just maybe, a general education of the British people through giving them the power to say yes or no on various European matters would benefit all sides of the argument and could give us proper informed debate inside and outside the Chamber."

William Cash (Stone, Conservative)

"Amendments 1 and 3 stand in my name. My comments boil down to what I said in my interventions on my hon. Friend Chris Heaton-Harris and were somewhat anticipated by the Minister earlier. In a nutshell, I see no reason why clause 2 should refer to an exemption condition or subsection (3) should state:

"The exemption condition is that the Act providing for the approval of the treaty states that the treaty does not fall within section 4."

Without any further let or hindrance, clause 4(4) would exclude from those arrangements that would result in a proposal for a referendum:

"the codification of practice under"

the treaties already established

"in relation to the previous exercise of an existing competence",

and

"the making of any provision that applies only to member States other than the United Kingdom".

That is, I think, an incredibly important point. Also, as we have debated already, it would remove

"in the case of a treaty, the accession of a new member State",

which in this case would include Turkey. In the context of what the Government clearly want to exclude-in other words, their positive policy decision not to allow the British people a referendum on certain treaties of immense importance-they are disavowing the very intentions and principles that underpin the Bill.

I have made that point before over the question of sovereignty, where there is a massive contradiction between what is on the tin and what is in the Bill. I say again that those of us who spoke in favour of the sovereignty of Parliament won the argument, but that was not on the tin and it was not what the Whips-or, indeed, the Prime Minister-wanted, so it was voted down. That does not reflect particularly well-if I may say so-on our democratic system. We are faced with exactly the same point here. We are told on the tin that we will have a referendum on important matters-that is the general idea as explained in the Foreign Secretary's article in The Sunday Telegraph only a week ago-but on examination in Committee, it becomes perfectly obvious that certain kinds of treaty will be excluded. I have mentioned the example of Turkey, but I want to give another specific example of the kind of treaty that would be excluded....I want to give an example that deals explicitly with a matter of immense importance that is coming up in the lift. In fact, it is not merely in the lift; the lift has come up and the doors are opening. Monsieur Fillon, the French Prime Minister, came over to see the Prime Minister specifically about this issue, and I have here the exclusive interview in The Times with Monsieur Fillon. I also had the opportunity to meet the French Minister for Europe and discuss the matter with him personally and privately.

There is no doubt about what they want or what they intend, which is effectively a twin-track treaty, which is a treaty entered into between us and the rest of the European Union-that is, with all 27 member states, in order to legitimise it within the framework of the treaty arrangements-so that, on the one hand, they get their treaty, and, within that treaty, an arrangement specifically designed to exclude the United Kingdom, even though we would be gravely affected by it. It would apply only to those other member states.

Clause 4(4) refers to

"the making of any provision that applies only to member States other than the United Kingdom".

They look like innocuous words, but what do they actually mean? That exemption condition-in other words, no referendum, to put it bluntly and simply-means that there would be no opportunity for a referendum if the other member states agreed to go down that route. They may well do that, despite all the protestations to the contrary, some of which were rather subtly indicated by the Prime Minister in his press conference, albeit without excluding the idea of any such treaty; rather, it was merely on the supposition that that might not affect us as much as we believe, or as I believe the British people would believe if they saw it in black and white. What do those provisions include? In particular, they include arrangements of that kind relating to fiscal, political, social and employment measures, not to mention other matters that would affect the relationship between us and the rest of the European Union. A massive juggernaut would be created, through a form of extremely enhanced co-operation between those member states, that would have an enormous impact on the United Kingdom.

I have been looking at the balance of payments between us and the other member states. The figures, which I got from the Library, only bring us up to 2009, before the catastrophe that hit Europe occurred, and they are alarming. The imbalance in the balance of payments between us and the other member states has been moving critically in the wrong direction. I could give the precise figures-I may do so later-but we only have to consider the following example, which was on the "Today" programme this morning. If one had listened to the programme, one would have heard about Belgium, which is in massive crisis, with protests and people on the streets, and no Government for 22 months. Greece is in absolute chaos, with protests and implosion, while Ireland, with its political crisis, is totally imploding. Spain has 4 million unemployed, with 40% youth unemployment and people on the streets on a massive scale today. Similar problems are also occurring in Italy, and there have been riots and serious unrest in France, too.

The bottom line is that Europe is not working according to the economic governance that has been prescribed. Yet under what is proposed, the opportunity to address the very kind of treaty that would enhance the ability to confront us with a massive juggernaut of policies that have been going wrong-policies that would undermine the opportunity to grow from our 45% to 50% investment in Europe-would be severely depleted. That would be the most damaging kind of treaty that could be entered into. Indeed, as I said in The Times on the day that the French Prime Minister came over, it would be the kind of treaty that I would expect our Prime Minister to veto on behalf of the British people. However, we cannot have confidence that that would happen, because of the argument being presented. This Bill was introduced on 11 November, when we know that treaties of the kind that I have just described were already being anticipated, however damaging and disastrous they would be for the very people of this country who, if they knew the facts, would say, "I insist on a referendum on any treaty relating to arrangements of this kind."

It would be an abomination for us to be confronted with the kind of arrangements that are being put into place-arrangements that would be so damaging to our growth and our relations with the European Union. That is why I say that this exemption provision has to be taken out of the Bill, for precisely the reasons that I have given. I do not need to enlarge on that point, but I absolutely insist that these provisions should be taken out. I look to the Minister, if he thinks that I am wrong, to give me a reasoned answer as to why.

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William Cash (Stone, Conservative)

"In supporting amendment 11, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he is aware, as I became recently when the Finnish delegation came over, that Ministers in Finland-and certain other member states-have established a very good practice whereby they must appear before the Finnish Parliament's equivalent of the European Scrutiny Committee to ensure that there is compatibility between what goes on in Parliament and what the Minister decides on such important matters?"

James Clappison (Hertsmere, Conservative)

"With his great experience, my hon. Friend makes an important point, and there are similar arrangements in the Danish Parliament. The House should seek to have the best arrangements possible. I welcome right hon. and hon. Friends' movement in the right direction, but if they do not move on this point, they leave a significant gap in future. Briefly, I will try to explain how big a gap that could be.

There are only two clauses that cover a statement of significance by a Minister and to which the significance test applies. The others all concern competences or changes in the voting procedure. However, these two clauses are very important, as they cover the transfers of power that are apt to be made under the simplified revision procedure of article 48(6) referred to in clause 4. I will give way to the Minister for Europe, who is looking very interested in these points, if he disagrees with me. The powers on which Ministers will say whether they are significant enough to warrant a referendum, if they are transferred to the European Union, are those that will come to the House as a result of the simplified revision treaty. That important procedure was introduced specially by the treaty of Lisbon. I will give way to any Member, including my right hon. Friend Mr Dorrell, who wants to disagree. That procedure made it easier and quicker to make constitutional change, and to bring about a transfer of power from nation states to the European Union.

We have spent some time debating whether we should have had a referendum on the treaty of Lisbon, the treaty of Maastricht, the treaty of Amsterdam or the treaty of Nice. However, under the simplified revision treaty, a treaty in those forms is not required. There is no requirement for a convention and all the other lengthy procedural steps that preceded the treaty of Lisbon. It is simply a matter that can be agreed between the member states at a Council meeting, and then approved by the individual Parliaments. The whole point of the simplified revision treaty was to make it quicker and easier to integrate powers in the European Union. It is a sort of "speeding up of European integration" provision. The provisions that are subject to a ministerial test of significance are the ones that will ensure that these matters are brought before the House. They embody the procedure of simplified treaty revision. There are only two of them, but they are very important. All the other provisions-or at least the preceding ones, which deal with competence-would require a full constitutional process under the ordinary treaty revision procedure with which we are all so familiar."

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William Cash (Stone, Conservative)

"Although the Committee has rightly said that a judicial review might be considered unlikely in certain circumstances, the key question is what has Parliament said about the circumstances in which a referendum should be required. We should bear mind above all else that we in Parliament should decide what is in the interests of our own constituents. We are here to give them the opportunity on these matters-that is part of the Government's overall case which, regrettably, fails on a number of tests as we go through these proceedings. The object of the exercise is to ensure that the people of this country have the right to decide on matters relevant to their daily lives. Regrettably, the fancy franchises being thrown up by these exemption conditions and significance arrangements are invading the central question, which is whether the people of this country should be allowed to decide after we have made our judgment on their behalf."

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Charlie Elphicke (Dover, Conservative)

"I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is highly knowledgeable and skilled on European matters, for making the point far better than I could. I was about to make it myself. Yes, of course schools, hospitals and the economy matter, but what also matters is our sense of nation and our independence as a member state in the European Union, not as a state in a federation. That is essential, and it is essential that we were not in the euro, for the exact reasons that he set out.

Had we been in the euro, we may well have found ourselves in the predicament that we see across the Irish sea or in southern Europe, given the reckless borrowing that took place over the previous decade, which brought our country to the brink of bankruptcy. I, for one, am glad that we did not join the euro. It is the one thing on which I congratulate the new shadow Chancellor and the former Prime Minister-preventing Tony Blair, when he was Prime Minister, from going into the euro. It was the only spark of light and quality in that Government. I am hard pushed to think of any other.

I return to the Bill, having been led astray by those gentle and generous interventions. I shall begin by focusing on clause 11. My hon. Friend Mr Clappison made a series of powerful points about the primacy of Parliament. His argument was that we cannot trust the Ministers of the day because they have their own agenda. If they do not consider a matter significant, they will certify it as not significant. Some check and balance is needed. There must be a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.

When I first thought about that, I found it attractive, but on reflection, my concern is that if the Minister considers a matter not to be significant, he will toddle down to the Whips Office and have a chat to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury. He will say, "Look, chief, this isn't significant. Let's just whip this vote through the Commons, whip it through the Lords and push it through." That is what would happen."

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Charlie Elphicke (Dover, Conservative)

"I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. My central concern with clause 11 is that a Minister could say, "This isn't significant," and sign over some massive power. The Act of Parliament will then be whipped and rammed through both Houses. An individual, perhaps a constituent of mine in Dover, might then take issue with that because they think that it is significant. How will that constituent have a say? The Bill's current protection is judicial review, but if we had a whipped vote of both Houses and a resolution that the matter was not significant, that would weigh in the minds of the courts.

I will go further: on this matter I am a renegade among many of my hon. Friends who say that the courts have no place interfering in the business of this House. I am an old-fashioned lawyer, and I take the view that the courts are an important check and balance in our democracy. Perhaps it is just me, but in respect of our political system wishing to ram something through and take away our rights, I always thought that the purpose of the rule of law was to hold back the Executive and act as a check and balance. The purpose of the rule of law-I think this started with Magna Carta, and it has continued in legal documents written since-and the purpose of the courts is to hold back that express, overweening Executive power and ensure that the subject has their say and stands up for their rights. I do not seek to oust the jurisdiction of the courts in determining whether a significant condition has or has not been met, which I think is an important part of the Bill and an important check and balance"

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Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby, Labour)

"All I can say is that David Blackburn must be more naive than I thought.

I was giving the example of the CFP, which was sold to us as harmless. We were told that it would lead to effective conservation because everybody would be involved, everybody had access to our waters and everybody would make decisions collectively. However, it led to the decimation of our fish stocks and the looting, frankly, of about £3 billion-worth of fish and jobs. There is nothing that we can do about that, because it happened under Ted Heath, who used to come down to the House in every fishing debate and justify his mistake. It is all in the past, and we discovered the problem only later. That is what happens.

My hon. Friend Nia Griffith argued that people are not interested in the details, which is certainly true. We in Grimsby are perhaps more interested than people in Wales in all matters European, particularly to do with fishing boats, but people are not interested in details. The consequences of what happens are interesting, however, because they cause the loss of jobs and employment.

There was a provision in the Lisbon treaty-was it article 121?-stating that aid could be invoked by majority vote in the event of threats to the euro from natural disasters. It has now been invoked for aid to Ireland, which will drag us into making huge contributions not only to Ireland-the Chancellor of the Exchequer projected that as a one-off-but to the other states that follow in the domino-like collapse that will happen. The consequences of concessions that are said to be of no damage, of no great moment and unimportant become clear only later. The Bill provided an opportunity to resist that process, but disappointingly, it is not strong enough.

When we consider the amendments, we should view the European situation with a certain amount of scepticism. The committee referred to in new clause 9 would be controlled by the Whips and by Government, whatever we are told about the intentions behind it. I am suspicious of proposals to modify European powers that come from Euro-enthusiasts such as my party's Front Benchers. What is in it for them? They want Europe to have its way, and the new clause is a way of allowing that while appearing to protect us.

I support amendment 11 and shall certainly vote for it if there is a vote-I hope there is, because I want to support it. However, we cannot be sure that, if the House were faced with a choice of whether to reverse a Minister's decision that an issue was not worth a referendum, it would take the decision independently. Debates such as today's give a clue as to what would happen. We happy band of Eurosceptics, including most of the Members present, have argued consistently, been right all along and warned of the consequences of what has happened. Those disastrous consequences have emerged, but nobody has said, "Oh, my God, we should have listened to the Eurosceptics on this matter." People have constantly abused us for rocking the boat and as dissenters and just a nuisance, but we are right, and we are right to fight.

However, we cannot be sure that we will win the fight. Should a matter be referred to the House under amendment 11, the House would be whipped as always and Members would see their careers relying on voting with the Government. They would think, "I shall get a powerful position even more quickly, as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister for Bathing Pools, or I shall be given a junior ministerial job in charge of seeing that library books are returned promptly"-if any libraries are left open under the Government's proposals. Ambition, love of the party and support for the party will always whip people into line. Amendment 11 would not put a roadblock in Ministers' way; it would erect another hurdle that they would be forced to jump. That would be salutary for them, because the more hurdles they jump, the more exhausted they will get and the greater the chance that we will eventually prevail."

Neil Carmichael (Stroud, Conservative)

It is a great honour to participate in this important debate.

Members have mentioned the number of people who come into their constituency surgeries to talk about Europe. I am not overwhelmed with European issues in my surgery, but I do hear a lot of concern about Europe when I go to businesses and large organisations in my constituency. They are getting concerned about regulation, excessive interference and so on, and they think-and are sometimes right to think-that it all emanates from the European Union. It is therefore important that we give due consideration to the need to allow the electorate as a whole to speak about Europe. That is why the Bill is so important. It will, once and for all, stop the disgraceful situation of a Government promising to have a referendum on a significant change-the treaty of Lisbon-and then failing to do so. The Bill will prevent that, and quite right too.

The Bill will do a few other things as well. It will encourage a better understanding of Europe, because we will discuss it more often and engage the electorate with the issue more comprehensively. They, in turn, will learn more about Europe and our relationship with it. That will be good not just because it will deal with the incorrect assumption that the electorate will not be able to understand a referendum question, but because it will ensure that they become much more interested in what we are doing about Europe.

The same applies to the situation in Parliament. The Bill means that we will pass a lot more Acts of Parliament if and when changes are made to our relationship with Europe. Those processes, taken together, will make us less reactive to what happens in Europe and much more proactive in ensuring that Britain's interests are properly discussed, represented and promoted. The Bill will be really important for that reason.

New clause 9, tabled by the Labour Front Benchers, is a blatant attempt to look good without being good. They are attempting to suggest to everybody that they want referendums, but they are actually suggesting a deliberate mechanism to ensure that they would not necessarily need to have them. That is what it is, that is what it would do, and that is why we must not accept it.

Let us consider the discussions that we had about the treaty of Lisbon versus the Giscard d'Estaing constitution. The Labour Front Benchers attempted to say at the time, and repeated earlier today, that the treaty of Lisbon was not anything like the Giscard d'Estaing constitution. Absolute piffle-that was just not the case. The treaty was a fundamental change, and it required a proper referendum. If Labour cannot get that right, how would the committee that it suggests make any progress? How could it resolve the problems? That answer is that it could not and would not, because it would be subject to the pressures of Government, the whipping system, which my hon. Friend Charlie Elphicke mentioned, and so on. The committee would not have enough teeth, or be cohesive enough, to enforce the approach that we need when it comes to deciding whether we should have a referendum.

To make matters worse, we would be asking Parliament to decide what was substantive and what was not. That is also the problem with amendment 11, which would lead us into trouble and is also unnecessary. As I have said, Parliament will have to pass Acts if there are substantive changes, or any changes at all that affect our relationship with the European Union. New clause 9 is slightly misleading. The Opposition want to look as though they wanted referendums, but the new clause would make it possible not to have them at all, which is wrong."

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham, Liberal Democrat)

"There has been some discussion about the risk of votes being whipped. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a greater risk of a vote in Committee being whipped under the system that Labour Members propose, because the Executive can handpick the membership, than there is for a vote on the Floor of the House?"

Neil Carmichael (Stroud, Conservative)

Yes. My hon. Friend the Member for Dover went through the possible Members who could serve on the proposed committee, obviously with a slant towards those who are participating in the debate and are interested in the European Union. The point is much the same-the committee's membership would matter. The shadow Minister has not explained how it would be formed, managed and so on. However, we can assume that whipping would take place. That is not helpful.

I am also concerned about the role that new clause 9 would give the House of Lords, given the events of the past few weeks. We need to put that down as a marker when considering how the Bill would unfold if new clause 9 were accepted.

My hon. Friend Mr Buckland is concerned about timing. He is absolutely right. He is a lawyer, and lawyers love time. [Interruption.] I have watched the clocks tick by myself. New clause 9 does not deal with that.

I tabled an amendment to get clarification on what constitutes a decision in the context of the outcome of a European Council meeting. That is important, and I hope that the Minister, when winding up, will explain what sort of decisions we should consider following a European Council or a meeting of the Council of Ministers, and when a decision is actually a decision.

We must acknowledge that the Bill will be seismically important to our relationship with Europe. It will also make a dramatic difference to the way in which the House and the Government deal with Europe in connection with the electorate. Far too often, people have found out about decisions some time afterwards. They have not felt included in that decision making, and consequently and because of their concerns, they have felt angry about the decision.

I am convinced that we will shape a much better relationship with Europe if we have the courage to explain more and to engage people more effectively. The Bill will do that without new clause 9 and other amendments that would stop us from ensuring that Parliament is the first port of call for the necessary key decisions, and that the people are always consulted when those decisions are pivotal."

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North, Labour)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak and I apologise to hon. Members for being unable to be present throughout the debate. I was delayed elsewhere in the House on European business.

I want strongly to support amendment 11, which Mr Clappison tabled and to which I was pleased to add my name. He made a powerful speech, which I want to echo and support.

It has been suggested that we might be governed by committees and that big decisions should be taken by a committee. I do not want a committee to make decisions about what is significant and what is not. Parliament should make those decisions, particularly this House. I am a unicameralist and therefore not so concerned about the other place. I believe that we should make the decisions in this House and be accountable to our voters because they clearly and rightly have strong feelings about the European Union.

I do not wish to be governed by judges, either. I worry about the constant reference to matters going to judicial review. I want the House, not judges, to make the decisions. As judges in the Supreme Court in America die, they are replaced by judges appointed by the President. If several judges die or retire at the same time, and a President of a particular persuasion appoints people in his own image, one has, for a generation or two, a Supreme Court that takes a particular view. Let us suppose that Tony Blair had had such a power. He would not have appointed lawyers with my views, but Euro-enthusiasts to a Supreme Court. For a generation, we would have been bogged down by a Supreme Court dominated by people who took a particular view of Europe.

Lawyers are supposed to be independent and to make balanced judgments, but one lawyer commented to me about the European arrest warrant, "Oh well, it's part of the European project, so we just say yes." We should not act in that way. We should consider matters individually, not say, "The euro's part of the European project, let's say yes to it", or, "The CAP's part of the European project, let's just nod it through." We do not do that. Britain has taken a strong position on many things that relate to the European Union, and we should continue in that way.

I agree with my hon. Friend Nia Griffith on 90% of politics, but not on Europe. Portraying Britain as the naughty boy or surly youth of Europe, who is always being difficult, is wrong. I think that we are right and they are wrong. We have taken stands on subjects such as the euro, which is now in serious trouble. We are not being anti-Europe. We take a particular view about how economies should be run. I believe that separate currencies are necessary shock absorbers for running economies.


Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex, Conservative)

"The Maastricht treaty was pushed through the House on the basis of our having an opt-out from the euro, and therefore that it would not affect us. Yet, even though we are not in the euro, we are deeply affected by the disaster that that treaty is inflicting on our continent."

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North, Labour)

"The hon. Gentleman is right, and I apologise for momentarily forgetting the name of his constituency-Harwich and North Essex-earlier. I agree with him. We have been right so often. When I argue about the European Union, I do not do that in nationalist or theological terms. I ask people to consider the effects on the European economy, which has grown more slowly than it would have done without the euro."

William Cash (Stone, Conservative)

"Does the hon. Gentleman agree that those who take our position-the Euro-realists-are the pro-Europeans because the people who promote the extraordinarily damaging policies create the massive unemployment, riots and protests that are happening?"

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North, Labour)

"Indeed. The hon. Gentleman is right again. Many of those who protested most strongly against matters in the European Union are people of the left-trade unions, working-class people, the unemployed, minorities and so on. We should not portray a right-left divide; the debate is about democracy and what works."

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham, Liberal Democrat)

"Is not the lowest unemployment in the European Union in Germany? Last time I looked, it was in the eurozone. Are not the countries that are particularly vulnerable those with large structural deficits? The problem is not particularly to do with their membership of the euro."

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North, Labour)

That is interesting. We could have a long debate about the strength of the German economy relative to other countries in Europe. One thing that Germany wanted from the European Union was to get rid of barriers to its exports, particularly to France. Germany focused its efforts over generations, from Erhard onwards, on wisely ensuring that it had a massive and strong manufacturing base. We have not done that. If we had shown more of an Erhard approach to our policies-and Erhard was no socialist, but a Christian Democrat-we might have had a stronger economy.

As part of the post-war settlement, it was important for the west that West Germany-like Japan-succeeded, so it was allowed for a long time to have an undervalued Deutschmark, which gave it a competitive edge, behind which it built massively strong industries. That is the history. If one looks at the documentation-I used to write and read a lot about such things-one will see that the German surplus was a problem even in the 1970s. It has managed to sustain that for all that time, which was wise. Had we been a bit wiser, we might not have been in quite the weak position that we are in now. Every second car driving along the road is made in Germany, but where has our motor industry gone? We still have some of it, but it is nothing like Germany's. Germany has been very clever, and I cannot blame it at all.

Anyway, we are not debating that tonight. My concern this evening is to ensure that this Committee decides what is significant when it comes to deciding whether to hold a referendum. Ministers are parts of Governments, which are always under pressure. Many Ministers are fine people, but in the end, they must go along with what the core of the Government decides. Ever since I was a student more than 40 years ago, the two things that I have criticised are secrecy and the excessive centralisation of power, particularly in the Prime Minister. I read a book when I was a student called, "The Elected Monarch", which is about the position of the British Prime Minister. We must rebalance the power of the legislature relative to the Executive, which is why the House of Commons should vote on whether a matter is significant enough for a referendum. That should not be decided by a Minister, a Committee or a series of judges."

Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne, Conservative)

"What does the hon. Gentleman say to the idea that even if amendment 11 were made, it would not bolster parliamentary sovereignty, because Government Whips will just whip through decisions about what is significant?"

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North, Labour)

"The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that everybody does what the Whips tell them, but that is not the case. If he looks at the history of the 13 years of Labour Government, he will find that there were rebellions-significant differences of view between certain Back Benchers and the Whips-on many serious votes, the most important of which was perhaps the Iraq war, when 139 Members, including me, voted against the Government, despite the Whips."

Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne, Conservative)

"What was the result?"

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North, Labour)

"The decision in favour of going to war was made with Conservative support. In the end, we are accountable not to the Whips. Clearly, we have a party system, and we are elected as party politicians, which I understand. By and large, on most things, we are guided by the Whips, but on some matters of fundamental principle, such as giving further powers to the EU or going to war, we must say, "What I believe and what I believe my electorate want is more important even than what the Whips advise." I hesitate to say that while my Front-Bench colleagues are listening, but in the end, we must occasionally take a stand."

William Cash (Stone, Conservative)

"On the anniversary of Winston Churchill's death, will the hon. Gentleman accept what he said, which is that country comes first, constituents second and party third?"





Link to thisHansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 24 January 2011, c88)










Link to thisHansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 24 January 2011

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