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We expect no change in the foreseeable future, so that the Union will be able to fully concentrate on addressing the concrete challenges ahead.
not let the matter rest.
The Conservative party needs 14 countries to back its drive not to let the matter rest. I hope that in the right hon. Gentlemans speech he will name one countryjust onethat will support his quest to reopen the treaty. [Hon. Members: Norway.] Norway is not yet in the European Union. The truth is that there is not even one such country, and what the Conservative commitment means is a further referendum pledge, renegotiation or withdrawal. It is important to look through the consequences.
The consequence of Conservative policy is not to end institutional wrangling, not to help Europe get on with the real business of serving its citizens, but to prolong the institutional debate that we need to end. The Conservatives say they care about UK jobs, UK
security, UK influence and the UKs reputation, but in fact they risk British jobs, British security and British influence to try to control those in their party who brought down John Majors leadership of the Conservative party. John Major used words to describe those people that I cannot use in the House, but we know who they are.
The Conservatives say they want a Europe that works but in fact they will do everything possible to stop it working. We have had seven years of negotiation and discussion leading to the treaty; the Oppositions policy would lead to a second decade of institutional inertia that diverts Europe from the real issues that confront it.
there is a fairly settled view in the Conservative Party that we should be campaigning for a Europe that addresses global poverty, global warming, global trade.
That is what the treaty would do, yet the right hon. Gentleman will speak and vote against its provisions in that regard. This is where we learn about the real divide in the debate. It is not about the details of the high representative for foreign affairs; the real divide is between those who believe that Britain is good for Europe and Europe is good for Britain, and those who do not.
The true heartbeat of the Conservative party is not found in the tradition of lain Macleod, John Major or even Margaret Thatcher. The vision is not Britain at the heart of Europe, but Britain better off out. There is even a group with that name. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), who I am sorry not to see in his place, has recently joined
The hon. Gentleman recently joined the Better Off Out campaign, which says of the modern Conservative party that many of its MPs, MEPs, peers, prospective candidates, officers and members are Better Off Out supporters. Better off out of a single market with 3 million jobs? Better off out of the European arrest warrant and effective action against terrorism? Better off out of joint action to tackle climate change?
No, Britain is not better off out. If we care about global trade, global poverty and global warming we are better off inat the heart of Europe, shaping the European Union and making sure it delivers on the issues that matter to us. That is what the treaty offers. That is what the Government offer, and I commend the Bill to the House.
Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con):
It is all too typical of the Governments management of our affairs that the House of Commons has been left with less than five hours to debate a measure of far-reaching
importance in which there is widespread public interest. It is typical, too, that the reason for that is two statements, both of which derive from the unremitting incompetence of the Government. It is still more typical that the Prime Minister, having signed the treaty without having the courage to turn up for the ceremony, wants to force the Bill through Parliament but lacks the courage to vote for it himself.
I must compliment the Foreign Secretary on his speech. We expected him to put the case for the treaty, but not to do so in such a hugely entertaining way. When the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) asked him about the legal force of preambles, he was not really able to give an effective reply. When the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) asked him about support from House of Commons Committees for his view of the differences between the treaties, he was not able to think of any. When he listed the NSPCC among the supporters of the treaty because of its child protection provisions, he omitted to say that the Government opposed those provisions going into the treaty. It seems like an important omission. They were opposed at the European Convention by the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), when he was the Minister for Europe, on the grounds that they would extend the competencies of the European Unionor perhaps that was just an early incompetence from the right hon. Gentleman. If that is to be the quality of the Foreign Secretarys argument, it is a good job that he has the committee of bishops on his side, because there will be nothing left for him but to pray.
Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): Is it not fundamentally misleading for the right hon. Gentleman [ Interruption ] and his party to tell the public in Britain that they would renegotiate, when not one single other country and not one single European Commissioner has said that they would be prepared to enter such negotiations?
Mr. Hague: It is hugely encouraging that Labour Members minds are increasingly concentrated on the advent of a Conservative Government. It is not surprising that they want to know some of these things further in advance, but these debates are about the treaty and the case for a referendum on the treaty, and we will be putting that case during these debates.
It is worth noting that there is much on foreign policy on which the Government and the Opposition agree. Even on European matters, the commitments that we have madein fairness, I must add that the Foreign Secretary did mention themto work for a European Union concerned with the great challenges of global poverty, global competition and global warming, rather than with the aggrandisement of its own internal institutions, have been echoed to some extent by Ministers.
At the Lisbon summit, the Prime Minister called for a focus on the challenges of jobs, prosperity, the environment and securitywe agree with thatbut while the aspirations and the language may often seem similar, the trouble with the Bill and the treaty is that they fly in the face of that British aspiration to create an outward-looking rather than an inward-looking Europe. In a Europe that needs greater flexibility, the treaty moves more power to the centre. In a Europe where nations need the freedom to compete, it will
narrow those freedoms. In a Europe committed to democracy, it will take more decision making away from democratic control.
Astonishingly, the treaty will also weaken one of the greatest strengths of the European Union for the past half century: its commitment to undistorted competition in the single marketan outcome that can only have resulted from the supine ineffectiveness of Britains negotiators. On top of all that, the treaty creates for the first time sweeping provisions for its own amendment without recourse to further treaties, and it brings about fundamental change in the institutional structure of the European Unionchanges that the Government initially opposed, then were happy to define as constitutional in their implications, and now pretend are matters of little importance, about which the people of this country need not be troubled.
The most serious objection to the Bill, irrespective of its merits or lack of them, is that the Government intend to take it through Parliament without any of the consultation of the people that was promised at the last election, brazenly abrogating the commitment made by every party in the House to hold a national referendum in this event. The case for a referendum rests in part on the constitutional significance of what is proposed. When the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), was asked on 6 June 2005 what were the constitutional aspects of the treaty that merited submission to a referendum, he said they were the creation of a permanent President of the Council of Ministers and a European Foreign Minister. Both of those provisions remain in the treaty today, and the right hon. Gentleman is the Lord Chancellor today. That was his opinion at the time.
Mr. Hague: That was a differencesomething of which Liberal Democrats can only dreambut of course, for the purposes of this argument, the important difference now is that no political party in the 1992 election promised the people of this country a referendum on the Maastricht treaty; in this case, every political party promised the people a referendum. It is therefore a matter of trust in politics and of the honour of our politics that that referendum should be held. The European Foreign Minister has been renamed the high representative of the Union, but as the Foreign Affairs Committee explained in its report only yesterday,
We conclude that there is no material difference between the provisions on foreign policy in the Constitutional Treaty which the Government made subject to approval in a referendum and those in the Lisbon Treaty on which a referendum is being denied.
Mr. Redwood: Does my right hon. Friend further remember that during the 2005 election, when some of us said that we needed to debate this huge transfer of powers because it was so important, the Labour party said that there was no need for that debate in the election, because there would be a referendum later? That is why this is such a cheat.
Mr. Hague: My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point, because the case for the referendum rests above all on the need for the House and the Government to honour commitments solemnly given. How many times have each of us in the House toured schools and colleges saying to young people that they should take an interest in politics, that their vote makes a difference, and that what is said at election time really counts? What are we to say to them in futurethat the fact that they elected an entire House of Commons committed to a referendum was of no account, that the Government regarded that commitment as a technicality to be escaped from rather than a promise to be kept, and that the promises made at election time do not really matter at all?
Today in our country, the word of Government is less readily believed than at any time in our modern history. Ministers, instead of tackling the apathy and cynicism that that brings, will only add to it with the weasel words with which they try to escape their referendum commitment.
Talking of escaping a referendum commitment, in The Guardian of October 2003 I came across an article with the headlines We need an EU referendum and Nothing will damage the pro-European movement more than appearing to have something to hide. It was written by a certain N. Clegg, who went on to become the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) and is now the leader of the Liberal Democrats. [Hon. Members: Where is he?] We know that he is not on the plane with the Prime Minister, but for all the difference that he makes to the debate, he might as well be. His article said:
The real reason, of course, why the government does not want to hold a referendum is the fear that it may lose.
Mr. Browne: In 18 years in government, the Conservatives never once had a referendum on Europe. The last time there was a referendum on the European Union I was in primary school, and some Members of the House were not even born. The leader of the Liberal Democrats favours a referendum on whether we are, or are not, in Europe. Why does not the Conservative party back that promise?
That is apparently the Liberal Democrats position, and they tried to put it in a reasoned amendment for tonights debatebut it turned out that it is so
crashingly irrelevant to the issue that the amendment was not in order. They therefore have the distinction of having adopted a policy so irrelevant to the debate that they will at no stage have the opportunity to vote for it. Even those in primary school could have worked that one out.
Mr. Davey: There was a vote on that question, through an amendment to the Queens Speech, but the Conservative party, including the right hon. Gentleman, voted against the opportunity to give the British people a referendum on Britains membership of the European Union. Does he want to change the position now?
Mr. Hague: The fact that the Conservative party voted in line with its policy at the end of debate on the Queens Speech can hardly be an astonishing event. It was noticeable that very few Members in other parties voted with the Liberal Democrats on that matter.
Sir Gerald Kaufman: The right hon. Gentleman referred to promises made in general elections. Does he remember that he led his party into the 2001 election on the slogan, X days to save the pound, and is it not a fact that the pound remains safe today[Hon. Members: It worked!]
Sir Gerald Kaufman: I repeat: is it not a fact that the pound remains safe today because the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and his exchange rate mechanism colleagues did not get the chance to save it?
Mr. Hague: I am sure that we will work out that question in the end. Yes, the Conservative Government did enter the ERM, but I seem to remember that the Labour Opposition and the shadow Cabinet, of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member, were solidly in favour of doing so, so he must not be too abusive about the ERM.
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