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Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last Tuesday, the House debated the need for more information on higher education, including, crucially, on the access requirements that universities will have to meet in order to be able to charge the maximum £9,000 fee. According to press reports today, universities could be stripped of their right to charge students more than the lower level of tuition fees, yet actually, that sanction already exists, and guidance referred to in media reports suggests that there are no new changes to the legal constraints on university powers. Many people will wonder whether any university wanting to charge the full £9,000 will really be held back from doing so in practice. What steps can you take, Mr Speaker, to ensure that the House has a full and, crucially, accurate picture of the Government's plans for higher education before Thursday's vote on tuition fees?
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman both for his point of order and for advance notice of it. The short answer to his question is that there will be an exchange on this matter on Thursday. I have every expectation that the full details of policy will be communicated, teased out, debated and made the subject of proper political argument. That, I think, is the most hopeful reassurance I can offer the hon. Gentleman. I have not received notice of any other ministerial statement, and I should not have expected to do so, but the opportunity presented later this week is one that I am sure he and others are eagerly anticipating.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you know, I am a shy and retiring Back-Bench Member of Parliament, and I am becoming increasingly distressed by the aggressive attitude of Government Members, particularly as we approach Thursday's vote on tuition fees. I wonder whether you have received an apology, Mr Speaker, for the Chief Whip's behaviour in the Chamber last night, as some of us feel that such an apology should be forthcoming.
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The House of Commons can be an excitable place, and in his 13 years here, the hon. Gentleman has witnessed examples of that. I am satisfied, however, that in respect of the business of House motion, no procedural irregularity whatever occurred. Discourtesy in the House is to be deprecated. Defiance of the Chair is totally unacceptable, and when it takes place, I make it clear in no uncertain terms that it should not take place again. I think that any Member, no matter whether that person be the newest entrant or one of the most senior office holders, will recognise that, in the cold light of day, that is the way it has to be.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to give all football clubs the freedom to build, or maintain existing, safe standing sections in their stadia if they choose; to establish minimum safety criteria that must be met for standing sections in football stadia; and for connected purposes.
Any debate on football stadiums will inevitably, and quite rightly, raise the spectre of the tragic events at Hillsborough in 1989 and those that preceded it such as in the Heysel stadium in 1985. No debate on this topic can avoid addressing those tragedies and their repercussions, which still resonate with us even now. The events of 15 April 1989, which saw the deaths of 96 people and the injury of hundreds more, were uniquely horrific. An entire city has struggled with that day's trauma ever since. The annual memorial services held at Anfield and elsewhere show that that day is still keenly felt and will never be forgotten, and nor should it be.
Nor should anyone believe that in raising the possibility of introducing safe standing in football grounds now, I am critical of the actions that were taken more than 20 years ago to outlaw standing at matches in the top two football leagues. I am certainly not calling for a return to the old-style terraces, which were poorly designed, overcrowded, poorly monitored and entirely unsuitable for the purposes for which they were used. A return to that world would be a retrograde and wholly unacceptable step.
Today, I propose something very different-another step forward to more modern, safe football stands that provide what fans want, but do so with maximum safety. After all, standing is not inherently unsafe. Lord Taylor's report into Hillsborough cited many reasons why the disaster occurred, but the fact that the crowd was standing was not one of them. It happened, rather, as a result of gross overcrowding, a lack of concern for the safety and comfort of spectators, a lack of awareness of existing safety regulations and the poor design of the old-style terraces. The disaster happened because of a culture of negligence, not because standing is inherently unsafe.
Lord Taylor went on to recommend all-seater stadiums, because he argued that seats establish individual areas for individual fans and give them more space and comfort, prevent crowd surging, and make it easier to identify troublemakers in the crowds. I shall discuss how modern safe standing preserves those features in a moment, but it is worth noting that in making his recommendations Lord Taylor believed that fans would become accustomed to sitting and come to prefer it. Some 20 years later, the views of thousands of fans in the premiership and the championship demonstrate that that has not been the case.
When fans stand in all-seater stadiums today, it causes problems: it ruins the experience for those who want to sit. Equally, sitting ruins the experience for the many fans who prefer to stand. When they do stand, as many do, it is particularly unsafe. Yet, as we know, preventing large numbers of people from standing in all-seater stadiums is extremely difficult for stewards and the
police. If it can be done safely, as I believe it can, it would be far better to have a mix of safe seating and safe standing areas in stadiums where clubs choose to offer such options. That way, children, families and others who want a more peaceful experience could have it, while those who want to stand could exercise that right. This can be done.
Countries such as the United States, Canada and Germany are certainly not negligent towards their citizens' safety. They have harnessed technological developments to create standing areas that truly are safe, and such areas are a popular choice with supporters. In such areas, as with seated areas, there are designated spaces for each fan, and there are barriers between rows, preventing surging, pushing or jostling. Individual fans can be easily identified if they are causing trouble, because they are limited to their own individual spaces. Thus, the key reasons why Lord Taylor recommended seating can also all be met with safe standing. In many cases, each individual standing area comes with its own flip-down seat. That corresponds with UEFA and FIFA rules that require international and European matches to be seating only. There is absolutely no evidence that such standing areas, where properly designed, managed and maintained, are unsafe for domestic matches. As numerous polls have shown, they are overwhelmingly backed by supporters and, as they create more space for fans, clubs could then reduce the price of tickets, thus offering another benefit for fans.
The question of standing is even more pressing for fans of Scunthorpe United football club. For them, promotion has come at a very high price. After Scunthorpe United FC's third season in the top two tiers, it will have to have converted its ground into an all-seater venue. That will reduce the ground's capacity, which is already the lowest in the championship, from 9,000 to 8,000. Neither the club nor its supporters want that. More seats mean less space, and so fewer supporters will get to see their team. If Scunthorpe United FC is demoted in future, it will not be able to convert some of its seating back into standing areas. The conversion will have come at tremendous expense, and Scunthorpe United FC will have paid for the privilege of ruining its own ground. I am grateful to the hon. Members for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), on whose constituents this change has an impact, for their support for this Bill.
I am also grateful to the Minister for Sport and the Olympics, who I see in his place, for agreeing at least to consult relevant bodies. Sadly, I suspect that he will hear, as I continue to do, some outdated criticisms. Some will raise the issue of cost but, as my Bill proposes, that should be a matter for individual clubs to decide. Some will suggest that spectators have become used to
sitting and like it, but that is patently untrue, as the long-running campaigns by football fans' organisations show. Some will argue that statistics prove that seated stadiums are safer than standing ones. For some years, the Football Licensing Authority did claim that. However, when its statistics were challenged as inaccurate, it subsequently withdrew them. As my Bill makes clear, minimum safety standards would be nationally established before any new safe standing areas are permitted.
Some might claim that seating has reduced hooliganism, but even before Hillsborough, hooliganism was declining. Inside grounds and outside, in clubs that are all seated and in clubs that are terraced, hooliganism has receded. The character of this country's fans has changed for the better. For example, no England fans were arrested at the World cup in South Africa with the exception of the practical joker who sneaked into the England team's dressing room. The decline in football hooliganism is not directly because of a move to all-seater stadiums. Last week's Home Office arrest figures show no evidence of any link between grounds where standing is still allowed and the number of arrests. There is no reason to believe that a move to introduce safe standing areas would mean an increase in hooliganism.
Finally, I have no doubt some will raise the issue of the UEFA and FIFA rules, which I mentioned earlier, that games under their jurisdiction must be played in all-seater stadiums, but with the inclusion of flip-down seats in each standing area, those regulations present no problem, as was demonstrated in the Veltins arena in Germany, which was used for the 2006 World cup, and the Tivoli Neu stadium in Innsbruck, Austria, which was used during Euro 2008.
I defy opponents of safe standing to demonstrate that those stadiums are unsafe and that those countries are neglecting the safety of their fans by allowing standing. Following the Hillsborough disaster, it was right to take action against the old-style standing terraces, but modern developments mean that, as other countries have shown, it is perfectly possible to introduce safe standing into the stadiums of premiership and championship clubs if the clubs want to and when stringent safety standards are met. I hope the House will support moves to allow clubs to consider such options.
[Relevant documents: The Tenth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, European Union Bill and Parliamentary Sovereignty, HC 633 I and II, and the uncorrected transcripts of oral evidence taken before the Committee on 22 and 25 November and 6 December HC 633-i, ii and iii .]
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the European Union Bill, has consented to place her prerogative, so far as it is affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
In the past 25 years, the EU has changed many times, each change marked by a new treaty: the Single European Act, the Maastricht treaty, the Amsterdam and Nice treaties, the failed EU constitution and its modified successor, the Lisbon treaty. As a result, the EU now has a greatly enlarged place in our national life, policy and politics. At the same time, we have seen a growing disconnection between the people who put us here in Parliament-the British people, the voters-and the EU's institutions. There is a growing sense, shown by falling turnout in European elections and a variety of surveys, that the EU's democratic legitimacy in this country has been weakened.
It can be said in mitigation that all but one of those treaties had its place in the manifesto of the party that won the general election, the exception-a rather important exception-being the last such treaty, the Lisbon treaty. It cannot be denied, however, that there is a problem-a severe one-that will only grow worse unless we take steps to address it, and the European Union Bill is part of the coalition Government's answer to that problem. Indeed, the crowning argument for the Bill was the behaviour of the last Government, who opposed a referendum on the EU constitution, then promised one, then refused to hold one on its substantially similar reincarnation as the Lisbon treaty. The Bill will prevent Governments from being so deceptive and double-dealing when it comes to giving voters a say.
Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing this important Bill, which will ensure that parties do not make a proposal on one side of an election only to conduct a U-turn on the other. Has he had any discussions with the Labour party on its position on the Bill, or will it be walking into the next election supporting a case in which the British electorate will again be denied the opportunity to conduct affairs on Europe?
That is something for the Opposition to consider and they will have some time to do so before the next election. The position set out in their amendment appears to be at best uncertain in that they agree with the principle of doing such a thing but not with doing it in practice. That is rather like the position they often
occupied in government of being in favour of referendums but never actually holding one on any European matter for which they were responsible.
Mr Hague: I shall take an intervention from the Opposition before I give way to my hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) did, of course, favour a referendum on the Lisbon treaty.
Ms Gisela Stuart: How would the Secretary of State describe a party that promised a referendum and then, in order to avoid one, simply changed the question, as the Members who are now in coalition with his party did in the last election?
Mr Hague: I am not here to answer for the party policies of other members of the coalition but for the coalition Government as a whole. The hon. Lady can rest assured that both parties in the coalition join strongly in their support for the Bill. It is sponsored by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister, and it is therefore easy for people in a third party to join us in supporting it, as the hon. Lady will no doubt want to consider doing.
Mr Cash: Given that we stood united as a party in opposing the Lisbon treaty and supporting a referendum, and given that we voted for that, will my right hon. Friend explain why we have done a U-turn on that within the coalition Government? Will he also explain why he was not prepared to come to my European Scrutiny Committee to explain the circumstances behind the Bill?
Mr Hague: On the first point, I do not think the coalition Government have done a U-turn, as the Bill implements part of the coalition agreement that was set out in the few days after the general election. It is true that the Conservative party, when the Lisbon treaty was ratified last year, said that in those circumstances we could no longer hold a referendum on the treaty. That, of course, was made clear before the general election. My hon. Friend is being a little unfair to both parties in the coalition.
On the second point, I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe gave a splendid exposition of the Government's position to the European Scrutiny Committee. As the Minister who was most involved in drafting the Bill, he was best equipped to go before the Committee. I look forward to discussing these issues with my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) on many occasions. Let there be no fear about that.
"We will amend the 1972 European Communities Act so that any proposed future treaty that transferred areas of power, or competences, would be subject to a referendum on that treaty-a 'referendum lock'."
Mr Hague: My hon. Friend may have worked out that the Bill has exactly the same effect as amending the Act and that it therefore absolutely honours the commitment in the coalition agreement. We additionally agreed, in the coalition agreement, that we would not agree to any transfer of powers from Westminster to Brussels for the duration of this Parliament. In addition, if Parliament approves the Bill, any future treaty change that transfers powers from Britain to the EU could be agreed only subject to the consent of the British people. That will provide a referendum lock to which the British people hold the key. The Bill makes a very important and radical change to how decisions on the EU are made in this country. It is the most important change since we joined what was then called the European Economic Community. It marks a fundamental shift in power from Ministers of the Crown to Parliament and the voters themselves on the most important decisions of all: who gets to decide what.
It has been said that because the Bill will place a high democratic test before any Government can agree to participation in deeper political integration in the EU, it will marginalise Britain, but I believe that that argument is dangerously mistaken in its assumption of what progress in the EU means. The yardstick for progress in the European Union is not the depth of political integration. The lost opportunities of the past decade of institutional navel-gazing have made that plain. Progress for the European Union means its institutions' ability and willingness to help its member states meet the challenges of today, and for us today that means our international economic competitiveness, sustainable low-carbon growth and the use of our collective weight in the world to advance our shared values and interests.
That is why, from their first day, the Government have been active and activist in European policy. That is why we have played a strong and positive role in the EU which in six months has delivered significant results-agreement on EU sanctions against the Iranian Government that are already having a material effect, and agreement on measures that will substantially aid Pakistan's economic recovery in the aftermath of the floods. We have pushed hard at EU level on measures to further free trade, in particular with Pakistan and South Korea, thus far with success.
The UK has not taken part in every aspect of the EU's development. When the euro was created, the decision to retain our own currency has, for example, been vindicated. Staying out of the euro and maintaining our own border controls has not weakened our influence, either. The previous Government's successful championing of enlargement to the east, to which I pay tribute, is proof of that. In the single market-for example, on patent reform-the UK should be ready to move forward in the national interest with other like-minded partners.
As in all matters, the Government's policy on European issues should be based on the pursuit of our enlightened national interest. Our ability to advance our goals by working with European partners is crucial to that. Ensuring that our role is based on democratic consent is equally necessary, and that is what the Bill is about.
Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con):
Will the Foreign Secretary explain why, when the Government are giving away powers to regulate the City, powers over criminal justice, powers in two regulations and a directive that
will affect our economic governance, and big new powers for an expanded External Action Service, none of those qualifies for a referendum under the Bill? People want a referendum now on the powers that the current Government are giving away.
Mr Hague: That is simply because we are not giving away those powers. The European External Action Service was agreed, established and given its role by the Lisbon treaty. My right hon. Friend may regret that, and I may regret that, but it was given by the Lisbon treaty. On the City, the European Union has long had the power to legislate in this area, which has equally long been subject to qualified majority voting and co-decision with the European Parliament. On economic governance, it is clear-for instance, in the Van Rompuy report on economic governance-that the proposed sanctions do not apply to the United Kingdom and that the proposed changes will not affect the United Kingdom. I reject my right hon. Friend's basic thesis.
Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): But is not the argument between my right hon. Friends precisely the problem? Surely Parliament must be sovereign because the people must be sovereign. What will happen in future if there is some row about whether a referendum should take place or not once the Bill becomes law? Will not our affairs then become justiciable? Is that not an attack on the sovereignty of Parliament, which we must believe in?
Mr Hague: I shall come to that point. It requires clarity in the Bill, as far as possible, on the circumstances in which a referendum would or would not be held. That is the safeguard against what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) is complaining about in relation to rights that have been given away in the past. It would have been good to have a referendum on those. The Bill is about the future-let us be clear about that-and we have to make it as clear as possible.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): The Secretary of State has mentioned the Lisbon treaty a number of times, saying that because of it we cannot do certain things. Surely the public will think that no Government should be committed to previous Governments' decisions, and that it would be perfectly possible-there would be huge support for it-for the coalition Government to say, "Now we are in Government, we want a referendum on the Lisbon treaty." That would sort out the whole situation, because clearly the public would vote against it.
Mr Hague: As the hon. Lady knows, since the Lisbon treaty was ratified it has been built into the treaties of the EU. It does not have a separate existence once it is ratified. A referendum on that would be the same as a referendum on taking part in all the EU's institutions-in other words, being in the EU at all.
Mr Hague: The hon. Lady may be in favour of a referendum on that, but that is not what the Bill is about. This Bill concerns any Government proposing to give away powers in the future. Let us be clear about that.
Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) mentioned criminal justice powers, and the last Conservative manifesto saw fit to promise to work to bring back key powers over legal rights and criminal justice. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Government have not just not sought to repatriate these powers, but have actually given additional powers to the European Union, as they did just last Friday when they chose to opt in to a criminal justice directive over which there was an opt-out, not only without a referendum but without even a vote in this House of Commons? Will he give serious consideration to requiring a vote of the House of Commons and the House of Lords before there are any further opt-ins to significant pieces of criminal justice legislation from the EU that will give the European Court of Justice jurisdiction over our courts?
Mr Hague: My hon. Friend raises a very important subject-a rather large subject, unfortunately, for those watching the length of speeches today, because I want to answer his question properly. Let us be clear that in the context of the Bill, it is any proposal to give up our freedom not to participate in justice and home affairs decisions that would be subject to a referendum. That would be from where we are starting-the extension of the power of the EU. But it is also important to be clear that the justice and home affairs ratchet clauses, as I call them, covered in the Bill amend the treaties by allowing for an expansion of what can be done within existing areas of EU competence. They are clearly passerelle clauses. We said in the coalition programme for government-that is our reference document here-that the use of any passerelle clause would require primary legislation, so that is also the case.
The opt-ins, which are a different category, are a very important subject, but they are not for this Bill. Given that there are strict time limits applying to the UK's decision to exercise an opt-in, which is within three months of the receipt of a proposal-
The fact that there are also 30 to 40 proposals per annum means that it is not possible to place a primary legislative lock or parliamentary resolution requirement on the exercise of the opt-in. Therefore, it is important to be clear about the distinction of these different categories of decisions on justice and home affairs.
The nature of how our society relates to its politics, and the expectation of the British people's involvement in decisions that affect them, has changed. In the years since 1997, we have had referendums in Scotland, Wales, Greater London and the north-east of England on proposals for devolution of power; in Northern Ireland we have had a referendum on the Belfast agreement; and legislation is before Parliament now to hold a referendum on a change to the parliamentary voting system. Changes that affect the powers exercised on behalf of the people by Parliament have been considered to be important enough to require the endorsement of the people in a referendum.
At the same time, there is a widespread perception that the really important decisions about the EU have been taken without real consideration for the wishes of the people, and much of that is reflected in my hon. Friends' comments. Many in the House, including me, think that the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, without the promised referendum, was wrong, and it did a great deal of damage. That perception reinforces public alienation from the EU and decisions taken on the EU by Governments, and that is what we now have to put right. Therefore, we in the coalition Government have resolved that we need to rebuild trust and reconnect people and enhance parliamentary control over EU decisions, so, as with our proposals for elected police commissioners, our plans to enable parent groups to establish free schools in their communities and our proposals to hold a referendum on the voting system, we are giving more power from the centre to the citizens of this country.
"If you believe in an independent Britain, then come with me, and I will give you back your country"
Mr Hague: I remember saying it well. It was a very good speech, and it is recommended reading for all those who have trouble sleeping. It is even in a book somewhere, so I am grateful to my hon. Friend for quoting it. He can rest assured that I would have held a referendum on many things that have happened since then, including on the Lisbon treaty. Indeed, I asked for a referendum on other European treaties that were introduced during that time. However, it is our misfortune when we start in government, whenever we start, to start from where we are, and we start from here-in a coalition Government, meeting the commitments in our coalition agreement. That is what we now have to take on.
As hon. Members who were present for the Lisbon treaty debates might remember, there are now essentially two ways in which treaty change can be agreed by the Governments of member states: the ordinary revision procedure, under which any amendment to the treaties must be agreed unanimously by member states, and, following the Lisbon treaty, the simplified revision procedure, under which the European Council can decide to amend those parts of EU treaties devoted to internal policies, such as the single market and justice and home affairs.
Under our current law, any change under the simplified procedure, defined in this Bill as an "Article 48(6) decision", would require only a Minister of the Crown to move a motion in both Houses and for both Houses to vote positively to approve the change. It is easy now, and it was easy in 2008 when that provision was debated, to see how that level of parliamentary control for a formal treaty change is grossly inadequate. The Bill therefore ensures that any future amendment to the treaty on the European Union or to the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, under either revision procedure that I have just outlined, will require parliamentary approval by Act of Parliament before the United Kingdom is able to ratify the change.
That is a significant addition to the powers of Parliament to hold Ministers to account for the decisions they take in Brussels. It was an addition that I championed in opposition and one that this Government will now put into statute to ensure that parliamentary control is enhanced further. That is the first thing that the Bill achieves.
Henry Smith: I welcome the Bill, but if it becomes law a future Parliament will be able to repeal it, so ultimately, do we not, like other European countries such as Germany, need to codify the sovereignty of this Parliament in a written constitution?
Mr Hague: That is a wider debate, and there is a legitimate argument for that. I hope that the Bill becomes part of the accepted constitutional framework of this country, for which, over time, it will have to receive widespread public support and the acceptance of parties from all parts of the House. The Opposition, as we have said, will have some time to think about it. Indeed, they might have a very long time before they return to government-I certainly hope so. I hope that the Bill becomes part of our permanent constitutional framework, but the argument for a written constitution ranges much wider than the scope of the Bill.
Chris Bryant: The right hon. Gentleman knows well that I have long opposed referendums on almost everything. I am not a fan of referendums; I believe in parliamentary democracy, but that is a different debate from today's.
The hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) makes a good point-that the Bill does not really introduce a referendum lock. It closes the door for a while, until such time as a Government of any colour, whether Conservative, Liberal Democrat-well, that is fairly unlikely-or Labour, choose, if they want to, to derogate from the Bill in any provisions that they introduce. Is that not the danger-that the Bill might just seem like no more than political posturing?
As I go through the description of what the Bill entails, the hon. Gentleman will understand that it is a lot more than that. It means a great deal for what happens in this Parliament. It means that not only
do we have our commitment not to transfer more powers from this country to the European Union, but that in a vast range of circumstances we would have to hold a referendum if we contemplated doing so.
It will be very difficult for future Governments to go back on those commitments, but we will see; that is something for the Labour party to contemplate. In future elections, it can choose whether to say that it will weaken democratic accountability in this country or whether to accept the changes for the long term. That is a choice it will have to face, and there is no sign in its reasoned amendment today that it is yet making that choice. However, it will have to make that choice, and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) will have to make it.
Clause 4 sets out the criteria that the Government of the day would have to apply to determine whether a transfer of competence or power would occur under a future treaty change. The Act of Parliament seeking parliamentary approval for the treaty change would also make provision for the holding of the referendum, if a referendum was required. Following the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty, the different types of EU competence-a European legal term that really means the power to act in an area of policy-and the extent of each type of competence has been set out explicitly in the treaties. Under this legislation, any extension of competence would trigger a referendum. That would also include any extension or creation of a new objective for the European Union. That is all clear in the Bill.
Power, on the other hand, is not so clearly defined, so I want to establish here what we mean by a transfer of power as set out in clause 4. First, it means the giving up of a UK veto in a significant area of policy because that would mean that the UK would lose the ability to block a future measure made under that treaty article. There is a large number of vetoes in the treaties, and many of them are in areas that hon. Members on both sides of the House consider important and sensitive-for example, foreign policy, tax, justice and home affairs. It is right that any treaty change that would transfer from unanimity to qualified majority voting the way in which decisions were taken over those key areas of policy should require the consent of the British people before a Government agree to such a change.
We do not propose to hold a referendum over the giving up of the veto over more minor or technical measures such as any future agreement to change the numbers of Advocates-General in the Court of Justice of the European Union. In my view, giving up such a veto would be a mistake and should require primary legislation in the House, but I do not think that the British public would understand it if such a narrow and relatively minor measure were to require a national referendum.
Mr Hague: We need a clear framework for referendums because Governments such as the right hon. Gentleman's promised the people a referendum and then reneged on that commitment, and because the level of public trust has dramatically declined. This is a new framework of law for this country and I believe that it will enjoy growing support over the years. It already enjoys the strong support of two political parties in this country. That in itself is an enormous advance on where we were starting from in the last Parliament, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows.
Charlie Elphicke: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the central point of the Bill is that if a future Government came along and attempted to cheat the British people out of a referendum, as the previous Government did-as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) well knows-they would not be able to do it without explicitly repealing and amending the Act? They could not hide behind word games and semantics.
Mr Hague: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, the Labour party will be asked before future general elections what its approach would be. It will be asked to give the commitment to maintain the referendum lock; otherwise people will know that it would propose in office to do exactly what it has done before-give away the rights and powers of the British people without the consent of the British people. If the Labour party wants to go into a general election on that basis, let it do so, but it would be wiser for it to adopt this framework for the future.
The second way in which power will be transferred from Britain to Brussels, as defined for the purposes of the Bill, will be by granting an EU institution or body, through treaty change, a new ability to impose further obligations or sanctions on the United Kingdom or on individuals and organisations within the United Kingdom.
That point has been the subject of some debate, although some of that has been based on scant acquaintance with the content of the Bill. It has wrongly been claimed that Ministers will be able to use a significance test on any future treaty change. That is not true. The Bill places an absolute and unqualified referendum requirement on the transfer of competence, the creation of new competence, or the removal of limits to existing competences and upon a whole raft of vetoes. The Bill also provides that the consent of the British people will be required if the Government wish to agree to certain other specific decisions-for example, joining the euro, joining a common European army, or joining the group of countries that have shared border controls.
If the only reason for a proposed treaty amendment being caught by the referendum lock is that it would, while not transferring or extending competence, confer upon the EU the ability to impose new obligations or sanctions on this country, we need to be able to distinguish between important and minor changes. We are providing
a workable, sustainable solution to prevent referendums being held on matters that we could not justify to the public as having the significance to merit a referendum.
Mark Hendrick: The right hon. Gentleman is making it plain in his remarks that the Bill is not aimed at the current Government; it is aimed at a possible future Labour Government. He says that he would not trust a future Labour Government, but does he trust his current partners? He has described the Liberal Democrats as wanting to go all the way towards a united states of Europe, so what is his position? Does he trust them, or does he trust us?
Mr Hague: The Bill is aimed at all Governments, including our own, any future Governments and any combinations of Government. Yes, we have new partners in Government and, on the basis of the past seven months, I trust them a great deal more than I would trust the Government we had before the election. Let the hon. Gentleman be absolutely clear about that.
On how the Bill works and ministerial accountability for decisions on whether to hold a referendum, a Minister of the Crown will be required to make a statement within two months of a treaty change being agreed by member state Governments. That ministerial statement will have to give reasons why the treaty change does or does not require a referendum, and those reasons will have to refer to the criteria set out in clause 4.
Mr Hague: I will in a moment, yes. Like any ministerial decision, it will be open to any member of the public-yes, any member of the public-who is entitled to vote in a referendum to challenge the Minister's judgment through judicial review. The reasoned statement set out in clause 5 makes any such ministerial decision as amenable to judicial review as is possible. That provides a powerful reason for Ministers to stick to both the letter and spirit of the law, and not to seek to sidestep the requirement for a referendum. We have ensured that we are as precise as possible about what would require a referendum.
We have also provided further clarity on the scope of the referendum lock by setting out certain categories of treaty change that would not require a referendum: first, the accession of a new country to the EU-the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston looks surprised-would not require a referendum, although each accession treaty would still require approval by an Act of Parliament; secondly, a treaty change that, while it would have to be agreed and ratified by all member states, would not apply to this country; and, thirdly, a treaty change that merely sought to codify EU practice in relation to the previous exercise of an existing competence. The Bill does not cover any use of the EU's existing competences as defined in the treaties, because those competences have already been transferred and the extent of the competences is set out in European law.
Mr Carswell: The Foreign Secretary has spoken of a referendum lock. Given that this Parliament cannot bind the next, that a future referendum would rest on a ministerial decision in the way that he describes, and that a new law would be required for such a referendum to be held, in what sense is it a referendum lock? It is a piece of legislative PR, perhaps, but not really a lock.
Mr Hague: My hon. Friend, perhaps deliberately, understates its importance by overstating the scope for ministerial decision and the significance test. The Bill is very clear that, on 44 specific treaty articles, the removal of the veto requires a referendum, and that the substantive use of 12 treaty articles requires a referendum. There is no scope for Ministers to decide that those things do not require a referendum. There is no scope for Ministers to decide that a decision to join the euro, to subscribe to a European army, to give up our veto on the financial framework, to give up our veto on foreign policy or to give up control of our borders does not require a referendum. Let us be absolutely clear about that.
My hon. Friend said that we cannot bind our successors in this respect, but of course that could be said about so many of the laws that we propose, and are proposed under future Governments, which we intend to have long-term effect. If we took that attitude on everything, there would be no point in doing anything or ever getting up in the morning to come to Parliament at all. We are trying to create a long-term and enduring framework, and I believe that we have a very good chance of doing so.
Graham Stringer: When the right hon. Gentleman was in opposition, I enjoyed his speeches on Europe: they were magnificent; leonine. I voted with him on the Lisbon treaty-not just on the basis of his speech, but because it was in our manifesto to vote for the Lisbon treaty. However, I wish that he was using now the arguments that he used then. The public are not interested in the details in this Bill-they think that too much money is spent on the European Union and that it has too much power. Are not the Conservative party and the Foreign Secretary going to give the people of this country an opportunity to have their say on that?
Mr Hague: The public are right, and my arguments are the same as they were on the Lisbon treaty- [ Interruption. ] They may not sound like it; I have to explain an 18-clause Bill, so they may not sound quite as dramatic. The hon. Gentleman may be right that the public are not interested in the details of the Bill, but Parliament needs to go through those details. My argument is exactly the same as the one that I made on the Lisbon treaty-that where a Government propose to hand over the powers of this country, there should be a referendum. There should have been a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. If there is any future treaty change of the kind that I have described, there should be a referendum. It is exactly the same argument. I am grateful to him for voting with me then, and I trust that on the same basis he will be voting with me today.
"Treaty provisions where amendment removing a need for unanimity, consensus or common accord would attract referendum",
and it lists things such as the appointment of judges and advocates-general of the European Court of Justice. Is the right hon. Gentleman really saying that we are going to have a referendum in this country if his Government, or any future Government, decide that they want to transfer competence on that issue?
Mr Hague: We welcome the right hon. Gentleman back to the House. It is traditional in these circumstances to sit on the Front Bench below the Gangway in a menacing posture towards his own party, and we notice that he has gone to sit in that particular position. There is some political significance in that.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for stressing the detail into which the Bill goes and the extent to which we are insisting that a referendum should be held, because that should be of enormous reassurance to some of my hon. Friends. On the specific subject of the advocates-general, one of the matters that I said would not be subject to a referendum is the loss of our veto on the number of advocates-general.
Mr Cash: I am extremely grateful again to my right hon. Friend. Does he recall that in the evidence that was given to my Committee and in the conclusions of the report that it produced last night, there was an assertion and a conclusion that the Bill invites litigation in the courts? He has just confirmed, with regard to the circumstances of a referendum, that he too would invite litigation. Does he not think that the time has come when this House, as the ultimate authority of the law of this land, should decide such matters, and not just buck them over to the courts?
Mr Hague: The Bill is about many matters being decided in this place or by the people. The hon. Gentleman's point is distinct from the one that was raised in the European Scrutiny Committee report about clause 18. I made the point that an executive ministerial decision is subject to judicial review, which is always the case. The decision of the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband) on the Lisbon treaty was taken to judicial review by Mr Stuart Wheeler, albeit unsuccessfully. Ministerial decisions are subject to judicial review and that is not changed by the Bill.
The right hon. Member for South Shields is still looking puzzled about the position of the advocates-general. The loss of the veto in the appointment of advocates-general and European Commissioners would be a significant loss of national-
Mr Hague: The right hon. Gentleman may roll his eyes about that, but it would be an important loss of national power. I thank him for illustrating the comprehensive nature of the Bill. I will give way one more time before I resume my argument.
Ms Gisela Stuart: Accession treaties are exempt from the referendum requirement. Will the Foreign Secretary explain how the accession of Turkey, which by that stage would probably have a larger population than Germany, would not amount to a considerable loss of influence for the United Kingdom, given the system of qualified majority voting? Why is it therefore exempt from a referendum? I just do not get it.
Mr Hague: That is a different argument about referendums on accession treaties. Such treaties do not extend the powers and competences of the European Union, and so are not within the terms of the Bill. If the hon. Lady wants to advocate a referendum on the accession of Turkey, there will, sadly, be time for her to do so because the process will take a while. However, that is a separate argument from the extension of powers and competences.
The Bill will give Parliament more control over whether the Government can agree to a number of other important EU decisions, sometimes referred to as the self-amending provisions of the Lisbon treaty. Those decisions, which are known as passerelles or ratchet clauses, contain built-in mechanisms that allow modifications to EU treaties or the exercise of one-way options, without recourse to either of the formal methods of treaty change.
The Government have identified three types of ratchet clause, although I hesitate to go into detail after the comments of the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer). However, it is important to be clear on this matter. There are clauses that allow for a change of legislative procedure, clauses that allow for changes in voting procedure and clauses that allow for the expansion of the scope of an article allowing the European Union to act.
Given the lack of a universal definition and the Government's aim of ensuring that our proposals are as clear as possible to Parliament and the public, we have set out explicitly which treaty articles require additional levels of control. As with future treaty changes, passerelles or ratchet clauses that entail a transfer of power or competence will require the consent of the British people in a referendum. There will be a referendum requirement on any methods in the treaties for giving up vetoes that we have deemed to be significant. Clause 6 covers the simplified revision procedure and six provisions in the treaties that allow for vetoes to be given up without formal treaty change.
Clauses 8 and 9 provide for parliamentary controls over two types of decision: the use of article 352 of the treaty on the functioning of the EU-the so-called broad enabling clause-and the use of three ratchet clauses in the field of justice and home affairs. Some additional proposals that require a vote in both Houses, rather than a Bill, are listed in clause 10. They are
mostly articles that modify the composition, rules of procedure or statutes of existing EU institutions or bodies.
The coalition stated in its programme for government that it would examine the case for a United Kingdom sovereignty Bill. I announced in October that, following that examination, we had decided to include a provision in this Bill to place on a statutory footing the existing common law principle of parliamentary sovereignty. The doctrine that EU law has effect here for one reason only, namely that authority has been conferred upon it by Acts of Parliament and subsists only for as long as Parliament so decides, has been upheld consistently by the courts. However, we can see considerable merit in placing that position beyond speculation on a statutory footing. That will guard against any risk that in future, common law jurisprudence might drift towards accepting a different argument. In other words, we have included a clause that underlines the fact that what a sovereign Parliament can do, a sovereign Parliament can undo.
Mr Cash: I wish to put on record the fact in the conclusions to the European Scrutiny Committee's report issued last night, we unequivocally rejected the notion of a common law principle, because it would offer the courts a gateway to take over jurisdiction in areas that we regard as unacceptable in UK constitutional law.
Mr Hague: Yes, I have read the report, of course, and I note the concerns about the references to the common law in the explanatory notes. However, those references are meant simply as a contradistinction to statute, given that the principle of parliamentary sovereignty is defined nowhere in statute. They are not meant to be determinative of the origin of the principle, which is an issue that goes far beyond the scope of the Bill.
As I set out a few moments ago, under current law any proposal to amend the EU treaties using the ordinary revision procedure can be ratified by the United Kingdom only once parliamentary approval has been obtained by Act of Parliament. We have therefore made provision in the Bill for Parliament's approval of the transitional protocol on MEPs. That will allow 18 MEPs from 12 member states, including one from the UK, to take up their seats without having to wait until the next scheduled elections in 2014. As that protocol does not transfer any power or competence from the UK to the EU, a referendum is clearly not required. As it is a treaty change, however, all member states are required to ratify it. The Bill also makes the necessary provisions to elect our new MEP, who will, based on the recommendation made by the Electoral Commission in its report last month, represent the West Midlands.
The Bill will give the British people and Parliament powers that they have not previously enjoyed in decisions about engagement with the European Union. Some have criticised the Government's proposals, saying that they will necessarily stymie further progress or put the UK in the slow lane of Europe. The Government do not subscribe to that argument, for three reasons.
First, it is wrong to accept continuous political integration as a definition of progress. Secondly, although other European nations have different constitutional frameworks, a number of countries require a referendum of their people to be held if a treaty change proposes a further shift of powers to Brussels. Some, most notably Germany, also have provisions in place to ensure effective parliamentary control over specific key decisions taken by their Governments. There is a growing trend across Europe to give citizens and Parliaments more control over the decisions taken by their Governments on EU matters, and it is right that we should be not just part of that trend but leading it from the front.
Thirdly, if a future Government can demonstrate a compelling case as to why a further transfer of power is in the national interest, they should be able to persuade the British people of its merits. If a future Government were to take a different view from ours, they would have to convince the British people. Whatever the outcome of such an argument, our democracy would be all the healthier for the decision lying in the hands of the British people as a whole. That fulfils an important part of the Conservative manifesto, but it also draws on a line of thinking that has found its place in recent Liberal Democrat manifestos. I hope that Opposition Front Benchers will in time support it too, because when the voters cast a party out of government, it must understand why. The previous Government's high-handedness on EU matters is one reason why Labour is no longer in government, and it should now learn from that.
The Bill can receive support from those who like the EU just as it is, those who want it to do less, and those who want it to have more power but who are prepared to argue for that. The Bill does not determine the shape of our future place in the EU, but it ensures that our position will command the voters' consent. It will give the British people the assurance, which they are entitled to expect, that the sovereignty of Parliament and the ultimate right of the people themselves to decide which powers are the subject of collective decisions within Europe are both properly safeguarded. Those safeguards will put our participation in the EU on a sturdier and more democratic footing. That is why we present the Bill to the House.
"this House declines to give a second reading to the European Union Bill on the grounds that, while the principle of referendums on significant constitutional and monetary changes is appropriate, the Bill is a flawed measure which would confuse the important issues at stake and make vital constitutional issues justiciable by the courts rather than resolved under the sovereignty of Parliament."
The Foreign Secretary has been on a long and tortuous journey to get here today. The man who voted for the Maastricht treaty without a referendum and the former party leader who put Euroscepticism at the heart of his unsuccessful election campaign now finds himself in government with what he has described as
"the most fanatically federalist party in Britain."
The Foreign Secretary's diary engagement from last night rather sums things up for him, and I am sorry that he chose not to share it with the House. Last night, he went back to Smith square, to the old Conservative central office. From the windows where once Margaret Thatcher waved on election night now waves a blue flag with yellow stars. Where once sat Tory party researchers working on the Bruges speech, there are now French, German and Italian officials. He was invited for the opening and renaming of central office as Europe House. It cannot be easy for him. He is caught between the realities and the responsibilities of government and the rhetoric of Eurosceptic opposition. He is caught, as they say, between a rock and the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash).
Mr Hague: The record should also show that the room where I spoke last night was named the Churchill room by common agreement, and that I took the opportunity to remind all who were there of the need for EU institutions to bring down their budgetary aspirations just as the Government have had to do in this country.
Yvette Cooper: If only the Foreign Secretary's willingness to open EU buildings extended to opening a proper debate on European issues in the House. Clause 10 purports to increase Parliament's role before ministerial decisions are made, yet the truth is that the Government do the opposite. We have had no discussion of the European economy prior to the discussion between European Finance Ministers today, no discussion of practical measures to cut the European budget, such as reform of the common agricultural policy, and no discussion of working with Europe on human trafficking or the directive that the Government continue to opt out of.
This very morning, European Finance Ministers met to discuss the Irish support package and the European economy. In 10 days' time, decisions will be made on the crisis resolution measures that will affect the entire European economy-not just the eurozone-for many years to come. National leaders will discuss a treaty change to introduce that package, yet when is the debate in the British Parliament? We have no idea what British Government Ministers are proposing or asking for.
We should hold pre-Council debates in this Chamber. The economic and political pressures that Europe faces are serious. European growth is slowing, unemployment has increased and markets are putting pressure on several eurozone countries, all of which matters immensely to Britain, yet we have had no pre-Council debates. At the end of this year, there will have been four European Councils, but no debate.
Mr Redwood: The right hon. Lady is raising crucial issues. Does her party support the idea of Britain being part of more EU economic governance powers to help euroland, and does she think we ought to offer more financial assistance to other euroland countries in crisis?
Yvette Cooper: I think that the Government were right to provide support for Ireland, because the prospects for growth in Ireland will have a huge impact on our economy. That is also why it is important that the House debates the precise measures proposed as part of a permanent crisis resolution mechanism. The House does not know what those proposals are or what the Government are arguing for.
Mr Ellwood: Will the right hon. Lady provide some clarification, because her amendment does not make it clear where the Labour party stands on this issue? It supports referendums in principle, but it does not say when they would be held. When would a referendum be used on Europe? Will she also clarify whether it is still Labour's long-term ambition to introduce the euro and an EU defence force?
Yvette Cooper: As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have set out our belief that there should be referendums in cases of major constitutional change or currency issues, and I hope that he supported our decision not to let Britain enter the euro for the very good economic reasons that have proved to be right in practice.
The economic issues are very serious. Markets are still putting pressure on several eurozone countries. This matters immensely for Britain, because the Government are relying on an increase in British exports of £100 billion over the next few years to keep our economy growing, and we will not get that if our largest export market has gone into reverse. The EU does not have a serious strategy for growth and jobs, just as the British Government do not. The eurozone does not yet have a strong enough response to the pressure from financial markets, and a strategy of nothing but co-ordinated fiscal austerity in every country in Europe will not deliver growth, will not ultimately satisfy the financial markets and will be bad news for Britain. That is what we should be discussing now; that is what Ministers should be debating in Europe; that is what we should be discussing as part of a pre-European Council debate in the House. It makes a complete mockery of the Bill not to have those discussions in the House, and exposes the sham that the Secretary of State's approach to Europe really is.
Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman needs to recognise that Britain will not grow without sufficient growth in our exports, especially given the sheer scale of the cuts that his Government are introducing. Without a sufficient increase in domestic demand, we are reliant on increasing our exports. Where does he want those exports to go, if he also wants us to turn our backs on Europe and allow the Irish economy to face serious problems? That would put a drag on our own economy and prospects as well.
Ms Gisela Stuart: Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the use of article 352 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union will not require an Act of Parliament, and that the current bail-out of Ireland, which is a pretty significant activity to which we are contributing as part of our EU obligations, is being done under that article?
Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It raises some of the unresolved questions coming out of the Bill and the interaction between the Bill and some of the crisis resolution mechanisms and proposed treaty changes. The Government simply have not answered those questions.
Mr MacShane: I am astonished that the Foreign Secretary of all people has thrown away this pre-European Council debate. I made my maiden speech in such a debate before people such as Ted Heath and Peter Shore. They are very important debates for our House of Commons, but the Government have thrown them in the dustbin because they cannot face the discussions needed. My right hon. Friend is right to keep emphasising this point, so will she commit us, when we form the next Government, to allowing a debate in Government time on Europe?
Yvette Cooper: My right hon. Friend is right: those debates are important. We could have had a pre-European Council discussion today, at the same time as European Finance Ministers are meeting and well in advance of national leaders meeting to discuss exactly these issues. Instead of talking about vital issues for the European economy, what are we doing? According to the Foreign Secretary, we are talking about referendums that he says we will not need and sovereignty that he says we already have-that is, referendums for powers that he says he will not even transfer, and sovereignty that he says will not change at all as a result of this Bill. Unnerving as I find it to be in agreement with the hon. Member for Clacton (Mr Carswell), I am afraid to say that he is right. This Bill is just smoke and mirrors to distract us from the fact that the Government have no strategy for Europe and no way of handling their own Eurosceptics.
Instead of having a serious debate about the future of Europe, the Foreign Secretary is pandering to the Eurosceptics, and it is the worst pandering of all, because it will not even work. All that it is doing is winding them up. This Bill is a complete dog's dinner and he knows it, yet the Eurosceptics are salivating nevertheless. The Bill tries to constrain parliamentary sovereignty on the one hand and protect parliamentary sovereignty on the other, using a referendum lock that does one thing and a sovereignty clause that does the opposite-a referendum lock that tries to bind future Parliaments and a sovereignty clause that makes it clear that the Government can do no such thing. It is all in the same Bill, which faces both ways at the same time.
"The common law is already clear on this. Parliament is sovereign. EU law has effect in the UK because-and solely because-Parliament wills that it should. Parliament chose to pass the European Communities Act 1972. That was the act of a sovereign Parliament."
"to put the matter beyond speculation,"
the Government will introduce the sovereignty clause, but whose speculation are we talking about? It is not the speculation of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash), because his European Scrutiny Committee has said:
"The evidence we received suggests that the legislative supremacy of Parliament is not currently under threat from EU law."
"Clause 18 is not a sovereignty clause in the manner claimed by the Government, and the whole premise on which it has been included in the Bill is, in our view, exaggerated."
The only source of speculation that I could find was one speech by a barrister on behalf of a client in 2002 and a speech by the Prime Minister in 2009. The truth is that the Foreign Secretary has set up a straw man in order to shoot it down, because he will not give his party what it really wants, which is a referendum on withdrawing from the EU altogether.
"The judges created this principle"-
"If that is so, it is not unthinkable that circumstances could arise where the courts may have to qualify a principle established on a different hypothesis of constitutionalism."
"Parliamentary sovereignty is no longer, if it ever was, absolute...Step by step, gradually but surely, the English principle of the absolute legislative sovereignty of Parliament which Dicey derived from Coke and Blackstone is being qualified."
Yvette Cooper: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is not picking a fight with me; he is picking a fight with his Government, whom I quoted, and the European Scrutiny Committee, which I also quoted. His disagreement is with them, but I hope that he agrees that clause 18 does nothing at all to change sovereignty. In fact, the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), who asked about a written constitution, got further than anybody else in raising the key question about sovereignty that the hon. Gentleman's Government are pretending to solve while, in fact, doing nothing of the sort.
Mr Cash: I simply make the point that our Committee report is utterly clear on that subject. What the right hon. Lady quoted is correct. However, her Government were as responsible as any for giving more and more judicial authority-ultimate authority-to the courts. Their main policy over many years could be characterised as handing over more and more powers to the judges at the expense of this House.
Yvette Cooper: I know that the hon. Gentleman has immense expertise on the details of the legal changes, but he and I have a long history of disagreeing over what is important in a particular case, and I suspect that we will continue to do so.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Is not one of the problems with the Bill the fact that it makes the decision on whether to hold a referendum justiciable, and therefore a matter to be decided by the courts, when it is surely a political decision for which elected Members of Parliament ought to take the rap at the ballot box if they get it wrong?
Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Bill will create a lawyers' paradise because it is so confused and complex. Important issues will have to be decided by the courts as they try to interpret what the Government and Parliament meant, which could lead to decisions that override Parliament and delays to decisions that Parliament might want to make while those legal wrangles are taking place.
Charlie Elphicke: Speaking as a former lawyer, I find the Bill plain and obvious. If a future Government or bunch of politicians get together to cheat people out of a referendum, a little guy could come along and put a stop to that through the court system. That has to be right, in order to keep politicians to their promises.
The pledges on referendums are very confused. We agree that Europe should not be pursuing new treaties, major treaty changes or major transfers of power or competence, and we have long said that it is time for Europe to stop its institutional navel-gazing, but navel-gazing is exactly what the Bill proposes. It tries to pin down in legislation the detail of a whole series of changes that would, or would not, trigger a referendum, but it creates complete confusion as a result. It does not define the powers or competences that it wants to protect, and it does not explain what constitutes a significant change and what does not. It allows Ministers to make decisions in certain areas, but admits that that will be subject to judicial review.
As far as I could understand him, the Foreign Secretary said today that the extension of any competence-even a supporting one, and even in a very small or insignificant way-will require a referendum. However, new powers to impose requirements, obligations or sanctions on the UK, even if they would have far more impact on Britain than a small change to the competences, would not require a referendum if Ministers determined that the proposed changes failed their own significance test.
I am also completely baffled by the debate about the advocates-general, because schedule 1 clearly states that the matter would attract a referendum, but the Foreign Secretary said that it would not pass the significance test. As far as I could work out, as I fitted together what he was saying, we would not have a referendum on how many advocates-general there were to be, but we would have to have one on whom we were going to appoint.
This is a dog's dinner of a Bill. It is completely confused. Frankly, it makes the Maastricht treaty look like light reading. The Minister for Europe has said that he does not believe a referendum should be triggered for a treaty change on the allocation of carbon credits. He says that that is not significant, and he has a point. That matter should not merit a referendum, but how can he be sure that the courts will take the same view when interpreting this legislation? And what about the treaty change that is due to be proposed at the European Council next week? That change would make it possible for Europe to create permanent bail-out mechanisms to deal with future financial crises in the eurozone. We have said that we have some concerns about the overall policy approach that Europe is taking. Nevertheless, the
Government have said that they support these changes, and we recognise the need to look at a treaty change in order to ensure that a permanent long-term response is in place. The Foreign Secretary seems to be hoping that this treaty change will not be covered by the Bill, but how can he be sure that the courts will take the same view? He is asking for trouble because the Bill is so contrived and complex. Lawyers will have a field day. He is contriving his Bill to avoid a treaty change that he has not yet negotiated, and contriving his treaty negotiations to avoid clashing with a Bill that he has not yet tested in Parliament or in the courts.
Furthermore, despite all the Foreign Secretary's contortions, he will not keep his Eurosceptic party happy anyway, as we have heard in interventions today. His Government have signed up to the EU investigation order. They were right to do so, and we welcomed the move, but his Back Benchers wanted a referendum on the matter. His Government supported the Van Rompuy taskforce on economic information, but many of his Back Benchers wanted a referendum on it. They want referendums on crime, on justice co-operation on the European arrest warrant, and on pulling out altogether. He cannot keep his Eurosceptics happy, so he is desperately trying to distract them with this Bill. He promised them red meat, but he is now offering them an omelette instead.
"Tories have jumped into bed with the wackos and the weirdos".
On this evidence, one could say the same of the Liberal Democrats. The Government can have unity without clarity, or clarity without unity, but they are clearly incapable of both. At a time when they should be working hard in Europe on the issues that matter-jobs, growth, trade, cross-border crime-they are collapsing back into navel-gazing and confusion and turning their backs on the opportunities and benefits that working in partnership can bring. This Bill is a mess, and they should go back to the drawing board and start again.
Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): This Bill is born of a very serious mood in our country. A majority of people in Britain feel that a great amount of power has already passed to the European Union over the past 20 years, and they feel that powers are still drifting away under this new Government. They would like to see that progress arrested, and they would like to see powers brought back in certain crucial areas. They would like to feel that more of their lives were under democratic, accountable government here in Westminster than under the less accountable, less democratic government of the European Union. The Government would be wise to heed the seriousness of that view among many in this Parliament, representing many outside it.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary's noble aim. He says that the aim of his legislation and policy is to give us all a greater sense of empowerment when it comes to matters of European governance and action. I would urge him to look again at his Bill, however. It is certainly cleverly contrived, and it is certainly contrived in a great deal of detail, but it is, in practice, the not-the-referendum Bill. On every area of competence and power that we see drifting away or being transferred from us as we have this debate, we are told, "That would not qualify for a referendum under this legislation."
I believe that the Foreign Secretary has taken legal advice, and he wants to have a referendum on the transfer of competences rather than on the transfer of powers. I would suggest that that is a tad too clever. We all know that most of the competences have already gone. That was what Lisbon was all about. That was why he and I fought tooth and nail, together, against that treaty and in favour of a referendum on the treaty. Most of the things that the Government now wish to do are a shared competence with the European Union. What matters is not a further transfer of competence, but a further grab or transfer of power by the European authorities.
When the Conservatives were in office, we made it very clear that we wanted trading relationships and friendships, and a certain amount of common legislating in single market and related areas, but not a common Government or political union. To reflect that, the architecture that we persuaded the partners to accept had the third pillar areas of foreign affairs and home affairs, which were matters for independent sovereign states to decide, and we always preserved the veto on any common action. That has now been eroded. So, as we meet to debate the so-called referendum lock, we see powers on home affairs being surrendered, issue by issue, by this Government-as they were by the previous Government-which will result in a much more common criminal jurisdiction from the European level. The British people need a voice on that matter; they need to be asked about it. Some of them might even agree with it, but they want to be treated seriously, as grown-ups, and asked if that is how they want their country to be run in the future.
On foreign affairs, we are being told as we meet that we still have a veto on the big issues and that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary can play his part in shaping a common European action and diplomatic strategy. At the very same time as we have to cut severely the growth rate of our public spending and make some deep cuts in certain areas, which we do not like, we see the European budget going up rapidly, partly to finance a big expansion in the European diplomatic service. This is not being done in order to have holidays in the sun, as some national newspapers seem to suggest, but because the EU wishes to exercise power and authority on our behalf and on behalf of other member states.
I do not think that the Foreign Office has fully understood the consequences of encouraging this to go ahead, which is what it did. I am afraid that a great many of us voted for it in this House. The European External Action Service is ordering much more expensive cars, is going to have grander embassies and is going to pay much higher salaries than our own diplomatic
service. That will be to the detriment of our diplomatic service because it will attract the talent away from our service and towards the European External Action Service.
Mr Redwood: It means that when a British Foreign Secretary makes foreign visits, he or she will be kept waiting while the EU ambassador is received and considered because the latter will speak with more authority on behalf of more people and more states.
It is the third area that we have always reserved for national veto and national competence-central economic policy making-to which I shall address the remainder of my brief remarks in this truncated debate. Literally as we meet here this afternoon, crucial and massive issues are being hammered out in secret around the Council table in Brussels. Quite likely to be on the agenda is the issue of European sovereign bonds and the effective creation of a European sovereign in financial matters that issues debt and guarantees debt on behalf of member states. Do we want that? Are we in it? Is it not a transfer of power if we go along with it? Is it not an issue on which we should be invited to express our views?
Another item on the agenda may be the future membership of the euro. The Council could be considering in secret whether all member states are able to stay in the euro and whether the strong or the weak members should leave. If they are to keep the euro area together, what will be the arrangements for the large transfer payments that need to be made if the single currency is to have some hope of a decent life in the future, as all successful single currency areas have much bigger transfers of tax revenues, subsidies and money around them than the euro area currently does?
Mr Cash: My right hon. Friend portrays so accurately the realities that lie behind this Bill, which is about the economic crisis in Europe as well as many other matters. Does he agree that one serious current problem is the financial stability mechanisms and that if we do not assert our rights in this House and make certain that the courts cannot get their hands on an interpretation that would go the other way, we could end up paying for other countries beyond Ireland-Portugal, Spain and others?
Mr Redwood: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, which is why the transfer of power, if not of competence, is such a crucial issue and why we need to engage in a public debate at this very moment about how far this should go.
I hasten to stress to the House-particularly to my critics, who like to misconstrue what I say-that I wish our partners every success and prosperity with their single currency. I know that if that is the way they choose to run their economies, it is in our interests for it to work. We want them to be happier and more prosperous, and we like to benefit from trading with them, just as they like selling us a lot of their products. My worry is that in the process of our enthusiasm for that, we will draw in Britain-with her rather stretched budgets, even after the changes that the Government have rightly and wisely made-at a time when we do not have the
financial strength to go to the aid of all these other euroland countries that are in some difficulty under the euro scheme.
I am a critic of the Irish loan. Of course I do not want to see the Irish economy go down, but I do not happen to think that lending the country lots of money at that juncture, as a result of a crisis deliberately created by the European Central Bank, was a terribly good way to behave. I do not believe that if Britain had declined to make some money available, the Irish loan would not have been negotiated. It would have been negotiated quite successfully by the architects of it-the powers behind the European Central Bank, who literally decided to withdraw funds from the Irish banks at a difficult time and made that decision public, thereby precipitating the crisis. We were engaged in a refinancing package for the European Central Bank. I think we should be told the truth; we should be told why it was a good idea for a country that rightly stayed out of the euro because it did not want the financial risk and hassle, to be drawn into helping finance the consequences of an ill-judged currency without a political union.
A successful currency needs a sovereign to love it and support it. That is why the sovereign's face traditionally appears on the coinage and why there has to be a symbol to show that the whole weight of legal and economic authority stands behind a currency. If Europe is to have a successful euro, she needs a sovereign. I do not want my country to be part of the euro, and I think that around 80% of the British people agree with me. I think that even Opposition Members temporarily agree with me on this issue; they are not rushing to say that now is a good time to join the euro. We should be open and honest with the British people and say, "We wish the euro well". We are doing it a great favour by not trying to join it-we would have been an over-mighty subject in it, which might even had led to it toppling earlier-and we are not currently in a financial position to make all the transfer payments available that are necessary for full members of a single currency area.
The House needs to understand that while we are debating some abstruse language and pledging this and future Governments to hold a referendum on treaties unknown about competences unspecified, a potentially massive transfer of power is under way yet again from the member states to the centre. There has to be; the thing cannot work without more central power behind the banks and the economic institutions.
The British Government say that they will accept a treaty extending the centralising powers in the economic sphere because the penalties on these will not apply to the UK Government. Well, I am delighted that the penalties will not apply, but I see no reason why the requirements should apply either, because we are not part of the euro. We should offer our support for a strengthening of economic governance for the euro area alone and make it clear that all the regulations and the directives apply only to that area. I think that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary got it wrong when he said that none of these apply to Britain; several of them do, although without the ultimate penalties. There could be other penalties, incidentally, which might apply to Britain.
When we surrender our veto and allow this treaty to go through on that condition-that it applies only to euroland-we should say that we want something back.
We should seek to establish that we believe the European Union already has too much power and that we want something back. Do we want our fisheries back; do we want control over our borders back; do we want control over elements of taxation that have already gone to Europe through common taxation and a series of court judgments?
Power is seeping away as we meet. A massive debate is under way. Will the Government please take this Parliament and the British people into their confidence? Will they take us seriously? Will they give us an adult debate on the reality rather than this show Bill?
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): I have to say that there is little in the speech of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) with which I would disagree. That immediately places me, of course, very much in a minority among my own party. I do not think that either of us is in a minority in the country, however. Many people watching our debate today will be wondering how on earth we ever got here. They will wonder why we are trying to introduce a Bill that is literally tinkering around with the real and fundamental problems of our membership of the European Union.
It is with great regret that I have to say that my party betrayed the promise it had made on the Lisbon treaty. If it had granted the referendum on that treaty, we would not be here discussing this Bill. One reason why my party and others did not want that referendum is that they knew the result would have been a defeat. In other words, we would not have signed up to the Lisbon treaty; it would not have happened.
Mr Jenkin: Will the hon. Lady forgive me for pointing out that if we had had the referendum on the Maastricht treaty, it is most unlikely that the European Union would be in the mess that it is in today?
Kate Hoey: I was new into Parliament shortly before the Maastricht treaty and I lost my position as the shadow spokesperson on the citizen's charter and women because I voted against that treaty. I am therefore well aware of the issues. I was obviously in a minority then in my party, even though prior to that we had been quite sceptical on Europe.
I give the coalition Government some credit, because I know that they are facing great difficulties. The Conservatives said fine words before the election about how they were going to get more powers back and not allow any more powers to go. Unfortunately, perhaps because of the coalition, but also because of other pressures, most of those have not been complied with. The Government have therefore come up with this Bill, which seeks to show the country that there is still support within the coalition for getting some powers back. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) has said, the Bill is unfortunately a minefield that lawyers will absolutely love.
The Bill misses the whole point. Some people continue to say that we should not even discuss whether we should leave the European Union, whether we should have that debate in the country and whether we should have a referendum. They have yet to prove to me-I have studied this very carefully-just how having that debate, having that referendum and voting to leave the
European Union would be a disaster for this country. No cost-benefit analysis has ever been carried out on that. No Government have undertaken a proper cost-benefit analysis of the benefits to this country of being in the European Union. Although other countries, such as Switzerland, have carried out such analysis, every time it has been suggested here, it has been brushed away by the elite in Europe and in this country, who say that the net gains of membership are so obvious that there is no need even to think of quantifying them. That is increasingly becoming not true and the public are beginning not to believe it.
I am not a reader of the Daily Express, but its campaign, which has shown huge support for a discussion and debate on the European Union, is very much to be welcomed. Recent developments have made all of us who have doubts about this country's involvement in the European Union queasy, because the United Kingdom's membership of the EU is incredibly expensive for us and the benefits are becoming increasingly difficult to see. We do not need, again, to go into the cost of our net budget contribution, the increase that is going to take place and how it will be spent. Nobody wants to let the public know just how our money is spent. They are not told about the huge costs of the European External Action Service. From now on, our ambassadors will become less important than this European Union ambassador and it is shocking that we have allowed that to go ahead. I cannot understand why the new Government have done so, apart from the fact that they are a coalition.
However, I still wonder whether a Conservative Government with a proper majority would really have done all the things that they said they would. Once someone goes to Europe and gets involved in it, they somehow start almost to be part of it. They start to make up the discussions and the arguments, and somehow their attitudes change. The Minister for Europe used to say some brilliant things about Europe that I agreed with, but now that he is on the Front Bench, his words have changed slightly and become slightly nuanced. We get the feeling that once people have been going to Brussels over and over again, they change their attitude.
I am concerned that the Bill does not go far enough. I am not going to vote for the Labour amendment, which is a cop-out and a nothing amendment-it does not say anything. It does not bring to people's attention all the opportunities that we missed when we were in government. I still have not decided whether I will abstain or vote for a Bill that we might be able to amend. I want this Bill to be used as the opportunity for people in the country to start being listened to. I want them to start having the opportunity to engage in the debate about why they feel so strongly that our membership is not giving us anything that is worth the money that we pay in.
Charlie Elphicke: Although many of us, myself included, would like to head into reverse and one day have that wider question determined, does the hon. Lady not accept that it is a positive move that this Bill provides a brake to stop us hurtling further forward without having a say?
I would, except that even since the new coalition Government took office, this country has given away some more powers and given up things. We
are already going to support directives that we should not possibly be supporting. It is the drip-drip-drip nature of the European Union that really gets me.
Kate Hoey: That is my point, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right. We will never get the issue that is big enough for a Minister to come here saying, "We are going to have a referendum on this." Ministers will find some excuse not to do so, which is why the only honest thing to be doing is to work towards having a debate in the country and having a referendum on whether we want to stay in the European Union. We hear all those Members, Ministers and shadow Ministers continually saying, "Ah, but it would be desperate. We could not possibly leave. We couldn't even think about it." They should put their arguments to the people. Let the people decide. Let them say what they really think and let us see what that decision would be.
There is one little book that every Member in this House should buy. If the Foreign Secretary, the shadow Foreign Secretary and the shadow Ministers have not read it, I will give them a copy. It is called "Ten Years On: Britain Without The European Union". I wish it had said "the United Kingdom", rather than "Britain", as that would have left out Northern Ireland. This brilliant book actually says, "If we were to leave the European Union, this is what this country would look like 10 years on." Let us have the confidence to say to the people that it is time that we have that real debate. Let those people who are confident that the European Union is the right thing for this country put it to the people and give them the say.
Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), not only because they made excellent contributions, but because they give me the opportunity to be a loyalist by contrast.
This welcome and important Bill follows last week's award to the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister from European Voice for their joint work in advancing a more progressive and European-style of Government-I know that all on this side of the House will be celebrating that. The Bill is a fine example of a coalition product: it is a sensible compromise. For too long, the UK has allowed domestic political posturing over the European project to dominate its thinking on the EU. Such an approach has fundamentally undermined our ability to play the positive agenda-setting role on the European stage that we can and should do. It would be great to be in the driving seat of Europe, okay to be in the passenger seat and passable to be in the back seat, but for the past 20 years or so Britain has, in effect, locked itself in the boot, kicking and whingeing as if it were somebody else's fault.
Tim Farron: That is an honest position at least, which my hon. Friend sets out from a sedentary position. It is vital that we assert our sovereignty in Europe, but it is also vital to understand that one of the reasons why we have seen our sovereignty wane is our pig-headed failure to embrace the EU and take a positive role in shaping its future. It is high time that we moved on from dismal EU constitutional wrangling and focused instead on the issues that really matter.
Tim Farron: Every act of legislation creates a possibility of further litigation. That is the nature of what we do. The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue, and if this Bill becomes an Act it will deal with many of the uncertainties and genuine concerns raised by my hon. Friends from a different party about our position in the European Union and the legitimacy of the decisions that are taken. The power should ultimately rest in this place and-even more ultimately-with the British people.
Tim Farron: My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. The reality is that for 13 years we had a Government who said they were pro-Europe but never went on the front foot and defended that position. There are all sorts of reasons to defend our position in the European Union and say that this country's interests are best placed if we are inside the EU. However, because of the national mood and if we were to have a referendum today on in-or-out, there is a very good chance that-
There is such Eurosceptic hostility to the European Union that the last Government took the view that to attach themselves to the EU would mean seeing their popularity sink. They should have gone on the front foot; perhaps we would be in a different position if they had.
The UK and other member states face many major challenges, such as delivering economic growth, completing the single market, delivering new free trade agreements,
cracking down on cross-border crime, combating climate change and fighting global poverty. The Bill should finally place to rest the concerns about the lack of democratic safeguards over big EU decisions. It will ensure that future big decisions about Britain's place in Europe are taken out of the hands of the governing elite of the day and placed firmly in the hands of the British public and, on their behalf, this Parliament.
Despite our differing traditional outlooks on the EU, the coalition has come together, found common ground and drawn a line-obviously-under the European constitutional question once and for all, we hope, by ensuring that the public and Parliament have the final say on the big questions that will determine how UK and EU relations evolve in the future. The Bill should also give the British public a new sense of ownership, enshrined in law, over the future evolution of UK relations with the European Union.
The Liberal Democrats are unashamedly a pro-European party. We fundamentally believe that British national interests are best served by playing an active and leading role in the European Union. We are also fundamentally a democratic party and one that believes in devolving power to the lowest level possible and in reconnecting the public to politics through democratic reform. We recognise that the experience of rapid EU integration over the past two decades, although it has been necessary and ultimately beneficial to the UK, has left many members of the British people feeling sceptical about and disconnected from the decisions made in their name at an EU level, most recently with the Lisbon treaty.
This is why the Bill is so important. Its main purpose is to reconnect the British public with EU-level decisions and to reassert parliamentary controls over those key decisions. The Bill should help to give the British public a new sense of ownership over the UK's relationship with the EU in the future and it provides the British public with the legal guarantees that they, not the Government or Parliament, will have the ultimate say in future decisions about the UK's level of involvement in the EU.
Now is the time for the EU to focus on delivering solutions to the huge challenges that face all member states rather than looking inward. The Bill is in keeping with a number of innovations in the Lisbon treaty that seek to provide national Parliaments and European citizens with a greater say over EU decisions and the direction of the European project. I say that as a member of my party who voted with my now coalition colleagues in favour of a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. If we had had a referendum, I would have argued in favour of that treaty.
The UK is not alone in recognising that the pace of EU integration has left a dangerous lack of understanding about the connection between the EU institutions, national Parliaments and their citizens. In fact, that was recognised by all EU member states in the Council, by members of the Commission and by Members of the European Parliament long before the Bill was conceived. Indeed, that concern was translated into concrete measures in the Lisbon treaty. The treaty has gone a long way towards creating new connections and controls between the public and national Parliaments in the EU, which I warmly welcome. It is too early to see how they will work but the direction in which the EU-and now the UK-is moving is clear.
Let me give some examples of Lisbon treaty democratic and parliamentary control innovations. The European citizens' initiative enables a petition of more than 1 million European citizens from across the member states to trigger a legislative proposal from the Commission and is a unique and groundbreaking innovation expressly designed to develop connections between European citizens and the often seemingly alien EU institutions. The new yellow and orange card system enables one third of national Parliaments, via the scrutiny Committees in the UK, to object to an EU proposal if they feel that it breaches the principle of subsidiarity, requiring the Commission either to reconsider the proposal or to force the Council and the European Parliament to come to a decision whether to scrap the proposal or to amend it. Also, the new emergency brake clauses in the treaty enable any single national Parliament to block a proposal if it considers the proposal in question to breach or contravene a fundamental component of the legal framework, such as criminal justice.
The Bill can in part be seen as a logical extension of the work of the Lisbon treaty in reconnecting the public and Parliament to EU decisions and its institutions, but our sincere hope and intention in supporting the Bill is that it will finally help to restore some sanity and pragmatism to the debate in UK politics about the EU and EU proposals. There is an extremely poor level of debate in the UK about the EU and the Bill should help to improve that. With a more transparent approach to our membership of the EU, some of the clouds of Eurosceptic mythology might begin to lift. For instance, the use of passerelle clauses will trigger Acts of Parliament and that will mean a rare and welcome opportunity to have an informed domestic debate about substantive EU proposals, giving Members of both Houses the chance to discuss the respective pros and cons of a particular EU measure for the UK.
For example, should the Bill become law, one passerelle that would trigger primary legislation would be that on establishing an efficient and fully functioning EU patent system. A proper patent system has been at the top of UK businesses', innovators' and scientists' wish lists for decades and we believe that it is fundamentally in the interests of the UK. We look forward to discussing that groundbreaking proposal in more detail if and when primary legislation is introduced in the near future as a result of the Bill. Such issues will be discussed more often in this House and the voices of reason in this place will be forced to go on the front foot and to sell the benefits of EU membership and integration to the British public.
The Government have chosen to engage positively with Europe and to tackle the largest single block that leads to discontent about the EU among the British public, which is the sense that decisions taken at EU level are remote, unaccountable and beyond our control. Liberal Democrats believe that the UK's national interests have been and will continue to be served best by our membership of the European Union. The major challenges that face us cannot be solved by UK action alone. They often require international action through the European Union. Our relationship with the EU, however, from the point of view of the media and much of the public, is pretty poisonous. For a sane Government who seek to advance Britain's best interests, this is a hugely challenging position. Surely the challenge is too big for legislation alone to fix it.
There is a growing fear that unless something radical is done, the views of the British public and the politicians on the EU will continue slowly to drift on a tide of Eurosceptic media stories to a point at which this country will ultimately leave the EU altogether. I know that many of my colleagues on the Government Benches would favour that, but in my view it would be an absolute disaster for the United Kingdom. I would be interested to hear from the Minister what other plans the Government have beyond our Bill, in line with their commitment to play a strong, positive and active role in the EU, to start a new dialogue with the British public calmly and rationally to explain and sell the benefits of EU membership.
There are many questions to answer, but the Bill's crucial task is to democratise and make transparent and trustworthy all our dealings with the European Union and to do so in a way that is pragmatic and positive for our immensely valuable relationships with our EU partners. For what it is worth, I think the coalition has succeeded in meeting those challenges and I look forward to continuing this formalised outbreak of accountability and reason towards our membership of the European Union.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): It is a great delight to follow the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), who is a man of great integrity. I am sure that his integrity will see him through all the way to Thursday afternoon. He is absolutely right to say it is essential to British interests that we play a key role in the European Union, but the Bill will do nothing to assuage Euroscepticism; if anything, it is intended to enhance and inflame it. He said that the Bill is a coalition product as though that places some kind of trade mark on it. I look forward to the trade mark being planted on all coalition products, as it would automatically bring them into disrepute with most Conservative Members.
The hon. Gentleman referred to our having locked ourselves in the boot of a car with regard to Europe in recent years. It is very difficult to lock oneself in the boot of a car, but I think the Liberal Democrats feel a little as though they have managed to do that at the moment-or at least that they are being locked in the boot by the Deputy Prime Minister in relation to other Government measures.
I shall let the House into a very small secret: I am slightly pro-European. Indeed, I am almost ludicrously pro-European for the very strong reason that in my lifetime Europe has embraced countries that have lived under dictatorships in Spain, Portugal, Greece and across the whole eastern bloc. In those countries, there was no right to freedom of association or freedom of speech, the death penalty was used ubiquitously and there was political repression. In future, we will all recognise that one of the European Union's greatest successes is the fact that in all those countries there has been an aspiration for political freedom largely because of the EU's success.
Chris Bryant: I do not think Margaret Thatcher had anything to do with the advance of freedom in Spain, Portugal or Greece. Mrs Thatcher achieved many things-in the Rhondda we are certainly aware of, and resent, many of them-but the hon. Gentleman cannot claim that the advance of freedom was because of her, except that she was pro-European; in that regard, she did do something in the interests of the whole of Europe.
My problem with the Bill is that it does not do what it says on the tin. It is not an effective referendum lock, which was the promise. Two or three hon. Members have already made the point, in questioning the Foreign Secretary, that the House has perfect freedom to amend these measures in future, so if a Minister wanted to advance legislation implementing some change in the relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU, and if they thought it would offend against the measures in this Bill, they would have only to add a clause saying that the measures in this Bill did not apply. Of course they would have to take that change through both Houses, so there is an element of a brake, but the Bill is in no sense a substantial referendum lock.
Chris Bryant: It is true that every piece of legislation can be repealed or sidestepped, and there may be a political cost in doing so. In a few weeks' time, when a number of extra peers have been added, the Government will have a majority not only in this House but, uniquely since the second world war, in the other House as well, so there will be a further slowing down. The Bill provides not a lock but a brake-that is all. It does not do what hon. Members want, which is to draw a line regarding all further innovations in the relationship between the UK and the EU.
The Bill will not deal with the real problem. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) and my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) are right that my views on the EU are those of a minority. I know that partly because my father sends me an e-mail every Sunday to remind me of that fact and also to remind me that he moved to Alderney primarily so that he does not have to abide by any EU laws. He also regurgitates vast quantities of things that I hear regularly from hon. Members. I think it is a great embarrassment to him that I was not only the Minister for Europe but the Labour Minister for Europe.
The problem in Europe with those whom others have referred to as the elite and with ordinary members of the public is that there are real difficulties in advancing the European cause because there is no single European demos or political opinion. The waves of views crash upon the electoral shores in different parts of the EU at different times and it is very rare for two meetings in a row of the General Affairs and External Relations Council to include the same set of Ministers. Consequently, it is a phenomenal triumph to achieve any European co-ordination.
Some of the EU's founding principles-indeed, the economic ones-are very powerful, such as the right to freedom of movement and to work anywhere in the EU. In the UK, Labour brought in civil partnerships-I have benefited from those changes this year-and other EU countries have introduced other ways of recognising same-sex unions. Many of us believe there ought to be a system for recognising those unions in every other country in Europe; otherwise there will clearly be discrimination against people whose partnership cannot be recognised for the purposes of taxation, benefits and the right to freedom of movement around the EU. I do not want Europe to decide the law on marriage in any European country, but I do want it to be able to enforce the basic principle of freedom of movement, and that will require a shift so that civil partnerships in this country, or same-sex marriages in Spain, can be recognised in every other country. Otherwise, married same-sex Spanish couples who move to France will have to divorce and form a new civil partnership there. The seeds that have been sown in terms of the underlying principles of the EU will not go away. The British people who live in Spain and demand that Europe should act on property rights in Spain are arguing for an extension of the EU's powers although many of them are profoundly Eurosceptic.
I am not a fan of referendums, because I believe in representative democracy. I believe that we are elected to come here and that the sovereignty of Parliament is the important principle on which we should act.
Chris Bryant: I have not been in favour of referendums at all and I have made this argument for many years. I was opposed to the suggestion that there should be one on the constitutional treaty and I said so in the House, for which The Sun and various other newspapers condemned me extensively. On the whole, I am not in favour of referendums, but there are times when the political class decides to navigate around Parliament and find some other means of implementing things. I think we were right to insist, after the second world war when we effectively rewrote the German constitution, that Germany should not be able to hold plebiscites because unfortunate circumstances can sometimes arise.
I am not a fan of referendums. Particularly in relation to treaty-making, they are unfortunate because they make it far more difficult for a Government to have the freedom to negotiate that they need. Of course there must be proper parliamentary scrutiny of that process. Notwithstanding the splendid work of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash), I think the House still does European scrutiny very poorly because far too few Members want to take an active, engaged role in that process, much of which comes not from the Foreign
Office but from every other Department of Government. It does not give a Government a strong hand to insist that there will regularly be referendums.
I believe the Government want to be able to repatriate some powers from the European Union to the United Kingdom. The process outlined in the Bill makes it almost impossible for them to be able to do so in the next five years. Other Governments will say, "You've already said you're not going to have any treaties because you reckon that you won't get a yes vote for any referendum." That is why the Bill binds the hands of the Government.
On clause 18, the sovereignty clause, the European Scrutiny Committee has done a good job. It is right that, as the Committee points out, the clause adds nothing to the present situation. Lord Justice Laws, in the Thoburn case in 2002, was right when he said that
"there is nothing in the ECA"-
"which allows the Court of Justice, or any other institutions of the EU, to touch or qualify the conditions of Parliament's legislative supremacy in the United Kingdom. Not because the legislature chose not to allow it; because by our law it could not allow it. That being so, the legislative and judicial institutions of the EU cannot intrude upon those conditions. The British Parliament has not the authority to authorise any such thing. Being sovereign, it cannot abandon its sovereignty."
Lord Justice Laws was absolutely right. That is why the clause is dangerous. It applies only to European law, but large numbers of the elements that affect our relationship with the EU are laws that come from other parts of Government. That is why in his evidence Professor Tomkins was right to urge the House of Commons not to proceed in this way in the Bill.
Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): People have fought and died over many centuries over the need to affirm parliamentary sovereignty-in the civil war and at the time of the defeat of the Stuarts in the 17th century, when the Stuarts' absolute sovereignty was literally killed off. Since the advent of modern democracy in 1867, people have fought and died in two world wars to preserve the right to govern themselves through their own Parliament by freedom of choice in the ballot box.
The European Union claims sovereignty over our democratic Parliament, and this mouse of a Bill does little to preserve it. Given the present European crisis with the euro, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) so accurately pointed out, and given the failure of economic governance in which we are absorbed and the coalition Government's continuing acquiescence in European integration and their refusal to repatriate powers, the Bill does little or nothing to improve the situation.
The European Scrutiny Committee reported last night, to an eerie silence from the BBC, and as we clearly indicated, the Committee's report is essential reading for those who really want to know what is going on. There are grave objections to the principle, the methodology, the distorting and misleading explanatory notes that accompany the Bill, and clause 18 itself. Clause 18 is a
judicial Trojan horse leaping out of Pandora's box. It is not, as the Foreign Secretary claimed, an enlightened act of national self-interest.
Parliamentary sovereignty is not built on a common law principle, as the Government claim. It is built on the sturdy foundations of the freedom of choice of the voters of this country, and not the whimsy or the Euro-integrationism of some Supreme Court judges. They increasingly claim that they are upholding the rule of law, but I have to ask which rule and whose law.
Shortly before he died last year, Lord Bingham, the late Lord Chief Justice, in his book "The Rule of Law," took on three fellow members of the Supreme Court who had previously adjudicated on the Jackson case with him in the House of Lords a few years ago as to their views on parliamentary sovereignty, as set out in our report. This is an extremely unusual situation and was greatly merited. I do not impugn their motives, but I criticise their judgment.
"one can perhaps detect in the recent pattern of House of Lords and Supreme Court decisions, an appetite on the part of the Justices-encouraged by some continuing developments in EU and human rights law-to begin to get to grips with constitutional issues that previous generations of judges would have regarded as completely off limits."
In this context, judicial activism is on the march. It has been there for a long time and it is increasing its tempo. The judges are not toying with all this, as was suggested by one witness. I suggest that Members read not only our report, but the articles, many of them written by these judges, and the speeches, for example, of Lord Steyn and Lord Hope, and many others that are quoted in our report.
The Bill, as Professor Adam Tomkins said in evidence, and as I mentioned in an intervention on the Foreign Secretary, is an invitation to litigation and, I would say, deliberately so. It has been left in a dead letter box in the precincts of the Supreme Court across Parliament square.
"delivers on what was in the coalition programme simply as an agreement to consider the case for a sovereignty Bill",
"is being introduced by the means of clause 18".
Thomas Docherty: As the hon. Gentleman says, this is a mouse of a Bill. Does he agree that what we need is genuine reform of the European Union so that it delivers what it should be concentrating on, and that sovereignty should remain in Parliament and not be passed across to shyster lawyers arguing the case in the Supreme Court?
I strongly agree with that sentiment. Indeed, I go further and say that I have always argued for an association of nation states based primarily on trading and political co-operation. Above all else, we must ensure that we make those decisions in the House on
behalf of the electorate. Where we find it impossible to make those decisions, it is increasingly argued that it should be done by referendum, when we abdicate the power in the House to the people as a whole.
Clause 18 defies the sovereignty clauses on which the shadow Cabinet, the Whips and Back Benchers voted on several occasions before the general election, using my "notwithstanding" formula. Our report, based on clear evidence from constitutional experts, upholds both the principle and the wording of the "notwithstanding" formula, which I proposed in amendments to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill when we were in opposition. The Whips even asked me to put in their own tellers. As I said to the Minister for Europe last night, he too voted for those provisions. Why not now, therefore, and in the Bill?
We have no hope of resolving the effect and implications of the European crisis on our country, or of reducing by deregulation the impact of European laws on our businesses, including our small businesses, and our deficit, if we do not remove the overall burden of the 50% of economic regulation now on our own statute book, according the House of Commons Library on 13 October.
Mr Jenkin: Is not the real question, which those on the Government Front Bench must answer, why they will not put a declaratory clause, notwithstanding the European Communities Act, into the Bill. Are they saying that that itself would put us in breach of the European treaties? I submit that it would not. Should not they accept that by putting a "notwithstanding" clause into clause 18, they would, notwithstanding the European Communities Act, be reaffirming the supremacy of the House, something that is long overdue?
We are a parliamentary democracy, not a judicial autocracy. The common law principle, wrongly asserted as the basis for parliamentary sovereignty by the Government in their explanatory notes, gives the courts the interpretative means to walk through the gateway of our constitutional law into their application of EU law, including even the assertions of the European Court of Justice over our own Parliament and our own constitution, as well as our own laws.
Our report repudiates the means whereby the courts could gain, and some of them want to be the ultimate authority in the land. We were against Lisbon and for a referendum as a party. We can veto any treaty in future if we wish to do so, so why not do so? The Bill makes no provision for our current predicament, and provides only relative safeguards for the future, subject to the baleful influence of a Minister's decision as to whether a referendum would be required or not. One issue has been described by our witnesses as both dangerous and unnecessary, namely clause 18 in the context of the Bill as a whole.
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