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Mr Davidson: I possibly have more faith in the Prime Minister than my hon. Friend does. Had the Prime Minister not to some extent sold the jerseys, I think all these issues could very well be negotiated with our colleagues, because we are not alone. I do not believe that Britain is the only country that wants to retain control over its immigration policy. I think many colleagues support the position we are taking on this question, and I will come on to the question of dates in a moment.

The next point we ought to be dealing with is the question of the common agricultural policy. That has been covered in this House on a number of occasions, so I will not delay us by discussing it, as has the question of the cost of the European Union, and the waste and extravagance.

The final point I want to make is that the Conservative drive for renegotiation seems to be driven by the sort of impulse that means every time Conservatives walk by a house and see a chimney, they regret that a small boy is not climbing up it. I think the Conservative party’s wish to repatriate powers over labour relations and working conditions is driven by a desire to drive down terms and conditions to the level of the 18th or 17th or 16th century, if they think they can get away with it. There is no future for Britain in the long term if we go back to having small boys climb chimneys. It is rules and regulations—and, indeed, red tape—that stop us having small boys climbing chimneys. Those Conservatives who say that the main drive behind renegotiating the EU treaties is to have a freer labour market have got to come clean and say whether they believe a search to the bottom is the way forward for Britain. I do not believe we should be seeking to compete by lowering working standards, and that is one of the points on which Len McCluskey and I would be as one.

If we accept the points that most of the Government Members, and many on our side, have been making, we would want to see three stages, and that is where I do agree with the Government. The first stage would be renegotiation and the second would be a referendum. I have an open mind on how I will vote at that time, because I recognise that the European Union has done many excellent things that I support, but, similarly, it has done many things that I do not support. How I vote in the referendum will depend on the balance reached in negotiations.

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not mind me referring to an earlier point he made, because I was checking something online while he was giving his brilliant speech. It is worth pointing out that a number of trade unions are actively campaigning for a referendum. Indeed, the advisory board of The People’s Pledge, one of the great organisations calling for a referendum and which is running a successful campaign, was made up of at least three senior union representatives, including Bob Crow and Bill Greenshields, as well as a number of others—the list goes on. So to suggest that the trade unions are opposed to a referendum or in favour of continued membership or continued escalation of our union within the EU is not strictly true.

Mr Davidson: Sorry, I did not think I was actually saying that all unions were taking a particular position. I think that most of the unions will take the view that they either want or do not want a referendum. I know

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that many of them do want a referendum, and they will decide on the basis of what they believe is offered to their members once the renegotiations are complete. I support renegotiations, and I have always been clear about that. I am glad to hear that Bob Crow appears to have greater support from those on the Government Benches than he has from those on the Opposition Benches in some cases. Ever since he declared that he would be biting the heads off only three babies a day his popularity has increased among many Government Members.


It was four babies a day, then.

Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): This debate is not about what kind of trade union laws we should have; it is about who makes those laws. The hon. Gentleman referred to young boys going up chimneys, but that practice was ended not by the European Union but by this Parliament, just as slavery was abolished by this Parliament and as women were given the vote by this Parliament.

Mr Davidson: So now we have it: the hon. Gentleman wants this Parliament to have the power to put small boys up chimneys. I think he will find that there are rules in the European Union that prevent us from putting small boys up chimneys. I think that is a very valuable clarification, and members of Unite and elsewhere will take it into account.

The Labour party’s view on these matters is best described as being in a state of flux. It is a caterpillar, which, in a short time, will emerge as a butterfly. I believe that we will change our position in a relatively short time, as events change, because we are clearly heading for a crisis in the European Union. I do not believe that the euro is sustainable in its current form for much longer. As the euro degenerates, and as unemployment rises—it already affects 50% of young people in Spain—we will see more social unrest in Europe and there will be an inexorable drive among the members of the euro to change the relationship within that bloc and, in turn, within the European Union.

The Labour party’s policy will change with that. I am confident that in the years to come I will find myself capable of supporting Labour party policy with a greater degree of enthusiasm than I do at the moment. I remember opposing the euro before it was fashionable to do so. I can also remember when the policy changed and it was impossible to find any Labour Member in favour of the euro—indeed, it was almost impossible to find any Labour Member who had ever been in favour of joining the euro. So things will change, as they should.

George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con): The hon. Gentleman and several other Labour Members, including the hon. Members for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) and for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), were instrumental 10 years ago in launching Labour Against the Euro. They led a group of about 40 Labour MPs which finally finished off former Prime Minister Blair’s attempts to join the euro. We used to call that group LATE, for short, and some of us used to say, “Better late than never”, because it was an eleventh-hour arrival on the battlefield. I know that the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson) wants to keep us in suspense, but will he

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tell us how late he intends to leave it before we get this large group of Labour MPs once again calling for a referendum?

Mr Davidson: There is no difficulty in identifying a substantial group of Labour MPs who are in favour of a referendum—the issue is about the timing and the terms of the referendum, and I want to discuss that point now. A strong case has been advanced for a referendum now, before the election, but I wish to make it clear that I am completely opposed to that. An in/out referendum now would give us two choices, neither of which I find acceptable. Staying in on the existing terms would give the green light to those who wish to continue their spendthrift ways and want to continue the process towards ever-closer union. Getting out is simply a retreat and a surrender to separatism. I am opposed to that in Scotland, so I am also opposed to it in the United Kingdom.

There is, however, a case for a referendum now on giving the Government the power to renegotiate the terms of membership. A referendum now on allowing the Government to renegotiate—or on demanding that they start renegotiating—would send a signal to our European colleagues that we are serious about this. They, like us, must be doubting how serious the Government are about driving this forward, given that the Prime Minister has already said that he intends to accept whatever terms are on offer.

Mike Gapes: Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government do not need a referendum decision by this House, because they can go ahead and start renegotiating tomorrow if they wished to do so, and come up with proposals? The problem is that the Government do not have a negotiating position and, as the Foreign Secretary made clear to the Foreign Affairs Committee when we asked him about this, they do not intend to do this until after the next general election.

Mr Davidson: To be fair, I covered some of those points earlier. I am conscious that others wish to speak, so may I just say that we do need to have an agenda for change, and I think we need to wait for a crisis? I do not understand—this is why I am not supportive of the proposed wording—the point of saying that this has to be done by 31 December 2017. No rationale has been advanced as to why the chosen date should be 2017 rather than 2016 or 2018—or even why it should be 31 December. If we commit ourselves to having a renegotiation, the best way of achieving success is to act when the EU has its next crisis, which cannot be all that far off.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Next week.

Mr Davidson: It may very well be next week. If it is next week, I would hope that the Government would seize on that opportunity—if only they had an agenda of items that they wanted to renegotiate—to seek allies in the European Union in order to renegotiate our terms of entry. I see no reason in those circumstances, if we renegotiate terms before the next election, why we should have to wait until after the election. The issue, for me, is a question of agreeing that we want renegotiation and agreeing that we want a referendum, but not binding ourselves to any particular time. That is why, on the advice of the Whips, I shall not vote for the motion.

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11.48 am

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): First, I want to put on record my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) on a brilliant, deft and extremely well-conducted speech in which he dealt with complex interventions in a very, very mature fashion. I congratulate him not only on his speech but on its content.

I am extremely glad that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, despite the fact that referendums were completely off the agenda for some time before the announcement was made in the Bloomberg speech, or in relation to the Bill, has said in the past, as I said in a short intervention, that he thought there should have been a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. Of course he was right, and I shall explain why in a moment. In 1996 I introduced a Bill, for which I was given what could be considered a bit of a going-over by the then Chief Whip and the Whips, one of whom is now a Minister. It was an entertaining experience, and all I can say is that it made no difference whatsoever to my attitude to the need for a referendum, as I shall explain.

My right hon. Friend was right: the most important principle of the Bloomberg speech is the fourth principle, which overrides all the others, as they all depend on it. He said that the root of our national democracy is our national Parliament, but the essence of that democracy is when it is decided by Parliament that we shall give the people the right to make the decision, which is the ultimate test of trust in the electorate.

Jim Dowd: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Cash: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.

It is estimated that 35 million people—35 million voters—have effectively been disfranchised by the continuous evolution, since 1975, of giving away more and more powers as well as the right to determine the kind of policies and government that they want. That is completely unacceptable. I voted yes in 1975, because I believed then that there was a case for allowing a common market and that we should test whether or not it would work. I also voted for the Single European Act, but I tabled an amendment that nothing in that measure should derogate from the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament. That is why, when it came to Maastricht, I was absolutely determined to fight it at all costs, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Sir Richard Shepherd).

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): My hon. Friend mentioned an important word: sovereignty. Is it not right that sovereignty belongs to the people? Even the greatest and wisest Members in the Chamber are merely here-today-and-gone-tomorrow politicians. Sovereignty belongs to the people and their heirs and successors. It is not ours to take away: we must have a referendum.

Mr Cash: I could not agree more. People have fought and died. The only reason we live in the United Kingdom in peace and prosperity is because, in the second and first world wars, we stood up for that freedom and democracy. Churchill galvanised the British people to stand up for the very principles that are now at stake.

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Sir Gerald Howarth: I know that the whole House is delighted that my hon. Friend saw the light. Some of us not only campaigned in the referendum in 1975 but voted against the Single European Act—only three colleagues who did so remain in the House and, unfortunately, they are all Opposition Members. This is terribly important. My hon. Friend voted for the measure at the time because he thought that he was voting for a common market in goods and services. That is what the British people thought, and we tried to persuade them that it was going to be more than that: it was going to be a united states of Europe. That is the direction of travel, and there is no indication that the direction of travel has changed, which is why we need a referendum.

Mr Cash: Indeed; I note what my hon. Friend has said. This issue is about political union. If we strip away all the arguments about repatriation and renegotiation, there is no doubt whatsoever for anyone—I go to COSAC, which is the meeting of the chairmen of national scrutiny committees on European affairs throughout Europe; 27, now 28, chairmen joined together—that this is about political union. We should be under no illusion about that. It is not about anything else now. We had Mr Barroso telling us recently in the blueprint paper that the European Parliament is the only Parliament for the European Union. It is categorical, and I will challenge any Member of Parliament to get up and suggest that this is not embedded in the Maastricht treaty. That is what it was all about—creating a new European Government, and it has grown exponentially ever since.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is right. We said that we wanted to have a referendum on several of those treaties. Indeed, the Conservative party was united in voting for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. However, we have now reached a different situation. That is why it is important for the House to bear in mind that it is not a question of what may happen between now and 2017; it is happening already. There is clear evidence of the development, endorsed by the other member states, of a two-tier Europe between the eurozone and the European Union itself. That is the fundamental change that is already taking place, without a treaty.

We know from the discussions that are going on in Europe that there is much talk of moving forward without another treaty. That is why we need to have a referendum. That is why the Government are right to promote the circumstances in which my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South, who came first in the ballot, has the opportunity to introduce his Bill. That is why the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have taken part in the debate, and that is why it is so essential that we get it right. This is about political and economic freedom.

David Rutley: My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. I think he is coming on to the point that there are not just political reasons, but clear-cut economic reasons why we need to have a referendum, not least of which are the fact that 70% of the regulations that are an unacceptable burden on our businesses and their employees emanate from Europe, and the fact that there is 55% youth unemployment in Spain and in Greece, which is blighting a generation. Does my hon. Friend agree that there are economic reasons for a referendum?

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Mr Cash: I totally agree. My hon. Friend and I, with other Members, have debated this in complete unity, for the same reason: freedom is about freedom of choice. In parliamentary and constitutional terms, freedom of choice depends upon freedom of choice at the ballot box and in the marketplace. If we get the first, the political choice, wrong, as has been going on with this European Government, we will end up with austerity, small and medium-sized businesses not being able to work properly, and massive unemployment among young people, which I know Opposition Members are worried about, as are we on the Government Benches.

When 65% of the young people in several countries in Europe—Spain, Greece and so on—are unemployed, that is unacceptable and it is a direct result of the way in which the European Union has been centralised. Opposition Members have been saying recently, “We do not like the centralisation”—people who are completely in favour of the European Union, until they suddenly realise that the centralisation is creating austerity, unemployment and misery for those young people. It is unacceptable.

Mr Binley: Does my hon. Friend agree that those who perpetuate the myth of the single market, arguing that the UK will lose 3 million jobs if we come out, fail to take account of the fact that there is a £70 billion surplus, and no business in Europe will cease to trade with this country whether we are in the single market or not?

Mr Cash: Furthermore, with respect to our trade deficit, as I have said on a number of occasions, in 2012, according to the Office for National Statistics, we had a trade deficit of £70 billion with the other 27 member states. To give the point some substance, Germany, on the other hand—no wonder there are two Europes, which are increasingly becoming German-oriented—had a trade surplus with the other 27 member states in 2011 that has now gone up to £72 billion.

It is not really a European Union any more. It is so heavily dominated, wilfully or otherwise, by the circumstances that have created that imbalance, and that of course has its effect on the qualified majority voting. That is why we have to have a referendum, and we need to have it sooner rather than later, because the fundamental renegotiation itself is dependent on the fact that the circumstances have already arisen, and as I said just now, not necessarily with a new treaty.

Wayne David: So that we can be clear about the hon. Gentleman’s position, does he favour the United Kingdom having a relationship with the European Union similar to that of Norway and Switzerland, or does he think we should be entirely separate and have no relationship with the single market?

Mr Cash: I have made my position entirely clear on a number of occasions. We need to have something in the nature of a European Free Trade Association arrangement. We need an association of nation states. I am off to Lithuania the day after tomorrow to discuss these matters with the other 27 chairmen. The main topic of conversation now is democratic legitimacy, and it is not just in this country, it is not just in this Chamber, it is not just in the opinion polls, it is not just in the Eurobarometer, which has shown that trust in Europe has completely evaporated all over Europe. Wake up, I say. This is the fact, and it is

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happening. That is why we need to have a renegotiation. This is about trust. It is about allowing people to have government of a kind that responds to their own wishes, as expressed in general elections. That is why we cannot have two Governments and two Parliaments covering the same subject matter. It is complete, incoherent, absurd nonsense.

Mrs Main: My hon. Friend has been tempted on numerous occasions by Opposition Members to debate the merits of in and out, but that is not what today is about. They will not say whether or not they will have a referendum. Today is about whether we will debate that with the public—not in here among ourselves, but take it out to the public. The Opposition want to turn today’s debate into a debate about the merits. I caution my hon. Friend about being seduced by Opposition Members. Make them answer whether they will vote for a referendum.

Mr Cash: I think my hon. Friend can be certain that I am not likely to be seduced, either by the Opposition or anybody else, for that matter. I simply say this: this is about the principle of a referendum.

I conclude with a simple statement: this is about trust. It is about trust in people. Because we are doing it through a Bill, as is required, we will give authority through Parliament to have a referendum. That is what this is all about. It is to give the British people their right to have their say. There is no question but that the Bill must pass, but it needs to be secured by a vote on both sides of the House. I am afraid that Opposition Members are neglecting their duty to their constituents if they continue to refuse to support the Bill.

12.2 pm

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Many hon. Members wish to speak so I will keep my remarks as brief as possible.

I am delighted and honoured to be a supporter of the Bill. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) on taking this subject for his private Member’s Bill and on bringing it before the House in the way that he did. I well remember that when I had a relatively high place in the ballot a number of years ago, I introduced a private Member’s Bill for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. I had half an hour to deliver a speech in the House, thanks in no small way to the kind co-operation of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), who often attends on Fridays on private Member’s Bills, but unfortunately there was not as much interest in it as there is on this occasion, and there certainly were not as many Members present to ensure that it got any further. However, I am proud of having introduced that private Member’s Bill, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton South on this measure. I also congratulate the Prime Minister on his support for the initiative.

As has been said, it is 38 years since we have had a referendum on the UK’s relationship with Europe, and it is now time to give people their say. Therefore, representing as I do a party that believes in consulting the people, and has advocated referendums on a number of occasions in Northern Ireland on a range of constitutional issues, and has supported that consistently, particularly on Europe, we will be voting in favour of the Bill

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enthusiastically and without equivocation. I know that in so doing we will be representing the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland, even those who support parties that are in favour of being part of the European Union. Whether they are for or against the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the European Union, on whatever terms, they believe that it is high time they had a say in this debate and that it should no longer be confined to this Chamber and the television studies.

If we can have referendums on regional assemblies, devolved government, police commissioners, local mayors and the alternative vote, how on earth can it be logical, sensible or defensible for any Member of this House or any party to take the position that on this issue of such fundamental importance to the United Kingdom’s democracy, as the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Sir Richard Shepherd) so eloquently said, and as others have said, the British people will uniquely be denied their say? I think that we have now reached a point in our political debate and in the nation’s history where that position is simply untenable.

I have no doubt that, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson) said, we will soon see a change in the stated positions of the other parties in this House. We now know where the Conservatives stand. The leader of the Liberal Democrats has now conceded that this is inevitable. Having been in favour of an in/out referendum, their current position is simply untenable. The Labour party is already debating how to get itself off the hook it is now on. I believe that it, too, will come to support a referendum, because the vast majority of its supporters want one.

Andrew Bridgen: I thank the right hon. Gentleman and his party for their support for this important Bill. We have heard about the rising dissatisfaction with the European Union across Europe, so does he agree that if this House was to vote wholeheartedly for a referendum, we could lead the way in Europe, because many other countries also want to renegotiate their relationship with the European Union?

Mr Dodds: It is important to make the point that this is not only a vote on something that is important to the people in all regions and parts of the United Kingdom and will be welcomed by them; it is also something that other countries are looking to us to give a lead on. The Foreign Secretary pointed out that there have been a number of national plebiscites and votes on European issues in many countries, sometimes two or three times on the same issue, but the fact is that people are crying out for a say. As the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) said, this is the big issue of the day in Europe: political legitimacy, democracy and accountability.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Before my right hon. Friend moves on from his point about the Labour party’s approach to the issue, will he agree that the defence that we cannot have a referendum until there has been substantial constitutional change is really very thin, given that we have had Maastricht, the Single European Act and the Lisbon treaty? Surely there has been enough substantial change in our relationship with Europe to give people a say now.

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Mr Dodds: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have talked on more than one occasion in this House about the disconnect that now exists between the people and the political class in Parliament. People feel that their concerns are not being given high enough priority and that, with regard to the EU, promises have been broken. On the Lisbon treaty, for example, they believe that the Labour party promised a referendum on the European constitution. I remember before a previous election Tony Blair, with the encouragement of Lord Mandelson, bringing the referendum rabbit out of the hat, but he reneged on that pledge when he got into office, claiming then that there were red lines that they would negotiate and that it was therefore no longer a constitution. The people simply do not believe that.

We have talked about the Lib Dems going back on their promise of an in/out referendum. Reference has been made to the cast-iron guarantee the Prime Minister gave on the Lisbon treaty. I understand the reasons that have been advanced on why that did not happen—for example, the fact that it had already been implemented. Nevertheless, I agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow South West that very many people believe that if we had wanted to have a referendum on Lisbon, even after it had been introduced, we could have done if the political will had existed. However, it did not exist, and that was the problem.

Mr Cash: Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that in fact fundamental change is going on already, and that that, even without a treaty, is the real reason for having a referendum?

Mr Dodds: Yes, I agree. That is why it is not enough merely to have it enshrined in law that there will be a referendum at some future point if there is some new treaty or whatever. There is a continuing erosion of sovereignty and it is therefore important that the matter is brought to a head sooner rather than later.

Mrs Main: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Dodds: Yes, and then I will make more progress.

Mrs Main: Is it not a fact that any referendum that was held would be on the treaty change, not on in or out? We have never had a promise of an in/out referendum, only a “no more change to a particular treaty” referendum. We need to make that point very clear. This is our one opportunity to do this.

Mr Dodds: The hon. Lady makes a very important and fundamental point. That is why this Bill is so significant and deserves the widespread support of Members of this House.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Dodds: I will not give way any more because I want to make progress. I am conscious that others still wish to speak.

We are here on a Friday having to go through this process for all the reasons that we understand. One of the reasons is that the promises and pledges that have been made in the past by Front Benchers of the main

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parties have not been followed through on. Therefore, people are looking not just for a promise or a pledge but for some kind of guarantee enshrined in legislation. Of course we know that this Parliament cannot bind a successor Parliament, but that applies to every aspect of legislation—to every Act that is ever passed. However, a guarantee enshrined in legislation will make it a lot harder for any incoming Prime Minister of whatever party to have—I was going to say the courage—the audacity to come before the House and say, “We’re going to repeal the right of the people to have a referendum under the Act that was passed”, as I hope that it will be as a result of this initiative.

In 1975, 67% of voters in this country chose to remain within the Common Market—a union which we were told at that time was more about co-operation between European nations on trade. However, today we view an EU landscape that is vastly changed—so much so that, as a senior Labour peer recently noted, the mandate secured by the Government in 1975

“belongs to another time and another generation.”

Over the past three decades, there has been a steady transfer of powers from our sovereign Parliament here at Westminster to the corridors and back alleys of Brussels—a process that still continues on a weekly and monthly basis, inexorably and inevitably, in the pursuit of the goal of ever-closer political union.

This change has not been abstract. It is not detached from the day-to-day realities of everyday life; it has been hard felt by people living in every region of the United Kingdom. How often do business people come to us complaining about the red tape and regulations that emanate from the EU? How many times do we hear complaints about untrammelled immigration from EU countries as we no longer have the power effectively to control our own borders? I could mention a number of other policy areas.

Mr Laurence Robertson: As Chairman of the Northern Ireland Committee, I congratulate the Democratic Unionist party on taking a very clear stance on this issue. The right hon. Gentleman refers to the 1975 referendum. Does he remember that the brochure put out by the then Labour Government, “Britain’s New Deal in Europe”, contained a guarantee that a British Minister could veto anything that came from Europe at that time? What this is really all about is the erosion of that guarantee through qualified majority voting.

Mr Dodds: The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. He reminds the House and the public of the pledges and guarantees that have been given in the past. We need this Bill to enshrine in law a commitment to giving people their say, because they are fed up with broken promises. They have found that they cannot trust the political class generally on pledges on Europe, because whichever party is in power becomes sucked into the ever-increasing desire to have ever-closer union. That is simply unacceptable.

Mr Binley: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Dodds: No. Having said that I would be brief, I want to conclude my remarks and not get sidetracked any further.

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On the issue of austerity, at a time when this country is facing major cuts and when personal and household incomes are affected, it is absolutely scandalous that between 2007 and 2013 the UK will have contributed £29 billion on EU structural funds and received back only £8.7 billion to spend in this country. That is simply unacceptable and it is damaging to communities and households right across this United Kingdom.

There was some hope that the negotiations for the 2014-20 multi-annual framework would lead to a sea change in EU spending, and I congratulate the Prime Minister on what he has managed to do. However, despite a Council agreement to reduce the budget, the trend of waste and inefficiency will continue. Spending on the unaccountable EU civil service will rise by 2%. The organisation already employs 3,000 unelected officials on salaries of more than €150,000 and gold-plated pensions.

The European External Action Service, which a Minister told us a year or two ago would not cost us any more and would be neutral in terms of expenditure, is in line to receive a spending increase of more than 3% for its role in undermining the foreign policy of countries across Europe. The EU’s 56 quangos will receive an increase of 4% under the new budget. That is not to mention specific examples, such as the House of European History, which, for those Members who have not heard about it, will cost—believe it or not—£136 million. British taxpayers are contributing £18 million to that project.

The European Parliament continues to split its activities over three locations—something that my party in the European Parliament is deeply opposed to and fighting to change—and it will cost €1 billion to have two places, Brussels and Strasbourg, as the seat of the European Parliament over the next seven years. That is why it is essential that the people have their say on these issues. They are examples of why the waste and inefficiency need to be exposed.

The fundamental point is that on these issues, whether they be expenditure or setting policy with regard to agriculture or foreign affairs, it should be for the British people, through their elected representatives in this House, to decide the policy of the United Kingdom. It is not for unelected people in Brussels to forge for the people of the United Kingdom an ever-closer political union that they do not want. This House will fail in its duty if we do not respond to supporters of all of our parties who want a say, a voice and a vote. I commend the hon. Member for Stockton South for proposing this Bill and urge all hon. and right hon. Members to support it in the Division later.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. May I again say to hon. Members that they just need to look around the Chamber to see how many of their colleagues want to speak in this debate? If we are to accommodate as many speakers as possible, Members must speak for less time than is currently the case. I cannot put a time limit on speeches, but I plead with Members to show each other mutual respect and do their best to leave enough time to get as many speakers in as possible.

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12.18 pm

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I hope I will set an appropriate example, Madam Deputy Speaker, in my brief speech.

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds). I agree with what he said and it is worth noting that he leads at Westminster a completely united party on matters relating to the European Union. I also commend and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) on coming first in the ballot and proposing this excellent Bill.

It is surprising how quickly things change in politics. Members will recall that less than two years ago, I moved a motion on holding a referendum on our membership of the European Union. On that day, all parties had a three-line Whip against my motion. Today, my party has a three-line Whip to support a referendum on the European Union and the official Opposition are so weak and divided that they cannot even make their minds up what to do.

The Bill will be welcomed warmly by my constituents in Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington. It is nearly four decades since they have had a say on this country’s relationship with the European Union. That means that many of them have never had a say at all. Since that time, the nature of what was then the European Economic Community, which was widely called the Common Market, has changed out of all recognition. As the stated aim of the treaty of Rome of “ever-closer union” has gradually been achieved, the tentacles of what is now the European Union have been felt in a growing number of areas of life, in a way that was never envisaged by the British people when they voted to stay in the Common Market in 1975.

Martin Horwood: On a point of information, the question in 1975 was not about the European Economic Community, but the European Community. The words “Common Market” were inserted by Eurosceptics in Harold Wilson’s Government. A lot of that historical debate, which I have been looking at over the past couple of days, was about the political, social and international aspects of the European Community. Those aspects were in Harold Wilson’s official leaflet that went out.

Mr Nuttall: I did say that it was widely referred to as the Common Market. It was called the European Economic Community, then the word “Economic” was dropped and it became the European Community, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says. It then changed from the European Community to the European Union as ever-closer union began to take effect.

Mr Binley: I had the good fortune a long time ago of working as a bag carrier for Edward Heath in his private office. At that time, we talked about political union being the very essence of what this adventure was about. Does my hon. Friend agree with that?

Mr Nuttall: My hon. Friend makes a very good point.

My point is simply that we have seen a gradual extension of the powers of the European Union. That is just one of the many reasons why an increasing number

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of people are reaching the conclusion that I have reached: our country would be better off out of the European Union.

I want us to trade with our European neighbours, but I do not see why we should have to pay billions of pounds every year for the privilege of doing so, particularly when we buy more goods from them than they buy from us.

Mike Gapes: The hon. Gentleman says that he wants out. Does he accept that Norway, which has not joined the European Union, has to pay billions of pounds to get access to the European Union’s single market?

Mr Nuttall: That is an interesting point, but I do not want to get drawn down the road of talking about the merits of our membership of the European Union. The Bill is not about the merits of our membership of the European Union, but about whether our constituents should have a say. It is because the Bill will give the people of Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington in my constituency the historic opportunity to vote for their freedom from the European Union that it has my wholehearted support. I wish it a speedy passage through this House.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Thank you for your brevity, Mr Nuttall.

12.24 pm

Dame Tessa Jowell (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab): It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) on procuring his place in the ballot for private Member’s Bills.

To save time and divert interventions, let me say that I am a lifelong European. I campaigned for and voted yes in the referendum 30 years ago, and I will abstain in the vote on this Bill because it is much more about party management than the essential higher purpose of our national interest. Those who claim that people are being denied a choice on Europe should listen to the wisdom on the doorstep. We must, of course, take seriously the rise of UKIP, and understand why millions of people—including former supporters of my party as well as of the Government—are voting against the major parties. This initiative is being driven by UKIP. It is opening up old divisions and fails to recognise that even for UKIP supporters, Europe is not the greatest concern. We should attend to that if we are serious about hearing the voice of the British people.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con) rose

Dame Tessa Jowell: I am sure the hon. Gentleman will have a chance to speak; I will not take an intervention because I want to make my speech as quickly as I can. We must understand that the momentum behind this debate comes principally from a sense of suffering felt by families up and down the country—anxiety about whether their children will get jobs; fears about long-term security and the sustainability of their pensions. Under such circumstances, the EU has become a proxy for the public’s wider anger about good services and housing, and in doing so it has provided fertile territory for a lot of myths about the EU. I do not for one moment doubt

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the anger—indeed, I have confronted it—in some parts of our country about the impact of too much migration too quickly, and the sense of broader insecurity. People feel that their living standards are falling. They are falling, but that is a result of decisions by this UK Government, not decisions by Europe.

The Bill is principally about managing the Conservative party, and evidence suggests that for the majority of right hon. and hon. Members in that party it is about exit, not renegotiation in Europe. The real tragedy is that renegotiation is possible, is needed, and is always to be achieved, but that is not done by saying one thing at home and a different thing in the Council of Ministers. If the Prime Minister is serious about renegotiation, he must spend time going round the capitals of Europe and visiting his counterparts, building trust and securing the support of other European leaders for his case for change. That is what will achieve change in Europe.

There is, of course, an agenda for reform, which Labour would support wholeheartedly and—I hope—on a cross-party basis, if only the Conservative party would demonstrate that it is serious about reform rather than exit. Reform of the EU budget, the appointment of an EU commissioner for growth, reforming transitional arrangements to address issues such as too much migration too quickly, more powers delegated to national Parliaments—those are all parts of an agenda for reform that I am sure we could share.

For those of us among my right hon. and hon. colleagues who represent constituencies in London, there is also particular concern about the impact on London of the growing uncertainty, which risks unseating us as the economy that is top of the league among beneficiaries of foreign direct investment. Underpinning and essential to that continued primacy is stability and certainty. The way in which this debate is being conducted, in the interests of the Conservative party, is putting that at risk.

In conclusion, I think this captures very well the position on the Opposition Benches:

“the problem with an in/out referendum is it actually only gives people those two choices: you can either stay in with all the status quo, or you…get out. Most people in Britain, I think, want a government that stands up and fights for them in Europe, and gets the things we want in Europe, that changes some of the relationship”.

Those, Madam Deputy Speaker, are the words of the Prime Minister, less than a year ago. Look how he has flip-flopped and been bullied by his party, letting down the British people.

12.31 pm

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): Thank you for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker; I will be brief.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) for proposing this Bill and I strongly support him. I was interested when he said that he was barely a twinkle in his mother’s eye when the original votes were cast on our relationship with the EU, because I am probably about his mother’s age. We therefore have two generations of voters represented in this House who have never had a say on our relationship with the EU, and it is about time the British people had one.

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Neil Parish: Does my hon. Friend agree that when we had the referendum in 1975, it was about a common market? Now we have a European political union. Brussels has seized power. The last Labour Government gave away our rebate and got nothing for it, so the people should have a say.

Fiona Bruce: Absolutely right. There is a growing frustration on the part of the people, which is borne out of years of them not being adequately communicated with or informed about the implications of what was happening in the EU institutions. That has resulted in our public wanting this say.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South was quite right that the British people want a say, but I believe that they also want an informed say. Many of them feel they have a gut instinct of how they would vote, but they know that this is such a serious issue and such a major constitutional decision that they must have an opportunity to deliberate, debate and discuss the complex issues around it. Those of us who are today putting forward this proposal for a referendum are saying that we trust the British people to discuss such complex issues and then come to the right decision. Anyone who opposes this referendum is saying, “We don’t trust the British public to discuss issues of this complexity and detail.”

Jim Dowd: If letting the people have their say is so important, why is it that of all the Conservative Governments who have ever existed, only one—this one, forced by the Liberals to offer a referendum on the alternative vote—have ever given the people of Britain a referendum on anything? Devolution, regional government, the Mayor of London—all were from a Labour Government. The Tories have never given anybody a referendum on anything; now they are suddenly enthusiasts.

Fiona Bruce: The previous Labour Government had plenty of opportunities to grant a referendum on this issue, but they did not do so.

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Does the hon. Lady not find it strange that the last Labour Government had 13 years to renegotiate, if they believed in that renegotiation, and present it to the British people, yet did not do so? Labour has constantly, and to this day, denied, the British people a say in their future in Europe.

Fiona Bruce: The hon. Gentleman is right. If passed, the Bill will trigger a debate throughout the nation and give the British public an opportunity to make that informed decision. The debate has already started in this Chamber today. Millions of people across the country will be watching and listening, and will have heard valuable and critical contributions, such as the speech from the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds).

Jim Shannon: On the subject of giving people choice, the fishing industry has felt the brunt of EU legislation and red tape—more so than other sectors. As European bureaucracy continues to strangle and choke the fishing industry, my constituents in Strangford, particularly in the fishing port of Portavogie, will want the chance to say no in a referendum—this is what we want to see.

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Fiona Bruce: As ever, the hon. Gentleman makes a valuable contribution. It is under this Government that we have seen fish discards eliminated.

Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Labour party, which continually complains about uncertainty, should support a referendum, and should be asking for it to be brought even further forward so that that uncertainty can be removed quickly?

Fiona Bruce: Another valid point, but I can also see the merit of the British people having the time, up to 2017, to digest and discuss these issues.

Other hon. Members want to speak, so I will close my remarks. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), who is chair of the all-party group for a European referendum. I am a long-standing member, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay has done tremendous and sterling work in this House and beyond in pressing and making the case for an EU referendum, which the British people deserve.

12.36 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): May I begin by joining other right hon. and hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) on the terrific achievement of being first in the ballot to propose a private Member’s Bill on the Floor of the House and on filling the Chamber? This has been a remarkable week for him. Not only has he introduced the Bill, but his local restaurant, Raj Bari, came third in the Tiffin cup final. That is a terrific achievement, one that I am sure he will celebrate with them tonight when he gets back to Stockton.

This has been a remarkable debate in which we have heard some interesting facts. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) was outed as a member of Unite by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson), and then managed to resign within moments of being outed. The hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) told us that she is old enough to be the mother of the hon. Member for Stockton South. I am surprised that she did not offer to be his mother, bearing in mind his current popularity.

I hope to make a short contribution. Many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak, and some of us would like to get back to our constituencies some time today. Friday mornings will never be the same again for me. I want to say how much I support the idea, and have supported the idea for some time, of the British people being allowed to have their say on membership of the European Union. I agree with the many hon. Members who have said that this is an issue of trust. I do not think that political parties should feel they cannot trust the British people on this important issue, which has been the dominant issue of the past 30 to 40 years. The constant debates in the House and in the country, and the fact that the issue has seized the consciousness of the British people, mean that at some stage we have to put it to the British people. I believe that this should be done sooner rather than later. We should do it now, if we can; if not now, then certainly at the time of the next general election.

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Neil Parish: Is the right hon. Gentleman convinced that he will be able to persuade his colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench, and the Leader of the Opposition, to support a referendum?

Keith Vaz: Absolutely not. I am merely a humble Back Bencher. We need to do our best to persuade those on the Front Bench that this is in the interests not only of the Labour party but, primarily, of the country. The shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander), spoke very well this morning, but we still need to convince him that we need to go one step further. After all, progress has been made. Labour voted for a reduction in the EU budget and against the amendment to the Queen’s Speech, and we are going to abstain today, so we are on the way; we are moving in the direction that the hon. Gentleman wants us to move in, and I hope that we will get there in the end.

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that this goes to the heart of democracy, when so many people are crying out for a referendum and there is a great disconnect between politics and the electorate that needs healing? Giving the electorate a referendum, as we want to do, will help that process.

Keith Vaz: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The fact is that we need to reconnect by allowing people to have their say.

I am very surprised that the Liberal Democrats have changed their view—[Hon. Members: “Why?”] Well, I am. I learned most of my community politics from the Liberal Democrats when I stood in Richmond many years ago, and I know that they are committed to allowing people to have their say in places like Richmond and Kingston. I am therefore surprised that they have changed their mind on this matter.

Zac Goldsmith: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. We have a great deal in common, as he has just said. Does he agree that this is not just a matter of this House trusting the people with a decision on this issue, and that it is even more a case of providing the people with a reason to trust the House? It works both ways, and there could not be a more important time to demonstrate both aspects of that than now.

Keith Vaz: I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. We must give the whole debate over from this House. We all have an important role to play in discussing and scrutinising the European Union, but at the end of the day, the matter must go to the British people.

My second point is on the need for reform. I hope that the hon. Member for Stockton South will be willing to consider any amendments that I hope Labour will table in Committee, and that he will look at the whole issue of reform. I do not believe that the timetable the Prime Minister has set out is achievable. I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Dame Tessa Jowell) said about this. The reform process will take a long time. Should the Prime Minister get re-elected and become Prime Minister again, his timetable of two years between 2015 and 2017 will, frankly, not be long enough.

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The issues in the European Union exist at the moment, and there is a need for reform of a whole range of policies. We could start that process now. There is no reason why British Ministers going to summit meetings and having discussions with their European Union counterparts—the Minister for Europe goes to General Affairs Council meetings every month to discuss these matters with his counterpart Ministers for Europe, for example—should not start the reform agenda immediately, rather than waiting until after the next general election.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point. I knew that those were his opinions because I have read them on many occasions. Does he agree that, if we have a referendum and if we are going to engage properly with the people, we must know what the position is? There must be a reformed European Union, or we withdraw. If we had the referendum much earlier, people would simply be in the dark.

Keith Vaz: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Actually, I think the British people know the issues now. They understand the issues that confront Europe, and I am not sure that a public education campaign is what they need, as long as we are committed to reform, and to changing the way in which the European Union operates. There is much that we need to change on the justice and home affairs agenda, for example, including measures on the European arrest warrant and on the way in which countries such as Greece have to deal with illegal migration. There are so many other areas that we need to look at. We can be part of that process as we go along within the European Union; we do not need to have a separate set of negotiations. The only way, in my view, that we can do this is to put the matter to the EU now.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Keith Vaz: Yes, but many Members want to speak, so I give way for the last time.

Tim Loughton: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and I praise him for the candour of his approach to this debate. We all agree that reform is needed, but the British public need to be sure that sufficient reform is going to take place if we are to stay within the EU. Does he agree that having a referendum after the renegotiation has happened will absolutely crystallise in the minds of the rest of the EU member states the fact that we are absolutely serious that the current position is just unsustainable?

Keith Vaz: I think the member states know that the current situation is unsustainable and that they understand that we want change. The Prime Minister has made that clear every time he goes to a summit meeting of the European Union. I do not know whether the Minister for Europe has a row with his colleagues every time he goes to the General Affairs meetings, but the fact is that the Prime Minister always comes back to this House to make his statement after a European summit and says that he has confronted colleagues so that they know where Britain stands.

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I think that the major political parties should be publishing their manifestos for reform. Frankly, we do not know what they are. I think we should be very clear about what we want to change about the European Union—and we can put that into operation now rather than having to wait.

My final point is that I hope nobody votes against this private Member’s Bill. I hope that it will go through unanimously and that nobody will seek to divide the House. That would send a powerful message that all parties believe that there is a case for the British people to make a decision. If we do that, it will mean that people will trust us even more than they do at the moment.

12.46 pm

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): This has been a thought-provoking debate—and, in some places, just provoking! I would say to the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson) that I am afraid my Unite membership card has suffered irreparable damage during the course of this debate, but I thank him for his graphic advice on what I should now do with it. After recent events in Falkirk, I suspect there might be a few other people taking very similar advice.

It is good to see the House so full on a Friday. I gather that it has something to do with the provision of hog roast by the Prime Minister last night. One participant told me that burgers were being served by him, but they were a little bit rare. Perhaps that explains why so many left the Chamber so fast after the Foreign Secretary’s speech!

As a Liberal Democrat, I like referendums—and we have been consistent supporters of them. We supported all the referendums on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We were quite happy with the referendum on the European Community in 1975, and we even went along with the referendum on AV—the alternative vote system—although we obviously cannot win them all. At the time of the Lisbon treaty, we alone supported an in/out referendum for this country—not at four years’ remove, not for some future Parliament, but at that time. We got absolutely no support from the Conservative party at that stage.

I am afraid that that was the completely consistent position through to the general election of 2010, and it is more or less our position now. The Deputy Prime Minister has set out our position, the only difference being that in the meantime we have passed the European Union Act 2011, which rather watered down the Liberal Democrat commitment to an in/out referendum and adopted—[Interruption.] Conservative Members may laugh, but they have obviously not read their own manifesto of 2010. What is in the European Union Act 2011 is precisely the basis on which Conservative Members fought the last general election, which was the idea that there should be a trigger relating to the transfer of power. The Conservative manifesto stated that in the event of a transfer of power from the British level to the European level, a referendum on that transfer would be held. That is exactly what went into the European Union Act in 2011. We will quite happily use that to trigger—that is fine—but we are still committed to an in/out referendum, and I am still going to argue for one.

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Neil Parish: If the hon. Gentleman is so keen on talking about Liberal Democrat policy on a former referendum, why is he not supporting us today? I also congratulate him on being the only one of an endangered species here in the Chamber today.

Martin Horwood: I was not, in fact, the only Liberal Democrat Member here, and my colleagues are probably focused on jobs, A and E departments, the good deal we are delivering for pensioners and promoting employment and economic prosperity in their constituencies, rather than spending an entire day banging on about Europe. I am reassured that so many Conservative Members are so confident that all the jobs are provided and all the A and E departments are safe and no green spaces need protecting that they are willing to spend an entire day here talking about the minutiae of European referendums. I am equally confident that at one stage we had the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the Foreign Secretary and, I think, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions all in the Chamber for this debate, so I assume the Deputy Prime Minister must have been busy running the country at that point.

The consistent position the Liberal Democrats have taken is to be in favour of an in/out referendum either at a time of major, fundamental treaty change or at a time of a transfer of power, which also has to happen under treaty provisions. That is the consistent position we have taken, and that is the position we still take today. [Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) want to point out when we have said anything different? She does not; I thought as much.

The Conservative party, by contrast, has taken a bewildering variety of positions on referendums. I think it was the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), who is no longer in his place, who pointed out that Margaret Thatcher opposed the original European referendum and she quoted Clement Attlee saying referendums were a device of demagogues and dictators. At that point she was a supporter of European Union membership, which at that stage was already identified as a discussion about social and political union as well as about access to an economic common market. That is clear from the literature produced in that referendum campaign. It talks about the new regional fund, the social fund, bringing the peoples of Europe closer together and promoting peace and freedom—so even the defence and security aspects of the EU’s work were already being debated. Margaret Thatcher said that for the Labour party the proposal of a referendum was

“a tactical device to get over a split in their own party.”—[Official Report, 11 March 1975; Vol. 888, c. 306.]

I think history might be repeating itself now.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is my neighbour, for giving way. He talks about history repeating itself. Some of us remember very clearly that when the Prime Minister stood up and announced he was going to renegotiate the EU budget so that it was cut, one of my hon. Friend’s distinguished colleagues described that as being an inconceivable act. Does he believe it would be inconceivable to renegotiate anything with Europe?

Martin Horwood: The point is that we can be in favour of reform, but not necessarily make that conditional on referendums. If we read the Prime Minister’s speech

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carefully, we can see that Liberal Democrats would disagree with very little of what he actually wanted to change in Europe. Indeed, we would enthusiastically support much of the reform agenda. We have gone along with Conservative colleagues in supporting the Government’s review of the balance of competences. I think that is a very important process, and I think it is an absolutely correct one to carry out, but I also think it was ill-judged to attach a time bomb to all this and say that unless we get what we want we will do this or that, and to try to negotiate on a unilateral basis. It is important now to try to achieve these reforms on a multilateral basis by co-operation with other European partners.

I was explaining some of the political background of the Conservative party’s position. In the 1990s John Major was in favour of a referendum, but only on membership of the euro. By 2001, that had changed and then we had an evolution of a policy that was really about—

Tim Loughton rose

Martin Horwood: I had better not give way repeatedly, but I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman for one final time.

Tim Loughton: I am sorry that the leader of the hon. Gentleman’s party was not able to flip a few lentil burgers last night to entice more of his colleagues to take part in this important debate. Will he just clarify his position? In the highly unlikely event that we have a Liberal Democrat Government after the next election, and this Bill, as is most likely, has been passed in this Parliament, would they abolish the undertakings that this Bill would give to tie us to a referendum, and thus give the British people a say at last?

Martin Horwood: I have already spelled out very clearly our position, which is exactly the same one as we took at the time of the Lisbon treaty and of the last election: at a time of treaty change, fundamental change or a transfer of power from the British to the European level, we would want an in/out referendum, and we would legislate to make that possible in the event of our having a majority in Parliament.

The Conservative position has flip-flopped dramatically. The position in the Conservative manifesto was enacted in the European Union Act 2011, yet within a year and a few months the Prime Minister was expounding a completely different position. Even that has changed between his speech and this Bill, because the question has changed from whether to remain in the European Union to whether to be in the European Union. [Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Many conversations are going on. I know that not many people may be agreeing with Mr Horwood, but I would certainly like to hear what he has to say.

Martin Horwood: I am very grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker. The chances of the Conservative party getting as far as 2017 without changing its policy again are pretty slim. Let me reinforce that point. Only 19 months ago, the Prime Minister said:

“That, for me, in a parliamentary democracy, is the right use of a referendum. However, as we are not signing a treaty, I think that the whole issue of a referendum does not arise.”

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He continued by saying that

“there is a role for referendums in a parliamentary democracy, but that comes at the moment when a Government or a Parliament proposes to give up power, rather than at other times.”—[Official Report, 12 December 2011; Vol. 537, c. 535-549.]

That is precisely the Liberal Democrat position and has been for some time.

We are not going to oppose this Bill, but we are not content to support it because there is a long list of problems with it. Legislation already in force—the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000—is supposed to lay down the procedure under which we hold referendums and, for example, the role of the Electoral Commission in helping to determine the question. This Bill is pre-empting any decision by the Electoral Commission and it does not even appear to comply or be consistent with the 2000 Act. I do not know whether the draftsmen had forgotten that that Act existed.

Then there is the question of the franchise, which has also been referred to—

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Martin Horwood: I do not think I had better. I am really looking forward to seeing the variety of different Conservative positions being expounded in the remainder of the debate, and if I give way to everybody—[Interruption.] Somebody is telling me to keep it short, and I think that the best way to do that is not to give way on every point.

The Bill also needs to deal with a problem relating to the franchise. Some 1.4 million British citizens reside elsewhere than in the UK, but according to the terms of the Bill the referendum will be based on the Westminster franchise. As far as I can tell, that has only about 19,000 registered overseas voters, so more than 1 million Britons, whose lives will be fundamentally affected by this change—they are British passport holders resident in other parts of the EU—will be disfranchised in this referendum. By this formula, the Bill will give votes to Cypriot and Maltese citizens living in this country, because under the Westminster franchise Commonwealth citizens have the vote, but it will not give the vote to French, Italian or German citizens. So there are a lot of inconsistencies, and this issue has not been debated at all so far.

The House of Commons Library briefing also raised the question of whether or not the Bill is even legally binding. Even the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) has conceded that this parliamentary vote would not bind its successor Parliament and further parliamentary votes, probably on secondary legislation, would be required to give effect to the referendum in any case.

Mr Baron: The hon. Gentleman has now made one of the longest speeches. May I ask him, with all due respect: could he please cut it short, if only because a long list of Members also wish to speak?

Martin Horwood: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his advice, which should probably have come from the Chair rather than him. There is a slight problem,

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however, as most of my time has been taken up responding to interventions from his colleagues, so perhaps he should encourage them to be a little quieter.

The problems continue. The uncertainty that the Bill creates for business is clear, even if we make a number of big assumptions about the referendum process: first, that the Conservative Front Bench will not change its position between now and 2017, but having changed it three times in two years, that is a big assumption; secondly, that the timetable for the referendum does not have to be changed in any case, although we may find in 2017 that we are in the middle of a renegotiation or treaty change process resulting from changes in the eurozone, and at such a juncture, it would be nonsense to hold a referendum, as another referendum might be provoked in only a matter of months or years, so we would not really know what we were voting for in those circumstances; and finally, if the political landscape had not completely changed in any case we might have a different Government with different priorities and there might be a recovery in the European economy, and we may find votes for the UK Independence party subsiding and that Europe is not quite such a big priority—it is not a terribly big priority for most voters according to existing polls—so the idea of spending yet more hundreds of hours of parliamentary time banging on about Europe might not seem quite as appealing.

Even if all of that is true, and we move towards a referendum by 2017, that still condemns British business and British jobs to four years of uncertainty—what a message to send to investors. The CBI is quoted in the Independent newspaper, i, this morning, and raises the problem of the uncertainty caused for British business:

“British businesses don’t want to find themselves at the margins of the world’s largest trading bloc operating under market rules over which they have no influence.”

That is the prospect that we are going to live with, unresolved, apparently for up to four years. That is one of the problems with the Bill. This morning, The Daily Telegraph, I think, quoted the leader of the Norwegian Conservative party, who pointed out that the supposed solution of the UK trying to have a status more or less equivalent to Norway’s was worse than being in the EU. Norway pays hundreds of billions of euros to the European Union for access to the single European market, and finds out about the rules through so-called fax democracy.

There are many, many problems with the Bill, which does not really resolve the main question. It is, as we all really know—rather like Harold Wilson’s Bill in the 1970s—about papering over the cracks in the Conservative party itself. It will not really work. The Prime Minister has spelled out a reasonably modest set of ambitions for renegotiation that will never satisfy many of his Back Benchers, who clearly want to use a much more ambitious and unilateral agenda for negotiation as something that will provide them with an excuse to campaign for exit.

UK businesses have access to free trade in the world’s largest single market, worth nearly £11 trillion in gross domestic product, with over 500 million consumers. One in 10 British jobs are linked to the single market. Some £495 billion-worth of British trade is with other EU member states. To put that in jeopardy—

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Mr Baron: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. With the greatest respect, would you remind Members that this is a debate about the principle of a referendum, not the relative merits of being in or out of the EU?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I can see frustrations building up in the Chamber. I think that Mr Horwood is trying to give us an encompassing view of why the referendum may be good or bad. I am sure that even he recognises that a lot of people wish to speak, and hopefully we can move on. In the meantime, it is Martin Horwood.

Martin Horwood: Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. I shall draw my remarks to a close. Even if hon. Members do not listen to me, and even if they do not listen to the leader of the Norwegian Conservative party, or even the CBI, perhaps they should just listen to what the Prime Minister himself said in that speech. In the end he moved on to the main question, which is whether in an in/out referendum we would be campaigning to stay in or out. The Prime Minister said:

“Of course Britain could make her own way in the world, outside the EU, if we chose to do so. So could any other Member State. But the question we will have to ask ourselves is this: is that the very best future for our country?”

He went on:

“Continued access to the Single Market is vital for British businesses and British jobs...being part of the Single Market has been key to that success...There are some who suggest we could turn ourselves into Norway or Switzerland—with access to the single market but outside the EU. But would that really be in our best interests?

I admire those countries and they are friends of ours—but they are very different from us. Norway sits on the biggest energy reserves in Europe, and has a sovereign wealth fund of over 500 billion euros. And while Norway is part of the single market—and pays for the principle—it has no say at all in setting its rules: it just has to implement its directives.”

The Prime Minister obviously is not really willing to risk millions of British jobs by voting no. This is a delaying tactic to get us past the next election. The Liberal Democrats are not willing to risk millions of British jobs by voting no. Europe means jobs, and we should not put those jobs in jeopardy.

1.5 pm

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): There have been many articulate and clever speeches during this debate. I exclude the last speech from that.

It seems to me a straightforward matter. This House, by signing various treaties, has taken away from the British people the right to throw out the rascals who are making their laws. It is time, after those treaties, that the people were given a chance to have that say in a referendum. My party’s position on a referendum can, I hope, be improved. We can have no principled objections to a referendum: it was the Labour party that first gave the people the chance to vote on the then EEC. We said in our 2005 manifesto that people would have a vote on the European constitution. Unfortunately, when the name of that constitution was changed to the Lisbon treaty, the vote was denied them. That was a huge mistake and is one of the reasons why the people of this country have lost trust.

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In the argument against those who say we do not need a referendum, three or four reasons have been given for why we need a referendum. One is uncertainty. That is the most perverse reason. There is uncertainty because 80% of the British people want a referendum and they are surprised that we cannot come to a conclusion about when that referendum should be and what the question should be. The debate would not go away and the uncertainty would not decrease if we opposed the Bill today.

The second reason given, which is related to the uncertainty argument, is that British business is opposed to a referendum and jobs would go. That would be a more compelling case if I had not heard exactly those arguments about joining the euro—that all the car factories would go if we did not join the euro.

Kelvin Hopkins: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Graham Stringer: I will give way briefly and only this time.

Kelvin Hopkins: I thank my hon. Friend. The economic arguments that I have heard today are nonsense. We have a gigantic trade deficit with the rest of the European Union, equivalent to a million jobs. We must do something about it and we will not do that simply by giving in to the European Union.

Graham Stringer: I agree. The arguments lack quantification—that would be one way of putting it. On the notion that the European Union is an unalloyed good idea for jobs, have people not been watching what the euro is doing not just to those countries that are in the euro, which are getting into a competitive deflationary situation, but to countries such as ours which trade with Europe? Hundreds of thousands and millions of jobs are being destroyed by the European Union. It is not helpful to our economy. A referendum would be the start of saying to the European Union, “This cannot carry on. You are damaging the whole of the European Union’s economy.”

Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Graham Stringer: No. A lot of people want to speak.

I will vote for the Bill today. It is not a perfect Bill. I hope that it can be amended to bring the date forward, which would help with uncertainty. One reason for that is that whatever good motives people might have to renegotiate our position within the European Union, that is not possible. Most of the problems that we have with the European Union are enshrined in the treaties. Do hon. Members really think that Ireland, Germany, Italy and the newer members of the EU, many of whom have to have referendums before they can take a decision on the constitution, will vote to change the treaty of Rome, or of Lisbon, Nice, Amsterdam, Maastricht, or any of the others? Many of the powers that have gone from this Chamber have gone through those treaties. I do not believe that renegotiation is possible.

Some hon. Members have said that the electorates and leadership of other European countries want changes similar to those that we want. I simply do not believe that. Many European Union countries are happy with

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ever-closer union, for quite valid reasons. Many of them have been through a period of fascism or communism, or some lack of democracy, and, rightly or wrongly, they see the European Union as protecting them against that. They do not see their future in the way that we do as a trading nation. The trade of 90% of EU countries is within the EU. Only 50% of this country’s trade, a declining amount, is with the European Union.

A great deal more could be said on this issue, but it is fundamental to the relationship between this House and the people of this country that they are given a chance to vote. The Bill can be improved. They will eventually get a vote, one way or the other, during the next four or five years. We might as well do it willingly and thoughtfully.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. If we have very short speeches, most hon. Members will be able to speak.

1.12 pm

Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con): There are a number of good reasons why we should remain members of the European Union, and there are more reasons why we should not. But as a number of hon. Members have said, we are not here to discuss those; we are here to discuss the referendum. This debate is about whether we should allow the British public to decide once and for all whether we should remain members.

In many ways it saddens me that the Bill has been introduced. Under normal circumstances, political parties set out their policies at election time, and if elected are expected to deliver those policies. But with Europe it is different, because the British public simply no longer trust politicians to deliver on their promises. The public are cynical, and rightly so. The Bill is designed to show that on this occasion the Conservative party really does mean business and will deliver on its promise to hold an in/out referendum in 2017 if it is elected.

But why are the British public so cynical? It is because they have been denied a say for so long. It is worth remembering that when Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1972, the British people were not consulted. In 1993, the Maastricht treaty changed the name of the EEC to the European Union. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) reminded us earlier, that represented not just a superficial name change, but a fundamental change in the whole entity of the European beast. The British people were not asked their opinion in a referendum. During the Labour party’s 13 years in government, the treaties of Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon were all ratified. The British people were not asked their opinion in a referendum, despite each of those treaties seeing more powers transferred to the EU.

It is true that in 1975 there was a referendum to determine whether Britain should remain in the EEC. Like many other people I voted yes, believing that Britain had joined an intergovernmental, free-market trading bloc. But then I was young and naive in 1975.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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Gordon Henderson: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I do not want to take any interventions.

Since 1975, Britain’s relationship with Europe has changed beyond all recognition, and in a way that no one in this country could have envisaged. Had I known then that Britain was embarking on a 38-year journey of political integration, I would sooner have cut off my right arm than vote yes. I am sure that many other people of my generation feel the same way. It is inconceivable that only 30 years after the end of the second world war, the British people would have willingly embarked on a programme to hand over swathes of their hard-won sovereignty to another state, and let us be clear: that is what the European Union aspires to be.

Mr Redwood: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Gordon Henderson: I am sorry, but I am not going to give way at all.

We have not had a referendum on our relationship with the EU since 1975, which is why, sadly, many people feel betrayed. In turn, that is why anger at, resentment towards and distrust of politicians is growing. People in my constituency feel ignored by, and disengaged from, those they consider to be the political elite in this country. People in Sittingbourne and Sheppey are frustrated that even though all three major parties have promised referendums at one time or another, they have been denied another referendum for over 30 years. They have heard enough promises; what they want is action. They want an in/out referendum, and they want it as soon as possible. If this House delivers that referendum, we will have gone some way towards winning back the public’s trust and engagement.

I support a referendum not because I believe that it is a hobby-horse of those of us on the centre-right in this House, but because I believe that it is in tune with the views of the majority of the British people. It is certainly the view of the majority in Sittingbourne and Sheppey. Support for a referendum is based not on right-wing ideology, but on common ideology. It is the ideology of the great British public. It is the ideology of the majority of my constituents and those of many other right hon. and hon. Members. Let me be truthful: in an ideal world, I would like a referendum as soon as possible, preferably at the time of the next general election, but I am realistic enough to know that is unlikely to happen, so a guaranteed referendum in 2017 is the next best thing, which is why I will be supporting the Bill.

1.17 pm

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): Napoleon said, “When you see your enemy tearing himself apart, don’t interrupt him.” Therefore, it is with some reluctance that I am here today, given that one of the most powerful points that has been made is that the whole reason we need this Bill is because the Conservative party does not trust its own Prime Minister to implement legislation after the next general election. Let us be clear about that. Also, if anyone doubts my credentials on demanding a referendum, I should explain that I think I was almost threatened with being thrown out of the Labour party in 2003-04 when I campaigned for one, so I will take no lessons from anyone on that.

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I think that a referendum is necessary, and with regard to the timing, we will give people a meaningful choice. That takes me to one subject that has not been mentioned so far: the existence of the euro and the euro crisis. There are developments taking place in the European Union at the moment that to all intents and purposes already leave Britain out, because if we have no intention of joining the single currency, the greater and deeper integration that will be required by those member states that are part of it will marginalise Britain and push us to a level where we will have to renegotiate our relationship with the new European framework.

That takes me to another very important point. I think that this is a wretched little Bill—it is pathetic that the Prime Minister could not introduce his own Bill—notwithstanding the absolutely brilliant speech from the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton). It is a private Member’s Bill that packed the House, and the way he responded was brilliant. It puts me in mind of Graham Greene’s “The Power and the Glory”, with the whisky priest and the question of whether an impure messenger can deliver a pure message.

Mr Frank Field: Or the opposite.

Ms Stuart: In this case it is the opposite. On this occasion, I think that the pure messenger should be allowed to go in peace on his battle and to take his message forward. I will not vote against the Bill. In a sense, I wish him well. As for the House, I wish to make one observation.

Mr Redwood: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Stuart: Yes.

Mr Redwood: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who has great credentials. Does she agree that any future Government will have to negotiate a new relationship because of the power of the euro and its impulsion towards federalism?

Ms Stuart: Yes, they will.

That takes me on to the one thought that I want people to take away with them, which seems to have been forgotten. We have slipped into basing this on whether we are going to vote for or against, but we will have plenty of time to make our decision on that. In debating the arguments for and against a referendum, what if we were to substitute the words “general election”? Who in this place would stand here and say, “We can’t possibly have a general election—it would be really bad for the economy, it would be really costly, it would affect business.” Every so often in the democratic process we have general elections, and we must apply the same principle to something as significant as this. We have reached the point when people will have to be asked, and we cannot duck it.

1.20 pm

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) on securing this Bill. He has consulted widely on the Bill’s make-up, which has done him and it credit. I am sure that he will prove that we can address the issue of Europe and still do

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well, even when representing a marginal seat. Many commentators do not realise that although Europe, as a subject on its own, may rank only 10th or 12th in people’s order of preferences, it is very much entwined with our conversations about the economy or immigration. That is a fact, as we know when we knock on the doors in our constituencies.

The Bill is absolutely right and long overdue. As many hon. Members have said, the public have been waiting for too long to express their view on whether the UK should remain a member of the EU, because the EU has fundamentally changed since we first joined it in 1973. We were told then that the emphasis was on free trade, but it has since morphed, bit by bit, into one of ever-closer political union—a process that has resulted, over a period of time, in the salami-slicing of our sovereignty.

David Simpson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Baron: I am going to crack on and be quick. I want to speak for just a couple of minutes because I am conscious that other Members want to speak as well. I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

The EU is now seen as too meddlesome in our everyday lives, too burdensome for our businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, and too costly for our taxpayers. Yet the political establishment in this country has, in essence, closed ranks over the past 30 years and denied the people their say. That is fundamentally wrong. They have not had a genuine choice about this at any of the general elections of the past 30 years or so. This arrogant and somewhat condescending approach by the political elite has not gone unnoticed by the electorate. I therefore congratulate the Prime Minister on being the first political leader to offer an in/out referendum; I am convinced that other leaders will follow suit. I also thank him for listening to his Back Benchers, the party faithful, and, most importantly, the country as a whole in embracing the idea of a referendum in the next Parliament and legislation in this one. This party has moved closer to the electorate, and it is now up to the other parties to decide whether they are going to step up to the plate.

Legislation is terribly important because it is more believable than election manifesto promises. There is a deep public scepticism when people hear promises being made by politicians about the EU, because too many have been broken in the past. They remember Blair’s promises on the EU constitution and Lisbon, when a referendum never materialised. They remember—or are constantly reminded, I should say—of Liberal Democrat promises at every general election on the need for a real referendum, which, strangely, never materialise even when they share power.

Martin Horwood rose

Mr Baron: No, I have spoken for too long already.

In conclusion, I take issue with the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham), who is no longer in his place. He claimed that, because I had suggested that this historic pledge by the Prime Minister was unbelievable—I have great respect for the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), but I

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am afraid she was absolutely wrong about this—I was somehow criticising the Prime Minister. Let me make it absolutely clear for the record that, having congratulated the Prime Minister on his January speech, I then went on to say:

“However, where the Prime Minister’s pledge falls down is its believability. British voters are deeply sceptical of politicians making promises on Europe: too many have been broken in the past.

People bitterly recall Labour’s broken promise…on the EU Constitution…and they also remember…the Liberal Democrats’ 2010 Election manifesto.

Passing paving legislation in this parliament for a referendum in the next would be a concrete way of demonstrating serious intent.”

That was what I said in the article that the right hon. Gentleman took out of all context.

This is an issue not of trust between the Prime Minister and his Back Benchers—I have no doubt we will get an in/out referendum in 2017—but of trust between politicians in general and the electorate, for understandable reasons given our lamentable record in keeping good our promises.

This brings us to the nub of the issue. What will Labour and the Liberals do? Will they support this Bill? Will they honour past promises to the electorate? Will they allow the electorate their say, or are they still stuck in the mindset of the previous political establishment, which could not trust the electorate with this issue? Time will tell, but I say this to them: ignore the electorate at your peril. I suggest that they do what is best for the country and I predict that the Labour party in particular will change its position on this issue before the next general election.

1.26 pm

Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) on proposing the Bill. I have been in the House for a number of decades and if I could give a speech as good as he gave today I would be pleased. To do it in almost his maiden speech was simply stunning, and to have had the Prime Minister sitting on the Front Bench listening to his gifts of delivery cannot have done his future career any harm whatsoever.

Karl Turner: Three and a half million jobs, Frank.

Mr Field: That sort of intervention is pathetic. I think it is quite reasonable to congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton South. If we think that we can win elections by not recognising the truth and paying tribute to people, our time in politics is wasted.

I have one point to make, which is to echo what my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) said. We are going to have a referendum and the question for Labour is whether we reach that point gracefully or reluctantly. We now need to move beyond this debate and set out the terms of how sovereignty can be redrawn between us and Europe. That is my single plea. This is the easy part of the debate where we ask

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whether we should have a referendum or not. We clearly are going to have one, so we now have some very serious work to do.

I end by echoing what the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) said—I hope he has a large majority; otherwise I will be accused of helping him, too—namely that this is a matter not just of us trusting the British voters, but of the possibility of them trusting us a little bit more in return, and my God, we are in need of that.

1.28 pm

Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): It is an honour to follow the distinguished right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), with whom I agree. I also add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) on proposing the Bill and on his box-office performance in his opening speech. If anyone in the Chamber has any doubt, he has my full support and I will back the Bill from beginning to end. My constituents have been waiting for a referendum on this issue for far too long.

The Bill gives the British public an important opportunity to have their say on how this country has been treated by Europe and by British Governments over the past 40 years. During that time, it is clear that more powers and far too much public money have been surrendered to Brussels. This Parliament’s sovereignty has been eroded decade after decade just to satisfy the demands of Europe’s political elite, who follow their dogmatic desire for ever-closer union, rather than putting the interests of our country and hard-pressed taxpayers first. Money has been squandered on wasteful and expensive initiatives and billions have been ploughed into the organisation year on year.

Let us be clear that the Bill is about giving a referendum and a say to the British public. For far too long, our taxpayers have been pillaged and hard-pressed families and businesses across the country have been subjected to far too much regulation and red tape by the European Union. It is not just costs, but laws that have been imposed on us. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) spoke about the immigration rules that have been imposed on us. We have not had a say. It is about time that we trusted the British public.

As well as enabling us to debate the future of our relationship with the EU, the Bill serves as a test of how the political parties in this country treat the public. On the one hand, the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats have conspired to cheat the British public out of the referendum that was promised on the Lisbon treaty. Those parties would surrender more powers to Brussels and adopt the euro. However, they prefer to abstain on the Bill and call it a stunt than to engage the public in a true democratic process by giving them a say. We live in an era when the public are given referendums on local neighbourhood plans, whether to adopt elected mayors and whether the parliamentary voting system should be changed, so frankly it is a scandal that the Labour party and the Lib Dems are living in the past and showing nothing but contempt for the public. Yet again, they are unable to trust the British public.

By contrast, it is this party—a united Conservative party—that is giving the public the chance to have a referendum. We want to empower the public to decide

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how they should be governed and who should govern them. In doing so, we are continuing our proud tradition of putting the British interest first in Europe. One lady who did that was, of course, Margaret Thatcher. She won the rebate for this country. Shamefully, it was abandoned by the Labour party. The current Prime Minister has vetoed a treaty and secured a reduction in the EU budget, unlike the Labour party.

On this historic day, Conservative MPs can take Britain one step closer to holding a referendum and trusting the people to decide their destiny when it comes to Britain and the European Union.

1.32 pm

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): This morning, I was in the Tea Room. It was packed with salivating Tories. The atmosphere was that of a students’ refectory before a students union debate: full of impotent expectation. I say impotent because the Bill is a constitutional nonsense, as we all surely realise.

The Prime Minister has made it clear that if we have a Conservative Government after the next election—God forbid—he will renegotiate Britain’s membership of the EU and then hold a referendum. He is supporting the Bill because it is about a referendum in the next Parliament. However, as we all know, it is constitutionally impossible for this Parliament to make a decision that binds a future Parliament.

What we are engaged in today is a pantomime. The Bill is not about the country’s needs. It is another bone for Eurosceptics to gnaw away at until they eventually go blue in the face. I am sad because this pantomime is also a tragedy. The Bill poses a grave risk to the economic interests of this country. I very much regret that the Prime Minister and Conservative party are more concerned about that party’s internal politics than about the best interests of the people of this country. In seeking to place a question mark over Britain’s membership of the European Union, the Bill creates enormous strategic uncertainty for Britain’s place in the single market. As Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of the advertising group WPP, said in response to the Prime Minister’s Bloomberg speech, it is

“another reason why people will postpone investment decisions”.

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Wayne David: Time is short so I will not. The Bill seeks to create four long years of damaging uncertainty about Britain’s future relationship with the single market. In so doing, it maximises the possibility of the UK no longer being seen as a sound location for inward investment. Let me be clear: the single market is of central economic importance to this country and 3.5 million jobs depend on that market—150,000 in my country of Wales. Some companies say that leaving the European Union will make no difference, but many others hold a profoundly different view. The Smiths Group of advanced technologies, the Weir Group of leading engineering businesses, easyJet, Ford and Toyota have all expressed concerns at the idea of the United Kingdom not having access to the single European market.

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As the Financial Times stated in January, “many” entrepreneurs “strongly support” Britain remaining part of the European Union. We would be profoundly mistaken to put at risk this country’s economic well-being for the interests of the Conservative party.

1.36 pm

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): It is not surprising that most people want this referendum. Seven out of 10 people have never had a say on our relationship with Europe, and nobody has had a say on our relationship with the European Union—it did not exist in 1975. It is striking that people generally want a referendum sooner rather than later, and the beauty of the Bill is that it sets a longstop date but does not close down the possibility of holding a referendum sooner than 2017. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) for ensuring that that was the case.

Right now our Government should be preparing the ground and putting our best and most urgent efforts into renegotiation. Businesses across the country want us to fight their corner; people want to know that their Government are already fighting to get control of our borders. Business needs certainty, people need certainty—as a minimum, they must be certain of when the uncertainty will end. People also need to know that Britain is ready for the results of a referendum, so let us do the work now. There is nothing to stop the Government and the civil service doing the ground work. Tell us what leaving or staying in the EU might mean. Tell us that leaving is a possibility. Alongside the Bill, why not publish an audit of the costs and benefits of EU membership, sooner rather than later? Those are all activities we can undertake now.

In conclusion, Conservatives led the way forward in the past by securing a rebate from the EU budget, and we led the way in securing a cut in the EU budget. Let us lead the way again today, but this time not only the Conservatives. Let the whole Parliament lead the way in giving the British people a say on a future relationship with the European Union.

1.38 pm

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): May I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) on winning the ballot and promoting this Bill? I know that many of his colleagues would have loved to be No. 1—indeed, a few Labour Members would have liked to come first and promote the very same Bill. We might have elicited more support from the Labour Benches if one of us had done that, but I am not sure.

I have heard a lot today about how one party or another is playing politics, but as far as I am concerned, those who suffer when party politics are played on any side are the public. The only people who will suffer if this Bill is not supported will be the public who have wanted a referendum for many years.

David Simpson: On that point, does the hon. Lady agree that the general public want a level playing field in Europe? They have not seen that for many years, and this referendum will give them their say.

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Kate Hoey: To me, this referendum is not just about politicians trusting the people, but about people beginning to trust us again, as the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) said. Looking at the records of all the political parties on Europe over the last 20 years, the public find there is not much that they can trust in what any of the political parties have said. That is precisely why we need this legislation.

Of course, the Bill will not bind the next Government. If my party is in power after the next election, I will continue to campaign for a referendum. I hope it will be recognised that any party that goes into the next election without offering the people the chance of a referendum will not be looked on very well. I am therefore confident, as some of my colleagues are, that our party will change its mind on this, just as it changed its mind on the euro and a number of other issues relating to legislation that has been introduced.

It is common sense that we need a referendum. Europe has changed so much—I will not go through all the different treaties. No one under the age of 55 has had a say on this. It is just scandalous to think that any party can sit around and abstain on an issue like this. What is the point? I genuinely cannot understand why we want to abstain, other than to say that we are playing into the hands of the Conservatives. I do not think I am playing into the hands of the Conservatives by voting for this Bill today; I am playing into the hands of my constituents and the British public, who want a referendum. I appeal to Members from my party not to abstain. This is not necessarily the Bill that will finally get consent in this House; there will be amendments—I personally would like a referendum sooner rather than later.

I want to read out two simple letters from the many that I have received over the last week or two since the Bill was published:

“As one of your constituents I am asking you to listen to my voice, and the voice of millions of others, who believe it’s time that the British people were given a say on Britain’s membership of the European Union.

This is not about party politics or the next general election.

It’s about democracy, and giving people a chance to decide whether the EU is right or wrong for Britain.”

The next letter says:

“Thanks for your stance on a referendum, we do appreciate being treated like adults, despite what”

some other Members of Parliament are saying.

I feel strongly that this Bill sends a message today, 40 years after we originally joined the Common Market, that we are in a new century and a new era. Europe has changed. Our country now needs to make that final decision about whether our future will be in Europe or whether we can see a better future outside Europe. We will be vilified by the establishment—anyone who has tried to speak out on Europe over the years has been vilified. The mantra of the European Union elite has always been “Ever-closer union”. They will not allow such minor concerns as the opinion of the public to interfere in referendum decisions. Over and over again, decisions are quietly pushed through in Europe. We have to speak out. Now is the time for this Parliament to say, “We want to govern our own country; we want to have a referendum,” and let the public decide.

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1.43 pm

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): This is an historic day. For the first time in nearly 40 years, a major political party of Government is united in its commitment to give the British people a choice as to whether they stay in the EU. That is the important part of this debate.

The Prime Minister and the Government have been criticised for not introducing a Government Bill. Let us be absolutely clear: there is only one party that is stopping this Bill being a Government Bill or having time, and that is the Liberal party. Let us be clear also that the Liberals gave a solemn promise at the last election to have an in/out referendum. They gave that promise only because they thought then that they would win it. They are now reneging on that promise, so this is down to them.

This is only a private Member’s Bill. Despite the fact that we all salute our hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) for the way he has introduced it, its likely progress reminds me of the games of Cluedo I used to play as a boy. In about nine or 10 months’ time, the body of my hon. Friend with his Bill will be found dead in the morning room with daggers in his back, but nobody will claim responsibility for killing his Bill. It will not be the Rev. Yellow Cleggo or Comrade Scarlet, but my hon. Friend’s Bill will be dead. The responsibility for the British people being denied a referendum will not lie with us.

Sooner or later, the Liberal party and the Labour party will have to come clean with the British people and offer a referendum, as we are offering a referendum. When the Bill is finally talked out on some dark rainy night or morning, probably in the other place, and when we have ensured that all the other private Members’ Bills are slaughtered to make way for it, we will have to go back to the Government and say to our partners in coalition, “Give us a Government Bill.” If our partners refuse to give us that Bill, that will be an excellent platform on which to fight the next general election. We will remind the people again and again who killed the Bill by talking it out.

We must start negotiating now. There are so many fundamental issues—on our fisheries, on our farming and on our trade—that need to be worked out. I am confident that there will be a referendum. I fear that our partners in Europe will make very few concessions. I fear that the French will not be prepared to give us more freedom on agriculture, and I fear that the Spanish will not be prepared to give us more freedom on fishing. I fear that we will make very little progress, but we will try our best and the decision will then go to the British people.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Sir Edward Leigh: No, I am going to finish now.

When we get to that point, unless major concessions are made I, like many other Conservatives, will campaign for this country once more to be free. Why should this country not once again be in charge of its own destiny? Why should we not be part of a genuine free trade area? That is our vision of a free and prosperous nation, and that is what we will put to the British people.

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Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): As much brevity as possible, Andrew Miller.

1.46 pm

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): The national interest is now measured by the interests of the Conservative party. I find that extraordinary, but not surprising.

I intervened on my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham) pointing out that there was no reference to UKIP in the speeches of either the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) or the Foreign Secretary. I was surprised earlier when I had a conversation in the Tea Room with the Minister for Europe. I asked him whether he was leading on the Bill. He said, “No, William is,” and I made the wrong assumption that he meant the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash). He corrected me.

I want to make one serious point. I am not opposed to a referendum. I have sat through the debate and listened carefully to all the contributions. At the beginning, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) asked what about next year? My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) pointed out that the Bill will mean four years of uncertainty, and it is that uncertainty that causes me serious concern.

Andrew Bridgen: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Andrew Miller: No, I am not going to give way.

My constituency is dominated by manufacturing companies that have a strong presence in Europe: 88% of vehicles produced in the Vauxhall factory end up in mainland Europe. We are trying to incentivise the supply chain in the automotive sector, and in a range of other industries, to come to the UK. During the four-year period, there will be key investment decisions. My worry, when we talk to people in China and the far east about bringing supply chains back to Europe, is that if there is uncertainty about Britain’s place in Europe, they will be more likely to place their investments in mainland Europe. That needs to be considered during the passage of the Bill. If we are to have a referendum, I plead with the House to do it quickly and get it over with, so that the manufacturing sector does not face uncertainty. If we go on in the way we are, with this vague date in the future—at least four years—I worry intensely about the impact on manufacturing.

I started my political life way back in the ’60s, and in the ’70s I found myself on the opposite side to the hon. Member for Stone. I campaigned vigorously about not joining the EU. I realised by the 1980s that our economy had become inextricably linked with the EU. That remains my view. We should be working out a way that carries on building our relationships with Europe, but, yes, there have to be some strong negotiations about the issues that hon. Members have legitimately raised today. I urge the House to think about these points as the Bill goes through.

1.50 pm

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con): I will endeavour to be brief. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) on his articulate,

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professional introduction of this excellent Bill. I hope that I am able to support him all the way to Royal Assent.

I want to remark on the timetable for this referendum. We have heard a lot of talk about those who want a vote now. That is fine, for those who are of the view that our current relationship with Europe is satisfactory or for those just want to leave the EU, but the reality is that most of the British people, and most of the Conservative party, are in the same space as me, thinking that there can be a role and a constructive relationship with Europe, but that at the moment it is not right. Europe simply has too much power. We need the opportunity to seek a renegotiation and put that to the British people.

It is important that we give the British people their say. As has been said, there has been one referendum, seeking consent for membership of a common market. That was all the British people signed up to, but we now find that we are part of a political union that interferes in all aspects of our lives. The British people do not like it. It will be bad for the body politic if we do not get behind my hon. Friend’s Bill and endorse the concept of a referendum, but that referendum must follow a debate about what we think our relationship with Europe should look like. It is time that this country took charge of its relationship with Europe and made it work in our best interests.

This Bill, if it receives a Second Reading today, will strengthen the Prime Minister’s hand in any negotiations. It will tell Europe that we mean business and that we are determined to get our powers back. The Prime Minister can then say, quite categorically, “We don’t want any more interference in our employment laws. We don’t want any more benefit tourists. We don’t want any more messing around in our criminal justice system. We want our sovereignty back.” The British people simply will not support a relationship with Europe until it gets back to what it was set up for: trade and trade only.

This relationship is far too important to be decided purely by Members of this House. This is about Britain and its place in the world and we must let the people of Britain decide.

1.52 pm

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I have not got much time. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) on his Bill and his excellent speech promoting it. I will certainly be voting for it later. However, I want the Bill to propose a referendum in this Parliament, and as soon as possible, because that is what my voters want and what the country wants. Four years is too long. I also want to ensure that the wording of the question is carefully phrased, so that it is not a leading question. It should give a genuine choice to voters, so that they will not be misled by the wording.

Millions of Labour voters want a referendum as well. Thousands of my constituents want a vote, too. I have evidence of that. We are speaking for millions of Labour voters—perhaps not every Labour voter, but certainly millions of them—who equally, like many Government Members, want a referendum.

I have some backing, in a sense, because four years ago I had a mini-pilot referendum in my constituency of Luton North. I publicly supported that and supported

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a yes vote. We got a 2:1 majority in favour of a referendum. Subsequent to that, I won my seat in 2010—interestingly, with a swing to Labour. I am not suggesting that my support of the referendum was the cause of that, but it certainly did not do me any harm. I feel that I have personal backing from my constituency for a referendum.

I have a long track record. In 1975, I not only voted against the Common Market as it was then, but I was the agent for the no vote in Bedfordshire and campaigned hard in that referendum. At the special Labour party conference that took place before the referendum, there was a massive Labour majority in favour of getting out of the European Union. The greatest speech I have ever heard, before or since, was delivered by Michael Foot, urging us to remove ourselves from the Common Market. At that time, there was massive support among Tory MPs for staying in. If Labour has switched sides, so too have the Tories.

After the 1975 referendum we had the Single European Act, which I thought was a mistake. We had the ERM—exchange rate mechanism—disaster, which certainly was a mistake, and I predicted it beforehand. Maastricht was another mistake, as was the strangely named growth and stability pact—what growth and what stability? Then we had the euro disaster, followed by Lisbon. We have thus seen a massive shift of power from national Parliaments to Brussels, which has obviously been the design from the beginning. It is something that we have to stop and reverse.

Unemployment stands at over 12% in the eurozone—and in the European Union, I believe—and is rising. Whatever our problems, they are a lot worse for those inside the eurozone, which is proving to be a disaster. If we stay in the EU, I want to see a renegotiation that would cover getting us out of the common fisheries policy, removing ourselves from the common agricultural policy and getting rid of free movement provisions—all the things that have been mentioned today. If we do not succeed on those issues, I can tell hon. Members that I shall vote no in the referendum and vote for our exiting from the EU. I could say much more, but I have probably said enough.

1.56 pm

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I rise to support the Bill and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) on his excellent speech. The Bill is very much in the national interest, and I regret that party political interests are being put first by the Labour party. I could raise many issues, but they have already been raised, so I shall raise something completely different—about our best ally, the United States of America.

Recent comments have come out of the White House and the State Department that express concerns about this country’s debate about Europe. I am pro-America; I love America; and America is our closest ally—but it is for the British people to decide our destiny, not for the United States, this current President or any future President. It is very much as a pro-American that I have risen to say that it is in the American national security interests to have a strong Britain, a sovereign Britain, an independent Britain and a Britain that is self-governed.

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1.57 pm

Jim Dowd (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab): I shall try to be as brief as possible. It is traditional to congratulate the winner of the private Members’ ballot, and I am happy to do that, although speaking as a Member who has been here for 21 years, I have never even come in the top 20. I say that with no rancour and no bitterness. I am certain that the Bill will obtain its Second Reading today, and will sail through Committee—although after that, who knows? The Bill will do so without my support, so let me briefly say why.

The fact that the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) has chosen a controversial subject should not be made into an issue for consideration. Sometimes MPs bring in private Members’ Bills and try to build a good deal of consensus behind them, so that their proposers can get them through. There are plenty of other issues, however. Provisions on capital punishment and abortion, for example, started off as private Members’ Bills, and the Hunting Act 2004 started off as a private Member’s Bill. Whether the hon. Member for Stockton South will have such a smooth ride with his Bill, I do not know.

I will not support the Bill, although together with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) I do support a referendum. I hope to persuade our Front-Bench team—I am perhaps a bit more optimistic on this than my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East—to adopt a rational position on the reform of the EU, eventually resulting in a referendum for the British people to decide. After all, we have only ever had one referendum on this subject, and it was provided by a Labour Government.

I will not support the Bill, first, because it is defective and incompatible with the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. I do not support it, secondly, because it will never be implemented. If, after 2015, there is a majority Tory Government, they are certain to change course and bring forward a different proposal—as would any other majority Government. If there is a coalition Government, we will be back exactly where we are today. Another reason is that the heart of this Bill is fruit-cake therapy for Tories, in an attempt to provide a talisman against UKIP. That is what drives this issue. A more rational, reasonable and durable approach is required.

This is an attempt to replicate Harold Wilson’s ultimately successful strategy of the early ’70s, but Harold Wilson was a far wilier operator than this Prime Minister. He devised the dissenting Ministers campaign and the referendum campaign principally to reconcile the deep divisions within the Labour party at the time and to avert a destructive split, and that was successful for nearly 10 years, but it did not prevent it. As much as anything, it was the split on the left in British politics that resulted in the hegemony of the Conservative party throughout the ’80s. The split did take place, and it took another 15 years to recover from it.

We are dealing here with fundamental political forces. The difference now is that the split is on the right of British politics. I fully expect this Bill to come back on Report in November, and I will be fascinated to see how it plays out after that.

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2 pm

Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): May I first join Members on both sides in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) on a magnificent speech introducing his Bill?

My first act of political campaigning was to take part in the 1979 referendum campaign. I was not old enough to vote, I hasten to add. However, I did go around putting leaflets through doors. I did so, first, because as a Conservative I strongly believed in the free trade opportunities that the European Economic Community represented. I thought it would be good for our economy and for business. I was also in favour because of the statements in the leaflets I was putting through the doors, such as “The case for staying in the EEC”, which said that we would gain, not lose, effective sovereignty over our destiny, and that in the last resort we would be able to veto any proposal put forward in Brussels if we considered it to be against our vital national interests.

There was also the leaflet paid for by the taxpayer that went through every single door in the country which stated: