George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con): May I say how good it is that we are having this important debate this evening, but how disappointed I am that the build-up to it has given the impression that the Conservative party is divided on Britain’s approach to the European Union? The truth is that the only real division this evening will be over the wording of a motion, not the substance of our approach to the EU. In reality, Conservatives are united in believing that the EU has accumulated far too many powers, that the status quo is no longer an option and that we must renegotiate a new relationship with the EU and make a fresh start.
I think that three distinct steps need to be taken. First, we need a plan, and in my view the Government should be doing the work right now to identify which powers we would seek to repatriate. Secondly, we need to take every opportunity we have to negotiate and to deliver that plan. Finally, the end of the process should be the point at which we have a referendum and put the renegotiation to the people.
It is because I believe that a referendum should come at the end of the process, rather than the beginning, that I cannot support the motion as it stands this evening. However, I cannot support the Government by voting
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against it, so I will abstain. The reason I cannot support the Government is that I want them to do far more than they have so far been willing to do to accelerate the plan for a renegotiation. That will be the main focus of my comments today.
It concerns me that the Foreign Office might be ducking the challenge here, and I have been very disappointed by the “jam tomorrow” nature of some of the Foreign Secretary’s comments. The urgent need to get our economy moving again becomes clearer by the day. There are no easy ways out of the current mess. We need radical thinking to get our country moving again, and that should include dealing with the morass of EU laws and regulations. I do not think that it is good enough to say that changing the EU is all too difficult and so nothing can be done for years to come. Sorting out the EU is not something that might be nice in the distant future; tackling the burden of EU regulation is an integral part of the solution to the current crisis and we must act now. We have to find a way of cutting the Gordian knot that has created a situation in which politicians talk about reforming the EU but can never find the moment to deliver real change.
I do not accept the argument that nothing can be done until there has been an intergovernmental conference or a new treaty. Where there is the political will, there is always a way, and where needs must, the EU has shown itself able to react quickly and then sort out the lawyers and the legal basis for action later.
Mark Pritchard: I commend my hon. Friend for his long-standing convictions on these issues. He talks about a White Paper, renegotiating powers and then a referendum. What timetable does he envisage for that referendum?
The bail-outs in Greece and Ireland were technically against EU law, but the European financial stability facility was agreed and implemented within days; three years ago, the bank bail-outs breached EU state aid rules, but again exemptions were created when needs required it. Sweden has technically been in breach of the treaties for a decade, because it does not have an opt-out from the euro, but the EU has had to learn to live with it, as that is the political reality. The Danish Government have unilaterally introduced extra customs checks on their borders, which are in breach of the Schengen agreement, but, again, the EU has had to learn to live with it.
The lesson from those examples is that EU law is a flexible notion. In fact, the European Union Act 2011 explicitly states that EU regulations and directives have force in this country only when Parliament allows them to, so we must be far more willing to set aside the authority of the European Court of Justice, and
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crucially we should not let dreary treaties and EU protocols get in the way of taking urgent action to stimulate our economy.
Let us say to the EU that we are going to delay the agency workers directive, making it clear to the institution that it will have to learn to live with that and that we will not accept an infraction procedure. Let us make it clear, during the current negotiations on the budget, that we intend to disapply, for instance, the working time directive, which was mentioned earlier, until we get this economy out of recession.
The European Union would complain, but, if the evidence of the examples I have cited is anything to go by, it would probably take it at least three years to get around to doing anything about it. Such a move might do something else, too. People keep saying, “These European politicians have no intention of having a treaty; they just won’t negotiate with us, so we have to give up,” but if we unilaterally did those things we would suddenly find that there was an appetite for a long-term solution to such issues. It would be a catalyst to get negotiations moving.
Negotiators in the Foreign Office would probably wince at the idea of adopting such a stance, but it is the only way we can cut that Gordian knot, sort out the EU and get our economy moving again, and I very much hope that the Minister takes those comments on board.
Kris Hopkins (Keighley) (Con): I, like many in the country, am angered at the continued erosion of our sovereignty, and at the shipping of our powers across the channel to Brussels. Businesses, the judicial system and citizens of this country are subject to a growing federalisation—to federalist power—that seeks to engulf not only the economy but our politics.
The unfolding eurozone disaster is an example of the chaotic and unaccountable actions that have been allowed to play out within the European project, and that in itself is bad enough, but the failure of eurozone members to take responsibility, to lay the facts before each other and to own up to mistakes is what concerns me more. I am a Eurosceptic, and I struggle to find anything to respect in an institution that cannot sign off its own accounts, let alone manage someone else’s.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): For 32 years the UK has been a net contributor, not a recipient, of EU moneys. If it were a pension scheme, everybody would say, “Let’s get out now.” Does that not underline the need for the people of the United Kingdom to make up their own minds in a referendum, and not to pay into a system that takes plenty but gives little?
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powers back from Brussels, and initiate reform of the European Union. That was part of our election promise, and we should see it through.
I watched the Conservative Government in the 1990s rip themselves apart over Europe. After 13 years in opposition, I am dismayed that after just 18 months in government, we are sitting here again with the same tension. There is an element of self indulgence here and, if we are not careful, it will be a route to self-destruction. We are facing the greatest economic upheaval in 100 years.
Kris Hopkins: As I said in response to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), if there is such support for the matter, we should campaign to ensure that it is part of our party’s next election manifesto.
Should we compromise on financial stability, growth and maintaining low interest rates for the sake of losing our ability to negotiate reform, and to negotiate to bring powers back to this country? If we compromise now, we will have a lame duck Government for a couple of years while the world watches, knowing that we will have a referendum that might compromise that position. We have the best hand in a generation, and we should play it to full effect.
This is the wrong motion at the wrong time for this country. This is Great Britain, and we do not run away when Europe gets into trouble. In fact, we have a reputation for sorting out those poor fellows. It is in Britain’s interest to be at the table.
The global economy is changing rapidly, and the focus of power is moving east. We need to be able to use all the opportunities, including through the European Union, to participate in that growth of wealth. Some hon. Members have said today that it would not be democratic if the 100,000 votes do not win the day, but I have an opinion and other hon. Members have a different one. That is democracy, and I will vote against the motion.
Mr Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): On 21 February 1992, there was a Second Reading debate on a private Member’s Bill that I had introduced on a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. It was anticipatory, and the occasion was the last one on which Mrs Thatcher voted as a Member of this House. It is not because of vanity that I mention that, but because of a remarkable speech. This is an appeal to Labour Members. I will quote that remarkable speech, which was made by Peter Shore—those who knew him will understand why I say that—the then Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney. He said that a
“referendum…offers one of the few possibilities to remedy a fundamental weakness in our constitution. We have no written constitution and no procedures to protect and entrench features of our national and constitutional life. Everything can be changed by a simple majority. Many other countries, as we know, have
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quite elaborate procedures requiring a majority of two thirds for changes in constitutional matters and arrangements, often backed up with public referendums.”
“We have no such defence. Indeed, previously we did not need them, because only this generation of British parliamentary representatives has contemplated handing to others the great prizes of national independence, self-government and the rule of law under our own elected representatives. It would not have occurred to a previous generation to hand to others that which we prize most greatly and have given to other countries throughout the world in the past 50 years. That is the novelty of the proposition, against which, because we did not think it conceivable, we have no defences. A referendum is a major constitutional device for defending the rights of the British people and our constitution.”—[Official Report, 21 February 1992; Vol. 204, c. 590.]
I was personally moved by that because it described the thread that ran through our long march for liberty, with the ordinary people coming to effect the election of this House, and those who represented them knowing that only they could make the law by which we were governed. In this, the concept of the rule of law, there has to be proper due process. That debate, which took place immediately before the election, was very controversial. Subsequently, I moved the referendum amendment to the Maastricht Bill.
All the arguments advanced by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary amounted to what we have heard so often regarding ordinary and constitutional legislation: “It is not the right time.” My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) put it very brilliantly as he dissected what that amounts to. A referendum essentially says, “Trust the people”, and that is the one thing that the Executive of this House are loth to do because they do not know what the outcome will be. However, we should respond to the generosity of the Government in allowing a Committee of this House to accept a petition from the public outside. We need a referendum.
Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): I have always been proud to be a moderate, one-nation Conservative and a supporter of this coalition Government. Like the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), my Euroscepticism is driven by internationalism, and I fear the dangers of a “little Europe”.
I welcome the work that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have done to limit our exposure to eurozone bail-outs, provide a referendum lock on future treaties and reduce the EU budget, and I strongly support what they say about the benefits of being in Europe but not run by Europe. However, I believe that all three major parties are mistaken in opposing the motion, and more greatly so in imposing harsh Whips on their supporters.
This cross-party Back-Bench motion reflects a profound disquiet in the country at the fact that, for decades, we have had no say on our relationship with Europe, and it reflects widespread popular support for an opportunity for people to have that say. I was born in 1978, and in no time during my lifetime, nor in the adult lifetimes of the vast majority of hon. Members, has there been an opportunity to debate publicly our membership, or even the terms of our membership, of the EU. Eight out of 10 people eligible to vote today have never had this opportunity. There should have been a referendum on
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the Lisbon treaty. I am proud that Conservative Members voted against that treaty when Labour disgracefully broke its promise to hold a referendum on the constitution that it replaced.
There have been many debates in this House on aspects of European policy, but none has triggered a referendum or engaged the public in the way that today’s motion could. Many hon. Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), have very reasonably criticised the idea of a three-way referendum. I would far rather have supported a straight yes or no question on renegotiating the powers of Brussels. That is why I would have unreservedly supported the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice). Sadly, as that amendment was not selected, I find myself faced with a dilemma. In a three-way referendum, there is a risk that the wrong answer can be achieved with a significant minority vote, as the Prime Minister has explained. I have never argued for an in/out referendum because I do not believe that that is the right question to ask.
Mr Gyimah: My hon. Friend makes a very passionate case. Was not repatriating powers from Brussels in our last election manifesto, and is it not therefore Conservative party policy and the Government’s policy?
I support the third option set out on the Order Paper: renegotiating our membership to base it on trade and co-operation. That is what we signed up for in the first place. The question comes down to whether one believes that the risks inherent in a three-way referendum outweigh the benefits of what in my view, in the view of the last Conservative manifesto and, I believe, in the view of the vast majority of the British people is the right thing to do. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) said, it comes down to whether one trusts the people, and I trust the British people. I believe that if they were offered such a choice and were engaged in a reasoned debate on the three options, they would do as they did with the AV referendum and come to a sensible conclusion.
I do not buy the argument that now is the wrong time. The motion states that a Bill should be brought forward in the next Session of Parliament. If the eurozone crisis has not been resolved by then, we are all in much greater trouble than we thought.
In conclusion, I am no Euro-fanatic and have no great desire to earn the label of rebel because I strongly support many of the steps that the coalition Government have taken. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) pointed out, we are the representatives of our constituents, not just delegates. It is not right to vote on an issue simply because of the number of letters we have received or according to what we hear on the doorstep, but as representatives we should certainly take those things into account.
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I spent much of my weekend talking to constituents about this issue, along with many others. Everyone I asked felt it was right that they should have a choice. I received many letters in support of the motion and only one against, from a retired Labour councillor. Among those letters, one that made an impression was from my constituent, Mr Raymond Cross, who wrote:
“I am almost 87 years of age, served and offered my life to my King and Country…in the army during the second world war. I still have the original ‘Britain & Europe’ booklet issued by the Ted Heath Government in July 1971. That is what we voted on in 1975.
There should be a free vote on this referendum. Members of Parliament are there to debate the pros and cons of the motion put forward not to obey slavishly the will of”
their parties. I profoundly regret that there is no such free vote. I am a passionate supporter of my party and this coalition Government, but it is a well-established convention that constituency should come before party and, still more importantly, that country should come before all. On that basis, I shall support the motion tonight.
David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): I contribute to this debate as a Eurosceptic who believes that too many of our powers and freedoms and too much of our money have been handed over to Brussels.
For years, we have argued desperately and even begged to maintain our membership of the EU without being ruled by an undemocratic federal state. We failed largely because the whole basis of the European project was to have a federal country with its own currency. The assumption was that even countries such as Denmark and Britain would come round eventually and join the euro. After that, we would all become one big federal country like America. That situation made it almost impossible for people like me who want to co-operate in Europe, but to remain British.
Things have changed significantly in recent years. The euro is in turmoil. The dream, or perhaps the nightmare, of a federal state with one currency is nearly dead. It cannot now happen. That gives us an opportunity. For years we have talked about a two-speed Europe. There is now an opportunity for a two-system Europe. Those who want closer union can have it, while countries such as Britain, Greece and Denmark can be more loosely aligned. That is what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary talked about when he used the phrase,
“In Europe, but not run by Europe.”
It seems that there now have to be two systems, whether Brussels likes it or not. The good news for us Eurosceptics is that for the first time since the 1980s, we have a Government who are genuinely committed to negotiating for that. If negotiations fail on the two-system Europe, we will have to reappraise our approach.
For now, we must grasp the opportunity. This is the first time in decades when we have had the opportunity to be in Europe, but not in a federal state where we are dictated to by people with whom we disagree. We are now in a stronger position and we need to show strength. This window of opportunity will not exist for ever, so I want the Government to go back to Europe and get our powers back.
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put the issue to bed for ever. We would save ourselves from extra tax and bureaucracy. That is agreed across the House. Saving ourselves from both those things will be vital for economic growth. I think we now all agree that a federal Europe is dead. Britain will now never join the euro, and we have the chance to renegotiate—we have that assurance from the Prime Minister. Let us do that while the opportunity exists, and if that fails, we can have a referendum on leaving the EU.
The motion has the passion of a broad, belief-based ideology, and we can read it in any way we want depending on our own views. I believe that I signed up to point (c) in the motion—let us renegotiate. In Europe, but not run by Europe.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I had not intended to speak in the debate, but having sat through some three hours or so earlier and heard a number of points of view, I thought I would take the opportunity to make a few points.
I fully accept that the House should take very seriously the number of signatures on the e-petition and the views that have been expressed to many MPs. I certainly accept that they are expressions of widespread concern. However, Members must accept that although some people feel very strongly about the issue, that does not mean that all people do. It is only a year and a half since we had a general election, and at that point none of the major parties stood on a platform of an in/out referendum of the type that is being suggested today. We must question how democratic it would be if we were to vote tonight for a policy that very few of us stood on in the last general election.
The motion is about leaving the EU, or changing our relationship with it in such a way that we would effectively no longer be part of it. My reasons for opposing it are simple, and some of them have already been stated. First, there is the powerful argument that the EU has been a defender and supporter of security and peace in Europe since it was established. If Britain were to withdraw from the EU, it would bring into question the EU’s whole raison d’être, and I do not want us to return to a Europe of instability and, ultimately, conflict between member states. We have been lucky over the past 70 years, but for many centuries Europe was riven by all sorts of terrible warfare, and we do not want to see that return.
Much more immediately, I support colleagues on the Labour Benches, and some on the Government Benches, who have pointed out that there would be a real danger to our economy, because there would be a danger to the European economy, if we were to begin negotiations over the next 18 months on Britain withdrawing from Europe or renegotiating our relationship in such a way that we would no longer be recognisable as part of the EU.
I have noticed this evening that the view put forward by the Eurosceptics seems to be that their ideal relationship with the EU would be something like that of Norway and Switzerland. Leaving aside the fact that there is no suggestion anywhere of that being a realistic option to put on the negotiating table, as has been said, everything that Norway and Switzerland do in the economic field is affected by the decisions of the EU. As part of their agreements they are required to accept most European
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legislation. Where relevant, they have to accept the decisions of the European Court, and where they are not bound to accept EU legislation, they are certainly heavily influenced by it. The difference between those countries and us is that we would not have any voice, because we would not have representation in Europe either in the democratic institutions such as the European Parliament, in the European Council or elsewhere.
I believe that we need Britain to play a stronger role in Europe, and I want our Government to take an active role to defend our interests in Europe. I hope that one good thing, at least, will come out of tonight’s debate, and that some of the politicians who have played with a Eurosceptic position over the years as a way of trying to win votes might recognise that they have played with fire and are responsible for the consequences of their action tonight, which is the rebellion by Tory Back Benchers. I hope that there will now be a more positive approach to Europe—criticism, yes, but at the same time let us recognise its benefits to our country. Let us ensure that we work in Europe to make it succeed, rather than go down a road that would lead to an economic downturn for this country and economic damage to Europe as a whole.
Nick Boles (Grantham and Stamford) (Con): I have listened with great attention to all of the speeches for the past five hours, with the occasional break to take in and then expel a little liquid. I can tell the House that the passion and the idealism, and even the personal courage, has all been on one side of the debate—the side of those who support the motion.
I agree with much that those hon. Ladies and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House believe and want. I agree with them that Governments of all stripes have given too much power to the EU; that we need to renegotiate the terms of our membership, so that it focuses more on economic matters of trade and co-operation, and less on other issues that Europe was not set up to deal with; and that the British people should have the final say.
However, I will not vote with them tonight for the following reason. Although they have the passion, the idealism and the personal courage, I am afraid that they lack good sense. There will be only one time in the foreseeable future when we can hold a referendum on our membership of the EU—it has been 40 years since the last one, and we are likely to get only one shot in the next 40—and we must use it well. We must hold that referendum when it is most likely to assist us in getting the deal from Europe that we want.
Andrew Percy: I can predict exactly what will happen. If we propose a referendum at a time of economic growth, everyone will say, “Now is not the time to have a referendum, because everything is going so swimmingly.”
Nick Boles: I thank my hon. Friend, but that was not my point. My point on timing is simply this: we need the promise—or, indeed, the threat—of that referendum to persuade our European partners to give us some of what we want in that negotiation.
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If an imminent referendum hangs over that negotiation, the Prime Minister has a hand to play. He can say, “If you don’t give me the concessions I need, and if you don’t meet the demands of the British people, I will not be able to win that referendum, and you will lose one of the biggest members of the EU for ever.” However, if we have the referendum now, we will entirely waste the whole exercise. If we have a referendum in the next three years, before we have completed that renegotiation, and on a muddled question with three options, we will entirely forfeit our best negotiating tool.
Mark Pritchard: I commend my hon. Friend for his consistency, and although I do not agree with him, I respect him for his convictions. Will he tell the House what timetable he envisages for a referendum? Would it be in this Parliament or the next one?
Nick Boles: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, not least because he brings me to the conclusion that I probably would otherwise have forgotten. He asks exactly the right question, but I do not have news that will cheer up Conservative Members.
The first step before we start that renegotiation is, I am afraid, achieving a majority Conservative Government. We cannot start a renegotiation of our entire membership of the EU when the Government speak with two voices. We need a unified position, and we do not have it now, which I regret. I fought like all Conservatives for a majority Government, but we did not get it.
The second step is to start a renegotiation, which will probably take two or three years. We can promise that referendum in about year four of the next Parliament, after the Conservatives have won a majority. We might then get the Europe we want.
If we do what those brave hon. Ladies and hon. Gentlemen want us to do, we will waste our chance and get no clear answer to that referendum question. We might find ourselves in an unreformed and unreformable EU for the rest of my lifetime. I am not willing to risk that, which is why I will vote against the motion.
Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): Many Members have referred to the part that they played in the 1975 referendum, and sadly I am one of those who is old enough to have participated. It is interesting to note that that referendum followed a renegotiation of our terms with the Common Market, as it then was, and the question put to the electorate was: “Do we stay in or do we leave?” I voted to leave, and I am pleased that I did so, because I have been consistent throughout. On my selection as a candidate and on the doorstep during the election, I said consistently that I had voted no and that I had not changed my mind, and that the Government position was one thing but mine was another. I am not prepared to break that bond of trust with the electorate.
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weeks they have destroyed the public’s confidence in it. It was as certain as night following day that a motion for an in/out referendum would result from an e-petition, but what have the Government done? They have cast it aside. There have been other distractions. We have been told that it is only eighth or 10th on the list of people’s concerns. This time last year, we were ploughing ahead with legislation on the alternative vote referendum. On the No. 45 from Cleethorpes to Immingham, people were not demanding a referendum on AV, but we allowed ourselves to be distracted.
I am pleased that my Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell), is in his place, because he will know that the scars run deep in our part of the world following the destruction of the fishing industry which resulted from the sacrifice made at the negotiations to enter the Common Market in the first place.
Jim Shannon: Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the national opinion poll today showing that 81% of those who voted Conservative, 62% of those who voted for the Liberal Democrats and 61% of those who voted Labour would vote for the motion? We ignore the electorate and national opinion polls at our peril.
Martin Vickers: I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman: the Government and the Opposition parties ignore the electorate’s view on this at their peril. We must consider the real people of England, as I like to call them. Yesterday I was at a civic service for a town mayor in Barton-upon-Humber. Members on both sides will have been to these occasions. The real people, those who run our community groups and churches—they are the big society—feel very deeply about this but think that they are being ignored and cast aside. Unless the Government come to terms with that in the near future, they will pay a high price.
I said earlier this year in the debate on votes for prisoners that all Governments take decisions that they know to be against the overwhelming views of those they represent. If they continue to refuse to grant the people a referendum, it will become one of those issues. In fact, it would be something more: it would take away two of their lives. The electorate are disillusioned and cynical about the body politic and the whole political process. If we deny them this opportunity again, the cynicism and disillusionment will grow. I am proud to say that I shall be supporting the motion this evening, and I urge all Members to do so.
Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): This has been a good debate with some outstanding speeches, particularly from my hon. Friends the Members for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) and for Peterborough (Mr Jackson). There have been timing issues during the debate. I have to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) that to keep saying, “Now is not the right time”, is likely to engender frustration in the other member of the relationship. I believe that a referendum is long overdue. It has been a long time—1975—since we had a referendum. The world is a different place and the EU is certainly a different institution from what it was when we knew it as the Common Market.
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There were a few lonely voices in that referendum campaign who said that Europe was a political project and not just an economic project. Others might take a different view, but I think that those who said that have been proved right in spades. The other case made in that referendum campaign has been comprehensively disproved by subsequent events. As the European Union has changed incrementally, granting more powers and competences to itself through successive treaties—the Single European Act, the treaty of Nice, the treaty of Maastricht, the treaty of Amsterdam and the treaty of Lisbon—it has changed beyond recognition.
We were right to offer the electorate a referendum on the treaty of Lisbon. Again on the timing, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made that commitment to hold a referendum until that treaty had been ratified and stayed absolutely true to its terms. His commitment meant that if a Conservative Government had come to power at any point before 3 o’clock on 3 November 2009, amidst all the events taking place in 2008 and 2009, we would have been obliged to hold a referendum. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would have stayed true to that commitment and held a referendum, but now the electorate feel that they have been promised a referendum many times. There has been no shortage of promises, and many electorates in other countries have been allowed to hold a referendum, but not the British electorate.
People today are waiting to have their say on the European Union. We have made our arguments about the European Union in this debate, and we have heard some arguments in favour of it from Opposition Members. Let them put those issues to the people and trust them to make the decision. We cannot be wrong to trust the people: that is why we are having these Back-Bench business debates. This is an excellent example of what can be achieved through such debates. We should send out the message in this debate that we are prepared to trust our constituents, who are the ones who sent us here.
Now is the right time. We have seen much power transferred to the European Union. We need to free ourselves from the dead hand of European Union regulation to give ourselves a chance of achieving the higher growth rates achieved by non-members of the European Union and give our industry a chance. All that makes this an ideal time to have a referendum and set out the terms of that referendum. I say to my right hon. and hon. Friends and to other Government Members that if we keep making these promises to the electorate and not fulfilling them, we will pay a heavy price in lost trust with that electorate. We have to remember that today.
Mr Sam Gyimah (East Surrey) (Con): I have listened to the debate for the past five hours, and it is clear that we on the Conservative Benches are all Eurosceptics now. I speak in this debate as a Eurosceptic, and I could not put the case against the EU better than some of my colleagues have. However, I will be voting against the motion, because I believe that anger and frustration are not enough to form our considerations; we need a clear-sighted, clear-eyed strategy to move forward.
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poorly, in which case I am sorry—that we need to hold the Government’s feet to the fire to ensure that something is done. However, we must remember that to lead the country on this issue we need to be a united rather than a divided party. In 2010, just 13% of voters described the Conservative party as divided, but at the height of the Maastricht rebellion 50% described us as divided. We can all stand for our principles and say that this is only about our consciences—or, as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) said, that nothing is more important, including the coalition—but we need to remember that in the reality of the political world, if we want to achieve something we have to balance those factors. We know from the 1997 election result that we need to be mindful of that.
Why do I raise that point? Because when we were kicked out of office for being divided, we suffered the greatest setback in the European project. During those 13 years, the Labour Government opted into the social chapter, which was responsible for a lot of the regulations that have suffocated business and stifled growth, and in 2007 the Labour Government signed the Lisbon treaty. For all our high-minded principle in the mid-1990s, when we got kicked out of government because of division we set back our own project.
Zac Goldsmith: My hon. Friend is speaking as though this were a Conservative party issue, but we can see from the debate today that it is a cross-party issue. The question that we face today is: do we trust the people to make this decision or not? The pros and cons of Europe can be discussed later.
Mr Gyimah: I thank my hon. Friend for that. I am not speaking as though this were a Conservative party issue, but we can see that the media, in every interview, have pitted Conservative against Conservative. We need to be careful about divisions on our side.
Of course people need to decide, but we should be careful not to jump from responding to an e-petition that has been signed by a number of people to assuming that this issue is on every voter’s mind. A number of voters will talk about the fact that they care about their jobs. A number will say that they want their streets to be secure. Others will say that they want their children to have a better life than their own. National polls show that when the issue of Europe is considered on its own, everyone is hostile to it, but in general elections, its salience disappears. We need to adopt a very clear-eyed strategy in dealing with this.
I will not be supporting the motion. It should be clear from the debate today, especially to those who are saying that we would be better off out, that, with the eurozone on its knees, we now have the best opportunity to negotiate the best conditions for Britain. It would be catastrophic for us to walk away from the EU, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) suggested, as that would result in our giving up influence.
Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): I am sure that the constituents of East Surrey will have followed the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah) with great interest this evening.
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In the 1975 referendum, the country was assured—by a Conservative Prime Minister, I am afraid—that there was no question of any erosion of national sovereignty. The people were told that we would have a veto over any important issue, yet those same people have now seen that what they were told was a common market has become a political union in which we can be outvoted, whether we like it or not. They see other countries not following the rules when our country does follow them, and they see an institution whose accounts have not been signed off for some 20 years, yet we continue to give it money year after year. In the coming year, we are giving the European Union £10.9 billion. That is the net contribution, taking account of what we get back. Indeed, in every year except one, we have given more money to the EU than we have got back. That one year was 1974, the year before we last had a referendum on this matter. That was the only year in which we received more money from the EU than we gave. Members who have yet to make up their mind might like to reflect, in the light of that £10.9 billion, that when putting pressure on the EU to reduce our budget contribution, nothing would concentrate its mind more than the knowledge that this country might hold a referendum on our membership of the EU.
There now has to be a referendum. The people have heard too many promises, made by too many parties over too many years. They now want to decide for themselves what our future in Europe, or as an independent country, might be. There has been significant movement on this side of the House during today’s debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) asked why we were having this discussion, 18 months into the Parliament, and why there was so much disagreement. He wondered why the coalition did not agree on this matter. The reason is that the 57 Liberal Democrat coalition Members were given the referendum on the alternative vote that they wanted, yet a far larger number on the Conservative Benches have not been given the referendum that we want on our country’s position in the EU.
Martin Horwood: We have discussed this already. The Conservative manifesto did not make a commitment to an in/out referendum; it committed to a referendum lock, which we have achieved through the European Union Act 2011.
Mark Reckless: The Conservative party had offered a referendum on Lisbon. The Liberal Democrats had offered a referendum with a choice between the EU with Lisbon and leaving the EU. However, what the country got, through the coalition agreement, was the Lisbon treaty and no referendum on anything. Three or four days ago, the Liberal Democrats’ website was still campaigning for an in/out referendum, but that has now been removed. Not only have they gone against what they told the electorate on student fees, but they have done the same on Europe.
Sheryll Murray: I voted in the last referendum in 1974. It was the first time I had—[Interruption.] The question was whether we wanted to stay in the European economic area. We have never had a referendum on whether we want to be members of the European Union.
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Mark Reckless: My hon. Friend is quite right. We have the opportunity this evening to give our constituents that referendum—to decide whether they want to be governed by people whom they elect, whom they can hold to account, whom they can throw out if they do not agree with how we vote, whether we make the decisions for them, or whether instead a qualified majority of 26 other countries will decide what the law of this country should be while we pay £10.9 billion a year for the privilege. That is the decision. It is no longer a decision that we can hope to keep within this Westminster bubble, without our constituents having their say. Sooner or later, that decision is going to be made.
We heard earlier that there was going to be a referendum and that a Conservative-led or a coalition Government of some stripe would renegotiate sooner rather than later. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary told us that they were going to bring back powers over social and employment policy, but what is key now is whether our constituents will get to vote on the outcome. Do they want to stay in with whatever improvements we have been able to negotiate, however great or otherwise they might be, or do they want to come out and be an independent country, trading with Europe but governing ourselves? I say to Members, particularly those who are undecided, that that decision must now be our constituents’ decision. That is the way in which we will restore belief and trust in politics.
I am on record as saying that our membership of the EU should be put to the British people. I am 32, and I find it incredible that the last referendum took place four years before I was even born. One has to be 55 to have voted in it. It is therefore understandable that people of my generation do not feel that they have had their say on Europe. They see the EU interfering in our everyday lives, from how fruit and vegetables are packaged, to the number of announcements on trains and, most insidious of all, how long we are allowed to work in our jobs—for just 48 hours a week. [Interruption.] It is clear to me that what was put to the people in 1975—[Interruption.]
It is clear that what was put to the people in 1975—we should remember that they voted yes—was the Common Market, but the European Union that exists today would be unrecognisable to those who voted then. When Britain joined the Common Market, it signed up to a free trade agreement. Since then, the power of European institutions has changed beyond all recognition. I am delighted that the Government have enshrined in law that a referendum must be held before any further powers are ceded to Brussels. This is a major step—one that I have supported with enthusiasm.
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Frankly, given the EU’s propensities for creating new treaties, I suspect it will not be long before the people get the vote that they desire and deserve. That vote will be important. If the public vote in favour of a future treaty, it will rule out for another generation any thought of us ever leaving the EU. If the public vote to reject it, I believe it would be difficult, if not impossible, for there not to be a subsequent vote on our withdrawal. Given that the referendum that I want is inevitable, as a result of the laws passed by the Conservatives, I must think carefully about the current motion and its impact on the people of Cannock Chase.
Andrew Percy: I respect my hon. Friend’s views. Like him, I was born after the last referendum on the matter, but the problem with his argument is that it does not give us the opportunity to have a say on whether we want to be in the EU. That is what my and his generation want to have. We have never been asked that before, and it is about time that we were.
I must consider the impact that passing this motion would have on my constituents. That is the key point. Business men have told me that there are signs that give cause for optimism, but that the recovery is fragile.
Those business men’s fear, and mine, is that the announcement of a referendum, involving the campaign extending to 2013 for which the motion calls, could have a devastating effect on business confidence and investment. This morning I spoke to a business man from my constituency who had come here to be given a tour of the House of Commons. He works for an international company in the private sector which has invested heavily in the United Kingdom and employs several hundred people in my constituency, and he has already been told by the members of his executive board in America that the potential further instability caused by a referendum could cause them to question future investment not just in Cannock Chase, but in the United Kingdom and the whole of Europe.
At a time when business is crying out for stability, a referendum would move it in totally the opposite direction, creating yet more instability when what we need is foreign investment. While that business man would not oppose a referendum in principle, now is simply not the time for one.
I think that the referendum that we all want is coming, and will be a result of the policies that have already been backed by the Government and by the EU itself. However, I think that to hold that referendum now, regardless of the result, would create a significant risk for our economy and for Cannock Chase in particular. I say to every Member who supports the motion, “Ask yourself one question: are you willing to jeopardise the recovery?” [Interruption.]
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British people are worried—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, British people are worried about bread-and-butter issues. They are worried about jobs and about their livelihoods. I do not want to do anything that puts my constituents’ livelihoods at risk. The time will come for people to vote on whether we stay in the EU, but, in my opinion, that time is not today. This is a debate for another day. Voting for the motion would be an indulgence, and I hope Members will vote accordingly. [Interruption.]
Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): In essence, the debate is about whether we are representatives of the people, or delegates of the Government or the shadow Government. I think that those who have argued today in support of our being representatives of the people have won the debate—a debate in which I am proud to have been able to participate, having sat here for the best part of five and a half hours.
This time last night I was at a polling station in Tunisia, observing the election results. People were queuing for more than three hours just to exercise their right to vote. It is vital that, in Tunisia and in this country, the people do not elect representatives and then find that those representatives go back on their word. There is a certain worry in Tunisia that that may happen in the case of the party with the most votes. I believe, however, that in this country participation in elections has been plummeting because on too many occasions we have promised something to the electorate and then let them down.
I do not think that we should hold a referendum until we have had a chance to conduct a proper evaluation of the costs and benefits of our membership of the European Union. In the last Parliament I tabled a Bill to achieve just that, which was supported by both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Front Benches. Now neither of those Front Benches supports the idea of such an audit. Why not? I think that that is indicative of the present cynicism about the issue of Europe.
As for timing, many people have forgotten that the forthcoming seven-year budget presents us with a great opportunity. Once every seven years, we have a veto over the EU budget. I think it a pity that the Foreign Secretary effectively indicated today that he was satisfied that we would be doing very well if the next seven-year budget contained only an increase in line with inflation. We are telling local authorities and people working for Governments that they must make real-terms cuts. Why are the Government selling us short by not entering into those negotiations in a much more hard-headed way? If we pass this motion, or give it a tremendous amount of support, it will strengthen the Government’s hand in their efforts to secure a better deal and negotiate a reduction in our contribution to the EU budget, rather than a real-terms increase. The Government have fallen short of their responsibilities to the people on too many occasions, and the message coming from the House tonight is that the Government must listen and the EU
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must listen and we, the people, must press the point home that we want a referendum. We want to trust the people.
Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): It is customary when summing up to say, “This has been a good debate,” but this has been an amazing debate. We must thank the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) and the Backbench Business Committee for putting it on, and we must also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) for having opened it so sensibly so many hours ago. I have sat and listened to most of the debate, but as there were 52 speeches, I must apologise to the majority of contributors because I will not be able to respond to what they said.
Let me say at the beginning, however, that I must praise the Prime Minister. If it were not for him, we would not have the Backbench Business Committee. If it were not for him, we would not have petitions either, and it is the petitioning of this House of Commons that has brought this debate into being. I also thank the Prime Minister for his speech on 26 May 2009, when he encouraged returning power to the people. He said that in the past when debates were held in this House, the arguments went one way and the other, but then the bells rang and the Whips got into action and Members floated through the Commons like a herd of sheep. That is not going to happen tonight. I am going to take the advice of my Prime Minister when he encouraged every Member to be independent-minded, to put his constituents first, to put his country first, and to put narrow party interests last. I say, “Well done, Prime Minister,” and I will be voting in accordance with my conscience tonight.
It is unfortunate that some of the Whips have not quite got the Prime Minister’s message yet, but there is a rule of thumb in this House: if the three Front Benches agree on something, it is absolutely wrong. That is the situation tonight.
I say to my Whips that a mistake has been made tonight. The Backbench Business Committee was set up to test the will of Parliament, not in order for us to vote on party lines. This is exactly the sort of debate on which we should have a free vote. I am of the opinion that if there had been a free vote tonight, this motion would have been carried.
Lights have started flashing, instructing me to shut up early, although I thought I could go on for a little longer. I am afraid I must apologise to all 52 members who contributed for not having had time to comment on their speeches, but I will write to them.
The Tellers are in. I say to the hon. Gentleman, who has been here a long time—[Interruption.] I do not know why people are referring to three-figure numbers; the hon. Gentleman has not been here that
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long. His patience will be rewarded. He does not have long to wait and must calm himself. I like to see him in a state of permanent calm. That is my ambition.
The House having divided:
Ayes 111, Noes 483.
Baron, Mr John
Binley, Mr Brian
Brady, Mr Graham
Brine, Mr Steve
Campbell, Mr Gregory
Campbell, Mr Ronnie
Carswell, Mr Douglas
Cash, Mr William
Chope, Mr Christopher
Clappison, Mr James
Davidson, Mr Ian
Davies, David T. C.
Davis, rh Mr David
de Bois, Nick
Dodds, rh Mr Nigel
Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.
Field, rh Mr Frank
Field, Mr Mark
Godsiff, Mr Roger
Gray, Mr James
Holloway, Mr Adam
Jackson, Mr Stewart
Jenkin, Mr Bernard
Jones, Mr Marcus
Leigh, Mr Edward
Lewis, Dr Julian
Main, Mrs Anne
McCrea, Dr William
Morris, Anne Marie
Nuttall, Mr David
Offord, Mr Matthew
Redwood, rh Mr John
Robertson, Mr Laurence
Sanders, Mr Adrian
Shepherd, Mr Richard
Skinner, Mr Dennis
Smith, rh Mr Andrew
Streeter, Mr Gary
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Tapsell, rh Sir Peter
Turner, Mr Andrew
Walker, Mr Charles
Walker, Mr Robin
Whittingdale, Mr John
Wollaston, Dr Sarah
Tellers for the Ayes:
Mr Peter Bone and
Mr Philip Hollobone
Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob
Alexander, rh Danny
Alexander, rh Mr Douglas
Anderson, Mr David
Arbuthnot, rh Mr James
Bacon, Mr Richard
Bailey, Mr Adrian
Bain, Mr William
Balls, rh Ed
Barron, rh Mr Kevin
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Dame Anne
Beith, rh Sir Alan
Bell, Sir Stuart
Bellingham, Mr Henry
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr Joe
Beresford, Sir Paul
Betts, Mr Clive
Blears, rh Hazel
Blunkett, rh Mr David
Blunt, Mr Crispin
Bottomley, Sir Peter
Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben
Brake, rh Tom
Brazier, Mr Julian
Brown, rh Mr Gordon
Brown, rh Mr Nicholas
Brown, Mr Russell
Browne, Mr Jeremy
Bruce, rh Malcolm
Buck, Ms Karen
Buckland, Mr Robert
Burley, Mr Aidan
Burnham, rh Andy
Burns, rh Mr Simon
Burrowes, Mr David
Byrne, rh Mr Liam
Cable, rh Vince
Cameron, rh Mr David
Campbell, Mr Alan
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair
Chapman, Mrs Jenny
Clark, rh Greg
Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth
Clarke, rh Mr Tom
Clegg, rh Mr Nick
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coffey, Dr Thérèse
Cooper, rh Yvette
Cox, Mr Geoffrey
Crausby, Mr David
Cunningham, Mr Jim
Darling, rh Mr Alistair
Davey, Mr Edward
David, Mr Wayne
De Piero, Gloria
Denham, rh Mr John
Djanogly, Mr Jonathan
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Mr Brian H.
Doran, Mr Frank
Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen
Duncan, rh Mr Alan
Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain
Eagle, Ms Angela
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ellwood, Mr Tobias
Evennett, Mr David
Flint, rh Caroline
Fox, rh Dr Liam
Francis, Dr Hywel
Francois, rh Mr Mark
Garnier, Mr Edward
Gauke, Mr David
Gibb, Mr Nick
Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl
Glindon, Mrs Mary
Goggins, rh Paul
Goodwill, Mr Robert
Gove, rh Michael
Grant, Mrs Helen
Grayling, rh Chris
Grieve, rh Mr Dominic
Gyimah, Mr Sam
Hain, rh Mr Peter
Hamilton, Mr David
Hammond, rh Mr Philip
Hanson, rh Mr David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harper, Mr Mark
Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan
Havard, Mr Dai
Hayes, Mr John
Heath, Mr David
Hepburn, Mr Stephen
Herbert, rh Nick
Hoban, Mr Mark
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hodgson, Mrs Sharon
Hood, Mr Jim
Howarth, rh Mr George
Howarth, Mr Gerald
Hughes, rh Simon
Huhne, rh Chris
Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy
Huppert, Dr Julian
Hurd, Mr Nick
James, Mrs Siân C.
Jones, Mr David
Jones, Mr Kevan
Jones, Susan Elan
Jowell, rh Tessa
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Kennedy, rh Mr Charles
Khan, rh Sadiq
Knight, rh Mr Greg
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lammy, rh Mr David
Lansley, rh Mr Andrew
Laws, rh Mr David
Lee, Dr Phillip
Leech, Mr John
Letwin, rh Mr Oliver
Lewis, Mr Ivan
Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian
Lidington, rh Mr David
Lilley, rh Mr Peter
Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn
Love, Mr Andrew
MacShane, rh Mr Denis
Mahmood, Mr Khalid
Marsden, Mr Gordon
Maude, rh Mr Francis
May, rh Mrs Theresa
McCann, Mr Michael
McDonnell, Dr Alasdair
McFadden, rh Mr Pat
McGuire, rh Mrs Anne
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McKenzie, Mr Iain
McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick
Meacher, rh Mr Michael
Meale, Sir Alan
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, rh David
Miliband, rh Edward
Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew
Moon, Mrs Madeleine
Morris, Grahame M.
Mudie, Mr George
Mundell, rh David
Murphy, rh Mr Jim
Murphy, rh Paul
Murrison, Dr Andrew
Newmark, Mr Brooks
O'Brien, Mr Stephen
Osborne, rh Mr George
Paice, rh Mr James
Paterson, rh Mr Owen
Pickles, rh Mr Eric
Poulter, Dr Daniel
Prisk, Mr Mark
Randall, rh Mr John
Raynsford, rh Mr Nick
Reed, Mr Jamie
Reid, Mr Alan
Ritchie, Ms Margaret
Robathan, rh Mr Andrew
Robinson, Mr Geoffrey
Roy, Mr Frank
Ruddock, rh Joan
Ruffley, Mr David
Scott, Mr Lee
Shapps, rh Grant
Sharma, Mr Virendra
Sheerman, Mr Barry
Simpson, Mr Keith
Slaughter, Mr Andy
Smith, Miss Chloe
Smith, Sir Robert
Soames, rh Nicholas
Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline
Stanley, rh Sir John
Stuart, Mr Graham
Swayne, rh Mr Desmond
Swire, rh Mr Hugo
Syms, Mr Robert
Thomas, Mr Gareth
Timms, rh Stephen
Timpson, Mr Edward
Tyrie, Mr Andrew
Umunna, Mr Chuka
Vaizey, Mr Edward
Vara, Mr Shailesh
Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa
Wallace, Mr Ben
Walter, Mr Robert
Ward, Mr David
Watson, Mr Tom
Watts, Mr Dave
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Wicks, rh Malcolm
Willetts, rh Mr David
Williams, Mr Mark
Wilson, Mr Rob
Winnick, Mr David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Woodward, rh Mr Shaun
Wright, Mr Iain
Yeo, Mr Tim
Young, rh Sir George
Tellers for the Noes:
Mr Philip Dunne and
Question accordingly negatived.
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Business without Debate
That the draft Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Exemption) (Amendment No. 2) Order 2011, which was laid before this House on 5 September, be approved.—(Angela Watkinson.)
That Dan Jarvis and Ian Murray be discharged from the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee and Julie Elliott and Ann McKechin be added.
That Cathy Jamieson be discharged from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee and Steve Rotheram be added.
That Mr Mike Hancock be discharged from the Defence Committee and Bob Russell be added.
That Yvonne Fovargue be discharged from the Health Committee and Barbara Keeley be added.
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That Ian Lavery be discharged from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and Mr David Anderson be added.
That Stella Creasy and Mrs Anne McGuire be discharged from the Committee of Public Accounts and Meg Hillier and Fiona Mactaggart be added.—(Mr Mark Francois, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)
Mr Speaker: We come now to the Adjournment. Just before I call the hon. Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys), may I appeal to Members who are leaving the Chamber to do so quickly and quietly, affording the same courtesy to the hon. Lady that they would wish to be extended to them in similar circumstances?
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Live Animal Exports (Port of Ramsgate)
Given the theme of the motion on which we have just voted—the European Union and the barriers that it sometimes puts up to our cultural and historical norms—I want to raise the issue of live animal exports leaving the port of Ramsgate.
We are a nation of animal lovers, and we maintain and have always maintained the highest standards of animal welfare. Indeed, as I am sure the Minister knows, we passed our first piece of animal welfare legislation almost 400 years ago, so is it not rather surprising that sheep and two-week-old calves are driven from as far away as southern Ireland, across the Irish sea to Ramsgate, across the channel and then as far as Greece? Should we in this country endorse such transport and trade?
Tens of thousands of animals have arrived at Ramsgate this year to be put on a Soviet ship—a roll-on/roll-off ferry that was designed for river and inland water transport. On to the boat they go in their trucks, with water spraying and in gales of up to force 6. The longest estimated channel crossing is five hours due to very adverse weather conditions. Those journeys are inhumane.
The Minister knows that the trade is deeply undesirable, but on these issues we are not in control of our destiny, because we are controlled by the EU, which views animals as goods rather than as sentient beings. This is not a new issue, however, because the stalemate was experienced under the previous Government. For 13 years, we had little or no progress on ensuring that we improved animal welfare and, in particular, transportation.
I should like to draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that residents from all over Kent, including the Thanet Against Live Exports and Kent Against Live Exports groups and many individuals have written to me. I have received four times as much correspondence on this issue as I have on the EU referendum.
This debate is particularly important given the timely review of the EU’s regulation on the transportation of live exports so I should like the Minister to outline what the Government will submit in response to the review, and I urge him also to take the evidence that my residents have gathered and to include it in our submission in order to show what really happens at the coal face of this trade.
We must revisit the number of hours an animal can be transported without lairage. Fourteen hours for sheep is too long, and a one-hour stopover is not long enough. Calves that are only 14 days old are taken half way across Europe on land and sea. That is an ordeal.
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I commend the Government for aggressively pressing for revised labelling of meat products. Meat will have to show the country of origin, not just the country of slaughter, which in previous years has allowed much of our British beef to be designated as French, Spanish or Greek when the animals were born and bred in the UK or Ireland. Greater transparency will give European consumers the choice of whether to endorse live exports.
There is additional good news. The live export trade has diminished significantly over the past 20 years from more than 300,000 animals a year to around 50,000. But that tells its own story. Reputable meat wholesalers transport animals to Europe not on the hoof, but as carcasses. Today we have abattoirs in the UK that butcher meat to meet the unique tastes of any part of Europe, and that poses a question. Who are the small number of people who transport live animals, and exploit EU single market legislation? Who are the individuals who believe that transporting live animals is humane and financially viable?
DEFRA has responsibility for issuing export health certificates, and is the competent authority that licenses those who transport animals. Enforcement, even of the existing regulations, is crucial, and I ask the Minister to take further action. As the licensing authority, DEFRA must do more investigations as soon as possible into whether the wholesaler or the owner of the Ramsgate ship, Joline, have any connections with business men who have already been convicted of animal cruelty? Has the Department made the necessary inquiries to find out whether someone who was prosecuted in Folkestone for six offences against animal welfare has any connection with the current trade out of Ramsgate?
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The hon. Lady referred to the fact that sheep, cattle and young calves come from Ireland to the UK mainland and then cross over to Europe. Does she believe that DEFRA should contact the Irish Republic’s Agriculture Minister to ensure that what the hon. Lady wants to be stopped in England is also stopped in the Republic of Ireland?
Laura Sandys: I welcome that intervention, and I totally agree. There should be an EU-wide regulation on the transport of animals, but it is incumbent on us to enforce our existing domestic regulations. I urge the Minister to examine the matter.
It is understood that a former trader who has had several prosecutions is located in the same offices in Amsterdam as the company that holds the licence to operate the Joline for animal transport from Ramsgate. Coincidences may occur, but that feels a bit too close for comfort. More worrying are several reports of the operator not complying with the regulations. For example, it has sailed in a force 7 gale when the boat is licensed only for force 6. It has not provided adequate protection for the animals, and there have been discrepancies in the time spent in transport.
This weekend, I was horrified to hear that at 9 pm on Friday, eight lorries turned up, but the ship is licensed for and can accommodate only seven lorries. The lorry drivers dismantled their cabs and drove to Dover to cross by ferry. The animals were loaded on to the ship without their drivers, who are responsible for their
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welfare. The ship did not leave the port until after 4 am. The animals then faced a four-hour trip across the channel taking them over the 11 hour regulated transport period. I understand that in addition, the ship was unable to dock at Calais for several hours because of the tides. The animals would then have had to be unloaded, and to leave Calais for a resting place.
The report indicated that the transporters of the animals—those with the lorry licences and the operators of the ship—contravened animal welfare regulations. I urge the Minister to ensure that the Department investigates such reports and that action is taken to revoke licences immediately while further evidence is gathered. We believe that these operators are, at best, cavalier with the regulations and, at worst, have little interest in animal welfare.
Action needs to be taken, and I hope for the Minister’s commitment on these matters. I know that he and his Department, like me and the residents of Thanet, would like to end this trade. Yes, we might have to wait a while for it to be banned altogether, but we must stop any cruelty that is happening under the current regulations and ensure that our animal welfare enforcement is robust, including in the port of Ramsgate.
The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): Let me start by thanking and congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) on seeking this debate to raise an issue that is of great concern not only to her constituents and residents in the wider area of Thanet but to me and to my Department, and to many hon. Members on both sides of the House, some of whom I am pleased to see have stayed for the debate.
I emphasise that, as stated in the coalition agreement, this Government are committed to the highest standards of animal welfare, including their transport—how it is done and where it is done. Clearly, the Government would prefer animals to be slaughtered as near as possible to their point of production; and as far as breeding stock is concerned, we would like the trade to be only in meat or in germ plasm, because that is preferable to one based on live animals. That also has advantages in terms of animal welfare because it helps with our own domestic slaughter and in developing our own enterprise, business and industry. Moreover, as my hon. Friend rightly said, we now have all the butchery expertise to cater for whatever particular specifications overseas customers demand.
As my hon. Friend said, the previous Government recognised that such a trade in live animals is lawful provided that the safeguards laid down in the European Union and in our own national welfare-in-transport legislation are observed. Whatever we may think about this, the Government have to comply with our international obligations.
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example, between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland—with another slaughterhouse on the other side in order to avoid long, arduous journeys such as those described by the hon. Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys)?
Mr Paice: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and I will come to some of those points. Yes, there is a distinction between cases where there happens to be a border, but it is a few miles to an abattoir, and the sort of journey to which my hon. Friend has referred.
The safeguards that I mentioned include the need for all commercial transporters of animals to be authorised and for drivers to pass a competency test. Indeed, I passed one myself. For long journeys, vehicles must be inspected and approved by qualified engineers working for authorised private vehicle inspection bodies. Also, for long journeys, transporters must apply for a journey log for each journey that provides the details of the proposed route, and these applications are checked by the Animal Health and Veterinary Agency before they are approved. More importantly, the journey logs have to be updated by the transporter as the journey progresses and returned once the journey is completed, and we then check whether the actual journey was in line with the original application. If there were any variations, they need to be investigated to see whether they were consistent with the legislation.
There are many other safeguards in the transport legislation, such as the fitness-to-travel rules in terms of the animal itself and technical requirements on space allowances, ventilation, water, and so on. I want to emphasise that the commercial transport of animals on journeys of more than eight hours is highly regulated. On top of all the checks before and after a long journey, inspectors undertake risk-based checks on consignments, either when the animals are loaded at the point of departure or on arrival at the port of Ramsgate. They have powers on discovery of any infringement by individual transporters—that has happened a number of times—and that can lead to suspension or revocation of the transporter’s authorisation to transport animals or the withdrawal of their vehicle approval certificate. I emphasise and, in effect, give a warning that all those engaged in this trade must ensure that they are fully in compliance with all the regulations, because we will continue to be as tough as possible on this trade. It has been the subject of a number of legal challenges over the years by local authorities and port authorities.
The trade in live animals to the continent for slaughter has fluctuated markedly, as my hon. Friend said. There have been periods, such as during the outbreaks of BSE, foot and mouth and, more recently, tuberculosis, when the trade has been halted or interrupted. As she rightly said, the scale has dramatically reduced, so its impact on the economics of the UK livestock sector is now minimal, if anything at all. The present trade is tiny at just a few tens of thousands of animals and certainly fewer than 50,000 so far this year.
“Quantitative restrictions on exports, and all measures having equivalent effect, shall be prohibited between Member States.”
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“Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals”
Some suggest that that is a new requirement and that, therefore, long journeys can no longer be considered legal. That is not the case. The corresponding text of article 13 was previously set out in the binding protocol to the treaty of Amsterdam, which was agreed in 1997. It was therefore already a requirement to treat animals as sentient beings when the European Council agreed the terms of Council Regulation 1/2005. I am afraid that that is not a legal option open to us.
My hon. Friend raised a number of specific points. She rightly referred to the recent changes at European level to make labelling fresh meat with the country of origin mandatory. We are awaiting the detail of that, but I sincerely hope that it will have the effect that she and I want it to have. We have always supported the need for country-of-origin labelling to ensure that British consumers are properly informed. However, that same legislation must not deceive consumers overseas into believing that sheep—it is mainly sheep—born and reared in the UK are native to France, Spain or wherever they are bought.
My hon. Friend referred to the licensing of the ship and the lorries. She referred obliquely to a Mr Onderwater. There is no doubt that he is closely involved in this trade and she is right that he has been prosecuted for cruelty. I cannot comment on the authenticity of her comment about where his office is, but he is not the authorised holder of the shipping licence, which was issued in Latvia. We have asked the Latvian authorities for details of it and they say that his name is not on the licence.
My hon. Friend referred to what happened on Friday. I was not aware of the eight lorries that she referred to. However, there is no legal specification about the number of lorries allowed on the ship. The specification is about the number of people who travel. We believe that that is why some of the lorry drivers decamped and travelled via Dover. I am aware of the six-hour delay in loading to which she referred, which is clearly unacceptable. Whether it was illegal is questionable, because it could count as part of the rest period. The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency issued a notice to sail to stop any further delay. I admit that I did not know until today that such a power existed. The AHVLA is considering the best course of regulatory action. We are seriously inclined to introduce a maximum period of two hours to load and sail, to prevent that from happening again.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): Many of us have constituents who have expressed concerns over the years, and who specifically want swift action on preventing the sail. I think that would help greatly.
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they had come from, say, the Republic of Ireland. However, we are taking measures to ensure that the ship sails quickly after loading, so that loading and sailing take place within two hours. I should also emphasise that it is a requirement of European legislation that all the necessary arrangements are made in advance, so that welfare is not compromised by insufficient co-ordination between the parts of the journey.
The motor vessel Joline, to which my hon. Friend referred, is licensed to sail in up to force 6 gales. We have recently had concern that she was sailing at what was considered to be the margin of that safety level. The captain was warned, but I emphasise that that is a maritime safety issue and not directly related to animal welfare, although clearly the welfare of the animals may be affected. There is no evidence that the captain has sailed in winds higher than force 6, but if I may use this phrase, he has sailed close to the wind.
There have been a large number of investigations by the AHVLA, but I need to emphasise that virtually all of them are about the vehicles rather than the ship. That is rather an important point, because it brings us to the enforcement of the existing legislation. That is an important consideration, particularly when we are discussing long journeys. The European Commission has spent nearly two years gathering data on the impact of the legislation and is due to report very shortly. It is too late for us to make any further submissions, as my hon. Friend suggested, but as soon as the report is published we will study it very carefully. We understand that it will have something to say about the level of enforcement across the Community, but will not make any recommendations of changes to the existing legislation. If that is the case, I can assure her that we will make further representations.
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and reviewing the existing long journey requirements to encourage shorter, more sustainable journeys linked to available slaughter capacity. Whatever the eventual outcome, I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that it must be based on the available scientific evidence, not subjective opinion or belief. I have to say to her that many member states will be opposed to any such tightening of those rules, and because the European Commission appears reluctant to take any action, any changes to the current rules on long journeys are unlikely to be achieved in the immediate future. That brings the matter back to this country and to my Department.
I believe that a more sustainable approach to the transport of livestock on long journeys must be found, and I will push for that at every available opportunity in the framework of future EU discussions on animal welfare during transport. I can say to my hon. Friend that, as I implied earlier, we will use every measure available to us within the bounds of legislation to be as robust as we can in ensuring that the highest welfare standards that can be achieved are achieved. As I said, we want to ensure that all those involved in the trade, whether they be shipping people or those running the lorries that transport cattle and sheep, are under no illusion that we will deal with them as robustly as we possibly can and take whatever measures are possible whenever there is an infringement.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue. Although I have not been able to do what I know she and other Members would like me to do, which is to declare that we will ban the trade—I am not able to do that—I hope she will rest assured that we will take every measure we can within the legislative arrangements that we have.