HC Deb 21 April 1993 vol 223 cc380-475

[MR. MICHAEL MORRIS in the Chair]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [19 April], That the clause (Entry into force) be read a Second time: `This Act shall come into force on a day appointed by the Secretary of State by order in a statutory instrument.'. —[Mr. Shore.]

Question again proposed.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Morris)


Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

The Chairman

Before I call the first speaker, I have a short announcement to make.

In the circumstances, I think that it would be for the convenience of hon. Members generally if I were to say now that I am prepared, after the Division on new clause 8, to select for a separate Division new clause 49, in the name of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould).

I remind the Committee that in this debate we are also considering the following:

New clause 46—Ascertainment of national opinion (No. 2)`(1) Immediately after the passing of this Act the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament the draft of an Order in Council making such provision as Her Majesty thinks appropriate for ascertaining, by means of a confirmatory referendum or otherwise, the preponderance of national opinion with respect to the commencement of this Act. (2) If a draft laid before Parliament under this section is approved by a Resolution of each House, Her Majesty in Council may make an Order in the terms of the draft; provided that the Order shall not be made unless separate provision has been made by Parliament for defraying out of public funds any expenses to be incurred by a Minister of the Crown or Government Department in carrying the Order into effect.'. Amendment (a) to new clause 46, in subsection (1), at end insert 'and also the incorporation or otherwise of the United Kingdom into the Agreement annexed to the Protocol on Social Policy.'.

New clause 48—Commencement (Opinion of the House)'This Act shall not come into force until the House of Commons has expressed a view on the desirability of a referendum in each component nation of the United Kingdom with respect to the commencement of this Act.'. Amendment (a) to new clause 48, at end add `and on whether such referenda should consult on the incorporation or otherwise of the United Kingdom into the Agreement annexed to the Protocol on Social Policy.'.

New clause 49—Commencement provisions`This Act shall take effect on the first day of January 1996 or on such earlier date as may be specified in any subsequent Act of Parliament as the date for the holding of a consultative referendum to establish whether or not majority opinion supports The Treaty on European Union.'.

Amendment (a) to new clause 49, at end add `and also the incorporation or otherwise of the United Kingdom into the Agreement annexed to the Protocol on Social Policy.'.

New clause 50—Referendum Motion'Within three months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State shall place a motion before Parliament which will provide the opportunity for members of both Houses to express a view on the desirability or otherwise of seeking the views of the electors of the United Kingdom on the merits of the decision taken by Parliament in relation to the Act.'. Amendment (a) to new clause 50, at end add 'and also on the incorporation or otherwise of the United Kingdom into the Agreement annexed to the Protocol on Social Policy.'.

New clause 53—Transfer of powers'No power transferred by this Act from the United Kingdom to European institutions shall be so transferred unless and until the House of Commons has had an opportunity to assess whether it is expedient to measure, and if so by what means, the degree of support within the United Kingdom.'. Amendment (a) to new clause 53, at end add 'for the Treaty on European Union and also for the incorporation or otherwise of the United Kingdom into the Agreement annexed to the Protocol on Social Policy.'.

7.26 pm
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

The association between new clauses 8 and 46 is important because, without it, the result would not be as effective as new clause 46 by itself. I note that new clause 46 is headed "Ascertainment of national opinion". I suggest that the better heading would be "Trust the people".

In discussing a new constitutional arrangement—there have been difficulties for the Chair and for some hon. Members—we have been addressing substantial constitu-tional changes that lie behind a two-clause Bill. In doing so, the intention or purpose of the Maastricht treaty has not been clear to everyone in the United Kingdom. As a result, the nation as a whole has suffered.

The Government, those on the Opposition Front Bench and the Liberal Democrats have not over-exercised themselves in trying to explain in detail what is sought through the Maastricht treaty. A continuing theme of the electorate generally is to ask what Maastricht is all about—"Why are you going on about it? What is the fuss? What is going on?". Over the many days in Committee, we have tried patiently to unpick arguments and to demonstrate—this has been done by hon. Members on both sides of the House—that it is proposed that there should be a significant change in the balance of our constitution.

At 50 years of age, I feel old-fashioned when I talk about old verities. Before I became a Member of the House of Commons, it was unthinkable to me that we would be arguing about a transference from democratic government to new arrangements. That is why passion, anger, apprehension and fear are felt by many right hon. and hon. Members and by many other people throughout the country.

Our constitution is founded on the democratic principle, which is government of the people, by the people, for the people, but that is not the system envisaged under the Maastricht treaty. It is, in fact, a system almost of "arrangements", whereby we transfer decisions over whole areas of life—areas that have been subject to the decisions of the House and have been absolute in that term, subject to such time as we wish to repeal or reform them.

7.30 pm

As has been pointed out by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) and my hon. Friends the Members for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) and for Stafford (Mr. Cash), the Bill demonstrates that the British Government are proposing that the British people enter a new political state. It is as simple as that. They give no reasons as to why this is absolutely essential. They indicate that it is in the national interest, but will not give details.

It has always been open to the Government to issue a White Paper. In the 1970s, a White Paper was issued, reassuring Members of Parliament and the country at large that the absolute principle within our conventions of ministerial accountability would remain in place and that ultimately a British Minister could exercise a veto.

Maastricht has no truck with any of that nonsense. The old verity of democratic control—whereby the people, when they voted, could change Governments and thereby change laws—is lost in large measure under the provisions of the Bill.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

Is not my hon. Friend making a critique of the European Communities Act 1972? Was it not in that Act, whereby we joined the Community, that the system of Community law—which is really what he is attacking—was instituted, approved by the House and subsequently approved by a referendum? Rather than the modifications in the Single European Act or the treaty of Maastricht, is it not that step, 20 years ago, which produced the situation that he is now attacking?

Mr. Shepherd

My right hon. Friend has made what I consider a very valid point. When I was a man of 30 and these arguments were put, I did not realise the significance of a new system of law to which the British system of law became subordinate. That did not come out to me, as an elector, during the debates. That was profoundly important. I have come to recognise the difficulties that all persons, whether of good will to these arrangements or not, have subsequently had to face as it has progressively moved on in what I think a right hon. Friend of ours called the ratchet effect, after leaving the Front Bench.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

My hon. Friend will recollect that between 1972 and 1975, when the referendum was held, we were told that we would be retaining the right of the veto and that that would put our Government and Ministers in a strong position; that we would never have things forced upon us. The debate that took place at that time was largely on a false prospectus, because we did not go into the details adequately—except those of us campaigning the other way. We were not listened to; we were told we were wrong. Subsequently, we have been shown to be right.

Mr. Shepherd

My hon. Friend was wiser than I. I now absolutely agree with what my hon. Friend says. Like the general public at large, I could not weigh things fully then, and I voted in the referendum for the renegotiated terms of our membership. It was a judgment that I had to make because I believed in the arguments. I remember well that the basic argument that was predicted was that it was in our economic interests. The "cold bath"—I think it was called—of Europe would revitalise our fogged-up and fuggy processes, and the dynamism of the new competitive impetus would bring us into a new era of Elysian fields and perpetual harmony.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend East)

Does my hon. Friend accept that when those in the "no" campaign were putting forward the accurate, clear and precise words now said by the Foreign Secretary, we were told that we were deliberately misleading the public and causing unnecessary trouble? Does he further accept that if the clear, precise and truthful words said by the Foreign Secretary had been said during the 1972 referendum, people might well have voted no, as they should have?

Mr. Shepherd

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend now. As life goes on, of course, we make different judgments as further and better particulars, experience and our own wisdom improve.

We started with a system of democratic accountable government. However imperfect it was—however much we made fools of ourselves in the eyes of the public—there was, nevertheless, a basic trust that if the people voted and expressed a view, it affected the laws and government of our country. That is—or was—fundamental to our system of government.

Mr. Stephen Milligan (Eastleigh)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Shepherd

No; I want to develop my argument.

Between that period and today, we have been confronted with what effectively, behind a two-clause Bill, is the outline of a new constitution. That constitution proposes that the whole range of issues that we discuss, whether they be education, transport systems or—most important to someone like myself—citizenship, are to be secured by two clauses, and we may not change the substance of that constitution. I can think of no arrangement in the development of a free and democratic world—certainly within the English-speaking traditions —whereby two Front Benches willingly accept the concept that we may dismiss the democratic argument.

That is why I call it the old verity. I feel old fashioned, standing here and trying to propose a new clause called "Ascertainment of national opinion"—what I would call "Trust the people." We cannot doubt that transferring control over economic and monetary policies to an unelected central bank somewhere else means that the institution of government becomes a Council of Ministers, meeting in secret, to pass laws on these matters at the sole suggestion of the centralising bureaucracy—the single institutional framework, as it is called—that permeates the new arrangements.

We should use the old tests of democracy—"How do I change the law?" That is a simple question which we have taken for granted over the years. It is so evident and so obvious—you change your Member of Parliament or convince him by argument. Ultimately, if your Member of Parliament is unsympathetic to your argument, you campaign, argue and reason as part of a democratic debate, which has an outcome in the laws under which you live.

Our rule of law has that as its essential trust: it expects obedience. We in the House all expect obedience to the law, and we can demand it on the basis that there is a proper democratic route by which we can change the law. It may be Anglo-Saxon, English, Scottish or Northern Irish—it may be peculiar to our own islands—but, within the English-speaking world, it is the very basis of our understanding of democracy.

That is at issue here. The debates on the Bill have, if they have done nothing else, demonstrated very clearly the framework of the new constitutional arrangements. I can think of no system of democratic government on earth that would take away the rights of ordinary people, without explanation, and ultimately without regard to their view in the matter.

That is the purpose behind the new clause—to return the question to our own fellow electors. None of us is different from them. We have the privilege to represent them, but the powers that we exercise are their powers. I am now a low Tory—I have had the benefit of high Toryism—but this is a people's democracy. This is our Parliament, which will determine the framework of our lives.

I listened very carefully to what was said at our party conference. There is a greater national interest. The national interest, no less, is invoked but there is no explanation of why that national interest should do away with the democratic traditions in this country secured over two or three centuries. The long, slow march of Everyman is set aside in a single Act of Parliament which is intended to be irrevocable and irreversible.

In those very phrases, we contradict the conventions of which we were so proud. We were always deemed not to need a written constitution in the United Kingdom because we were secure in who we were, and in our conventions and arrangements. Dicey, Jennings, and every constitutional writer that we have had, asserted them. Indeed, in a half-hearted way, what I now think of as a miserable tome, "Erskine May", records that. It records the moving away from democratic government. We feel the diffidence within the House now that we feel that there are so many things we can no longer challenge. That is reflected in the diffidence of hon. Members. There are so many things that we feel we cannot challenge. Gosh, what poor imitations we are of our forebears. But we are the inheritors of a great system. Therefore, my old verity—the verity on which most of us were elected to this House—ought to be proclaimed and shouted for.

If we are to give away democratic government, we must be able to put that argument clearly to the people. That may well happen, with megaphones in Downing street, megaphones upstairs in Committee and Front Benchers getting an overbearing voice into the ear of the public. But never doubt—out there is the drip, drip, drip that something ain't right about these arrangements.

When, last Thursday, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said that it was a stitch up, he struck a chord with the people. They are deeply dissatisfied with this measure. They are right to be dissatisfied. I have said, from the time of the last election, that I cannot vote for the passing of this measure without the issue being returned to the British people for their decision. I have not heard one word from the party that used to fight for the right to a vote, or from the Treasury Bench, as to why the surrender of democratic, accountable government is right. As historians look at the record of each day's debate, they will find that the most extraordinary feature of this one is that the great, democratic parties of the United Kingdom were unable at any time during the debate to address the question of democratic government. Democracy has gone out of fashion.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding)

My hon. Friend speaks about the surrender of democracy. I know how strongly he feels on the subject, but does he not recognise that not just this country but the 11 other member states of the Community are deeply attached to the principle of democracy? Is my hon. Friend suggesting that all the people of Europe have been bamboozled by this extraordinary conspiracy to overthrow democracy? Even if he believes that that is credible, is it not slightly perverse of him, if he is concerned about democracy, democratic accountability and the democratic deficit in the Community, to oppose the Maastricht treaty, which incorporates a number of steps to increase democratic accountability? My hon. Friend mentioned that the Council of Ministers meets in secret, but he seems to have forgotten that at the Edinburgh summit it was agreed for the first time that those meetings should now be open. Does he not welcome that fact?

Mr. Shepherd

I have never claimed that I am well schooled, but after remarks like that I feel remarkably well schooled in the traditions and constitution of my country. I am not responsible for how other noble, great countries pursue their own systems of government. However, we have a duty to pay regard to our system of government. I was elected by the people of Aldridge-Brownhills to try to safeguard that with which I was entrusted. If my constituents' right to democratic government is to be taken away, ought they not to be asked about it?

This extraordinary legislation is predicated without a mandate. The ill schooled may suggest that there is a general mandate. As we pointed out at the last election, three parties took for granted the fact that this was to come about. I searched and waited. Where was the appeal from the party leaders—"We must have Maastricht's form of government"? But that is only one route out of many that the Community may take.

The Government now tell us that at the next intergovernmental conference the shape of the new constitution will be refined in our interests, since this one is not satisfactory. The fact is that it is not satisfactory for the whole of Europe. My case, though, is based not on what is satisfactory for the whole of Europe but on what is appropriate for Britain.

There were two copies of the Conservative party manifesto in my constituency. My agent had one; I had the other. It was forwarded, unfortunately, after I had had the opportunity to give guidance to my electorate as to the principles by which I stood. I am told by Conservative central office that between 120,000 and 130,000 copies of the manifesto were published. I imagine that, somewhere, there is a warehouse in which they are gathering dust, awaiting the wonderful day when my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford will be able to auction them off as a lot of great constitutional significance. All that the Conservative party manifesto said about Maastricht was, "Haven't the Government done well to negotiate the Maastricht agreement?"

I have no idea what the Labour party manifesto said, because it did not seem to penetrate Aldridge-Brownhills. Some of my constituents were, no doubt, blessed with gaining possession of the Labour party's central doctrine on Maastricht. Conservative central office also advised us by means of a little leaflet—a quick guide to what the Conservative party stood for. There were many more copies of that leaflet. In fact, we used it as an election leaflet. We scoured it for the new form of constitution that the Government invest so much faith in. They did not discuss it during the general election campaign, but they have troubled the House of Commons with it for nearly 15 months.

Let us consider the sequence. The Maastricht treaty was never available to the House of Commons. It fluttered in —the Minister of State claimed with pride some responsibility, and rightly so, for this—through the window of the Library. There were mimeographed copies of the treaty, but it was incomprehensible and difficult to read. A few Members were troubled by it, but the Government's arguments centred on what would be excluded from discussion. They secured two exclusions, but it is unsatisfactory to approach a constitutional issue in that way.

We had a debate last November in which I spoke on that matter. Although both the Treasury Bench and the Opposition Bench should have taken it on board, not one word was said about democracy. That is shameful. We ought to have greater regard for that which justifies our presence here.

7.45 pm
Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)

The way that my hon. Friend talks suggests that he believes that British democracy for British people can be performed only in a theatre called the House of Commons or the Palace of Westminster. Let us substitute for the word "democracy" the word "Shakespeare". If, instead of taking the view that Shakespeare can be performed only in British theatres, we took Shakespeare and democracy for the British people abroad and tried to make it work in a much larger entity, as well as trying to make it work in specific ways here, would that not be much better? Is my hon. Friend not taking far too narrow a view of the issue?

Mr. Shepherd

I am not sure what my hon. Friend is driving at. I am here by virtue of the fact of my citizenship. I am British. I was born in Scotland and represent a west midlands constituency. I have to look to those who are my ain folk, if I may use that term. I have to consider what are the best ways in which we can form a system of government. I can think of no finer and more civilised form of government that reflects the will of the people than democratic self-government through our institutions. We are capable of corrupting them, as these measures have demonstrated. We corrupt them by our lack of candour about them.

We are told that Maastricht represents a great gain. The national interest, no less, is the argument. We are told to pander to the people and tell them why their freedoms, rights and long-secured traditions, attitudes and ways of looking at life, formed within our hearts in this common society, must pass away and that they must be ruled by a Council of Ministers, still meeting in secrecy, apart from a few televised illustrations of what could come about, and by a bureaucracy under Mr. Delors—unelected, but acting as though he were the prime minister of a great state, no less—who wants to be the President of the Commission.

The treaty seeks to make us citizens of somewhere else. Slowly, the Government—or Ministers, including the Leader of the House, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—have come, to their surprise, to understand that the treaty makes the Queen a citizen of Europe. I make that point to demonstrate a profound shift in the concept of Queen and Parliament. I know that this idea is not well explained in our schools. The Secretary of State for Education should perhaps consider the introduction of a course on British democracy. That might demonstrate that we have something to be proud of and that there courses through our bones the means of control over our state.

The central thrust is that we have a constitution. I am being asked to be a citizen by Act of Parliament on a matter of the most profound sentiment, but without any reference to me. How do I feel? How does any British person outside the House feel when he is told that he is now a citizen of a new political organisation in which the United Kingdom is a subordinate constituent and in which the European Court of Justice is the supreme court which will interpret the laws outside our traditions and courts?

Sir Terence Higgins (Worthing)

My hon. Friend is speaking as if the referendum is the traditional form of British parliamentary democracy. The reality is that it is our representative system of democracy which forms the basis of this place, and it is the referendum which will corrupt that system. Has not my hon. Friend learnt from his mistake last time when he voted in a referendum which effectively set in concrete the arrangements made at that time and which made it far more difficult for any subsequent changes to be introduced?

Mr. Shepherd

I am slightly surprised by what my right hon. Friend says about the concept of the referendum. I am grateful that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is here. The then Prime Minister, Edward Heath, said that these things would be achieved with the full-hearted consent of the British people and Parliament. It is a language which one does not usually associate with my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) and, as often as not, it is attributed to the Foreign Secretary. Even in those words, there is a profound understanding that, to secure the changes, one requires the whole-hearted consent not only of Parliament but of the British people. That theme has run through the history of the Conservative party in the 20th century.

I put on the record the Conservative party's constitutional amendment of 1911 moved by A. J. Balfour.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

My hon. Friend and I have often discussed this question. He and my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) put their arguments in almost continental terms of great principles, but our unwritten constitution has muddled its way forward not by the exposition of great abstract principles such as they suggest but by ordinary people saying in a muddling way that something is not quite right. They do not understand why it is not quite right, but they know that something should be done.

Surely one of the strongest cases for the referendum is based not on abstract principles as to whether, on the whole, we are in favour of a referendum or not—on the whole, I am much against referendums—but on the fact that something is not quite right about the extremely authoritarian way in which the Government have dealt with their supporters. They have encouraged constituency supporters to attack sitting Members of Parliament in a way which is deeply antipathetic to the traditions of the Tory party. There is also something not quite right about the disgraceful way in which the Government have dealt with the House.

It is because there is something not quite right that those of us who think not in terms of great principles but in pragmatic and Tory terms come to the reluctant conclusion that the only way in which the Government's disgraceful behaviour can be rectified is by dealing with it through the otherwise rather unattractive mechanism of a referendum.

Mr. Shepherd

I always enjoy the interventions of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen). I have no doubt that his course has been to protect the interests of the citizens of Wolverhampton so that they may vote on every matter with authority, and that the preservation of that principle has been central to his arguments.

Balfour ended his speech of 8 May 1911 on his constitutional amendment with these words: I am quite convinced the more this proposal is talked of in this House and the country the more it will receive support. There are difficulties in its application … but still in the Referendum lies our one hope of getting the sort of constitutional security which every other country but our own enjoys … I further believe, so far from its demoralising, that it would be a great practical education in politics. How many elections are now fought on purely personal grounds. How many … give their vote blue or yellow because they have always voted so, or because their fathers voted so. How often a man is content to say, 'I stick to my party, I am loyal to the principles I always professed' or, like a Scotch voter … who said, 'Tariff Reform is an excellent policy, and as soon as the Liberals bring it in, I will vote for it most heartily'"— gone are those days. How many elections are decided by sentiments of that kind, and very respectable sentiments they are, too. I really think to have a controversy thrashed out in the House and then in the Second Chamber, and then refer it to the electors … not on the merits of either … the Government or the party, but on the merits of the Bill itself, that that, so far from currupting the sources of democratic life, would only be a great education for political people … I am convinced whatever is done now that the controversy that has been started on this great method of constitutional reform must and will bear fruit, and that before long, and practically in the lifetime of all of us, we may see this great democratic engine brought into practice."—[Official Report, 8 May 1911; Vol. XXV, c. 935.] It took many years and my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup to introduce a referendum to the United Kingdom in the form of border polls in Northern Ireland. In that principle was the recognition that for great constitutional change one had to ask the people and that, as it was a continuing question, it should be repeated each time. We are long overdue in putting another question to the electors of Northern Ireland, but the principle has fed through Conservative politics all the years of this century.

The only example I can find of a Prime Minister who has not served in a Cabinet that has recommended a referendum or has not recommended a referendum himself is the present Prime Minister. All other leaders of our party in this century have either served in Cabinets that recommended a referendum at some time or have themselves recommended it.

Mr. Hurd

Is not my hon. Friend being a little economic with history? He might not recall—but my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) will—that the principle was last discusssed in the House in relation to Europe in 1975, before my hon. Friend's recent Bill. These arguments were deployed at a time, I would argue, when the case for a referendum was strongest because it was then, or a couple of years before, that the House had accepted the principle of Community law, the relationship between the House and the institutions of the Community and the jurisdiction of the European Court. The things about which my hon. Friend is most disturbed were accepted then.

Two or three years later, the question arose whether there should be a referendum. The Conservative party, in opposition, had to make up its mind. On that occasion, the speech of the Leader of the Opposition—aroness Thatcher—ealt with the questions of principle but homed in on the conclusion drawn by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) that the old-fashioned verities of which my hon. Friend speaks were reflected in the principle of representative democracy and that we owed our constituents not only our industry but our judgment. That was what we were for. On that basis, my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, I and many others—elatively new Members —ent into the House behind our leader precisely on that point of principle to vote for representative democracy and against a referendum.

Mr. Shepherd

That may be so. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will remember that, towards the end of her speech, the then Leader of the Opposition also accepted the principle that there could be referendums at some future stage when profound matters were in question. It is true that at that time the Conservative party voted against the referendum, but there is no great consistency, because in 1972 the party voted for a referendum when in government. I was merely trying to point out that this is not such a vexed question of representative government that we diminish Parliament; I would argue that we reinforce it. I take the Balfour view and that of all our political leaders, even Winston Churchill.

I see that some of my hon. Friends now cite Attlee's response to Churchill's request for a continuation of the wartime coalition against Japan by the device of a referendum. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary ill perhaps recall—from his reading, as he is too young to recall it in any other way—that Attlee said then that referendums were the devices of dictators and de-magogues. Indeed, one can understand why he might say that, having lived through the Europe of the 1930s, in which the Hitlers, the Mussolinis and the Francos of this world used the referendum as an instrument for just such purposes. I understand the diffidence within the usual and traditional British political culture, and the reasons why one would be wary.

However, the fundamental question is whether there are any issues that should be returned to the electorate. Dicey would have said, as he ultimately did—

8 pm

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Shepherd

I am trying to talk about some rather important matters, and I want to develop my argument.

Are there any questions that should be returned to the electorate? I, and many other hon. Members, contend that the Bill is such an issue because the treaty purports to be "irrevocable" and "irreversible". Those words are used in the treaty, and that concept goes much against the political culture and tradition that my right hon. Friend identified.

My right hon. Friend could say that such matters have already been disposed of, but I find it difficult to present to the British nation as a whole the facts that there is a range of laws, that there is an independent central bank elsewhere issuing currency, and that, despite all our experience, there is a drive towards the reinstatement of the exchange rate mechanism in stage 2. It is a moot point. We have legal judgment on my side of the argument; the Government advance their own legal judgment, and the matter will be determined ultimately by the Commission and the European Court.

Mr. Marlow

Should my hon. Friend's answer to the Foreign Secretary not be as follows? Our right hon. Friend is saying that we are a representative democracy. We are a representative democracy—just. But if the Bill goes through we shall not be one, so we want a referendum before we cease to be a representative democracy.

Mr. Shepherd

Of course I agree with that; otherwise I should not be proposing a referendum.

Mr. Gorst

Does my hon. Friend not recognise that, certainly in recent years, referendums have been called in aid when Governments have been in difficulties, and have been requested when those who are calling for them are losing the argument?

Mr. Shepherd

That observation is often made, and there is some truth in it. We know full well that the referendum of the mid-1970s, which I thought wholly right and appropriate, came about because of the difficulties within the party then in government. However, the motive by which one arrives at a conclusion does not mean that the conclusion itself is wrong. The Government were wholly right to hold a referendum because they had to invite the British public—

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

May I comment on what was said by the hon. Member for Hendon, -North (Mr. Gorst)? He cannot possibly be correct, because the case for the referendum will be made this evening both by people who are against Maastricht, such as the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), and by people who are for Maastricht, such as myself. We cannot both be losing the argument.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Although masses of things can be done within a parliamentary democracy, is not the principle that there is one thing that a parliamentary democracy cannot do, and that is to give up its operation of parliamentary democracy? If that is to be done, some other method must be used to ratify the decision. Normally, such decisions could do no more than pass things over to another parliamentary democracy, but that is not happening with Maastricht, because things are being passed over to a bureaucracy. Nevertheless, the reason for a referendum is based on the principles of representative government and parliamentary democracy.

Mr. Shepherd

I absolutely agree. The difficulty for our argument has been that the people outside did not have the benefit of reading the treaty. We must remember that it was not published until a week before Second Reading, so all the new hon. Members who entered the House did not have the opportunity to reflect on the contentions of the treaty during the general election. If their electorate had asked them what it was about, they would have been unable to say.

Mr. Budgen

I hope that my hon. Friend will deal with what the Foreign Secretary said about Burke's great speech setting out our duties. When Burke made that speech, it was true that a Member of Parliament often had a difficult time with his patron, but not necessarily with his party. Now we have the tyranny of the party, which has prevented Members of Parliament from expressing their views on the treaty freely. There can be little doubt that there would not be a free majority for the Maastricht treaty on the Government side if it were not for the operation of the party machine.

Mr. Shepherd

I accept the argument, but I notice that the House has provided a wonderful forum for my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West to express his views courageously and clearly. What he has said today gives a cheer for our democracy, but to speak in that way requires more courage than it did in the past, when the sentiment of the people was so clearly that they expected their Member of Parliament to be able to express freely, courageously, loudly and boldly his views on matters that affected their lives and well-being. I also reflect that Burke lost the election after having written that letter. I believe that if any of us sent such a letter to our constituents today he would probably lose the election, too.

Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)

I respect the integrity and sincerity of my hon. Friend's belief that the issue before us is the single most important issue facing the country. and therefore deserves a referendum. However, in my constituency a referendum is already being conducted. There are six questions, not one, on the ballot paper. The first is indeed about Maastricht; another is about the principle of a referendum; another is about a freedom of information Bill. There is also a question about the use of urban rather than rural land for development, and the last two are about live animal transport and hunting with hounds. I have to tell my hon. Friend that the person organising the referendum believes that the last of those six questions is the single most important issue confronting the people of this country, and that is why the referendum is being organised. Does my hon. Friend not accept that he is letting a dangerous genie out of the bottle by proposing a referendum?

Mr. Shepherd

Clearly my hon. Friend must pursue his own arguments with his own electorate, but I find it deeply disturbing if someone says that the power of the vote is something trivial, and that its passing away is of no consequence. The heart of the matter is that we are trying to take away irrevocably and irreversibly the traditional strengths that our democratic constitution has had.

In terms of exposition, a referendum is one of the best ways of informing an electorate about the issues in contention. I have always argued that on the most profound political questions—that is, constitutional questions—I believe, as A. J. Balfour did, that the device of the referendum should be available to our people. It would take the party struggle out of the issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff) could then truthfully pursue his argument and I could pursue mine. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West has said, there would be no fear of the Whips. This is a matter for the people out there. They would be asked, "Do you or do you not want the constitutional arrangements that follow from Maastricht?"

The people know that there is something corrupt in all this. It cannot be right that their rights are being taken away without a reference back to them. Certainly it is wrong for that to happen without its having been a major issue in an election. We used to have the principle of what was called the specific mandate. From time to time during our history, there has been an election in which there has been such fury over a single issue that no one has had any doubt about the will of the people as expressed in the outcome. That has not happened in recent years, and certainly no one could call 1992 an election with a specific mandate on the concept of Maastricht. Yet the Front-Bench Members, on both sides of the House implicitly accept that the 1992 election conferred the right to change the constitution so profoundly. I hope that the Labour party will see that there is an advantage in returning the question to the country.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)

It increasingly appears that the difference between us is an assessment of how best to look after the interests of our constituents, given that the decision to enter the Community, with all the institutional implications, was made back in the 1970s. The effect of the Maastricht treaty is to redefine some of the commitments that we as a country made a considerable time ago, when we accepted that, because sovereignty was not like virginity, which one either has or does not have, but was a multi-layered concept, looking after the interests of our constituents often meant that we as Members of Parliament could have more influence by working together within the Community institutions, by looking after the Executive in this place, which represented us in those institutions, and by occasionally working with the European Parliament, rather than by attempting to ignore everything else and saying that only what happened in this place could protect the interests of our constituents.

In my view, Maastricht does not mark a fundamental departure. It marks a continuation of what we set out to do. Indeed, it provides various means of strengthening the process.

Mr. Shepherd

That is the conveyor-belt argument and I look forward to challenging my hon. Friend in the referendum campaigns around the country. We should trust the people. Let them decide the difference between the two arguments. At the end of the day, that is all I am saying. We are talking about powers that we are moving. They are not my powers or the powers of the House. This House is the symbol of the sovereignty of the people.

Because of the constitutional concepts, the idea of the sovereignty of Parliament has been able to embrace monarchical government, oligarchical government and very limited government, but in the age of democratic government we try to use our Parliament as the instrument to safeguard that democratic quality. It has been the instrument by which we have overcome monarchical, oligarchical and other forms of government.

Many hon. Members will claim that we did not have democracy in Britain until we had the enfranchisement of women and, therefore, we did not have true parliamentary democracy until the late 1920s. However, we are now suggesting that those who have the vote and who send us here will be diminished by this measure. Of itself, that is enough to send it back and have a referendum. We should trust the people.

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak so early in the debate. At the outset, I must state that I do not support the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). As I listened to his entertaining and passionate speech, I felt that I had been there before and that I had heard those arguments when our country was taken into the European Community in 1972. We were told then that that would be the end of parliamentary democracy and that the position and authority of the House, and of hon. Members in it, would be completely and irrevocably undermined. We were told that those irrevocable steps, as the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills described them, would diminish our ability to represent our constituents and the country effectively.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Cunningham

Not just at the moment.

I have always believed that nothing is irrevocable in a democracy. The nature and purpose of democracy is to facilitate and allow change if the Government of the day win a mandate for change. I do not accept that decisions taken in any democratic country can be categorised as irrevocable.

If the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills thinks about it for a moment, he might realise that what might be irrevocable are circumstances in which we increasingly abdicate the responsibilities of this House by taking more and more decisions by plebiscite. In the long term, that would be the biggest single threat to the authority of Parliament and it would undermine parliamentary democracy in the way that we have always had it. I believe that the argument is the reverse of the way in which the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills presented it to the Committee this evening.

Mr. Cash

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way now?

Dr. Cunningham

No, not just at the moment. I have literally just begun my speech and I do not wish to speak at great length because the situation is quite simple.

During our membership of the Community, which was not originally the subject of a referendum—although as the Foreign Secretary quite candidly said, when we had a referendum it was opposed by the Conservative party in opposition—it has been argued that a referendum would resolve the question once and for all. As the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills quite rightly said, there have been other referendums to settle the question. However, there is no evidence to support that conclusion.

The question of British membership of the Community was not settled by the referendum and the campaign against membership of the Community continues today. We have witnessed a manifestation of that, at least in part, in the nature of our debates and discussions in the Chamber over the past few weeks.

Mr. Cash

The right hon. Gentleman questioned whether an irrevocable change was taking place. Only a few days ago, the right hon. Gentleman voted against amendment No. 225 which related to the Protocol on the transition to the Third Stage of Economic and Monetary Union which dealt with the central bank. According to the protocol—and the right hon. Gentleman has voted to sustain this position— The high contracting parties,"— including the United Kingdom and its Government whom the right hon. Gentleman is supporting— Declare the irreversible character of the Community's movement to the third stage … and … no Member State shall prevent the entering into the third stage"— and the third stage must start and continue— irrevocably on 1 January 1999. The right hon. Gentleman has just contradicted what he voted for in respect of amendment No. 225.

8.15 pm
Dr. Cunningham

Before we reach that point, there will be another vote in the House of Commons to determine that issue. The suggestion made by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, and reinforced by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash), that that irrevocable decision is being taken now is not borne out by the facts.

My point is that, in my experience, whenever referendums are held, for example, in Northern Ireland, in respect of devolution in Scotland and on membership of the Community, they have never finally decided the issue. Shortly after the outcome of those referendums, the campaigns have continued as before. There is no way of preventing that in a democracy.

If I am fortunate enough to be addressing the House from the Opposition Front Bench in a few years time—or perhaps more fortunate to be addressing the House from the Government Front Bench—I believe that we will still be having these arguments in the House and in the country as a whole. I cannot accept the argument that a referendum will finally allow the people to decide the issue.

Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central)

A few moments ago, the right hon. Gentleman said that the fears of people in 1975, about what would happen as a result of our entering the Common Market, have not been realised. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman represents an agricultural constituency, as I do. He must be aware of the agricultural problems that I have to solve and he will be aware just how impotent my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is to solve the problems that I, as a Back Bencher, take to him.

Europe has intervened more in our national affairs in respect of agriculture than anywhere else and, as an agriculture Member, I can no longer represent my constituents as I should. With regard to agriculture, the fears expressed in 1975 were entirely justified.

Dr. Cunningham

I do not accept that argument. That is an argument for not being part of the CAP and for not being part of the Community. That makes my point that the argument about membership of the Community was not finally resolved by the referendum in 1975. There will always be people in Britain, be they farmers or industrialists—

Mr. Cash

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)


Dr. Cunningham

I will not give way at the moment. I must be allowed to deal with one intervention before I give way to another.

As the hon. Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) said, there are many farmers in my constituency in perhaps 350 square miles of west and south Cumbria. Some of them support our membership of the Community, some are exasperated by it and some are implacably opposed to it. However, the idea that there is a uniform view about the benefits or disadvantages of membership of the Community for the people in the various agricultural industries does not hold water.

Over the past 20 years, some aspects of agriculture have benefited enormously from aspects of the CAP—perhaps more so than many of us would have wished. However, to suggest that it has all been negative and downhill for British agriculture since we have been in the Community—

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way now?

Dr. Cunningham

Very well, let us get it over with now.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree—[Interruption.] He is on this point. I used to represent his area. It was never easy work going to the Minister of Agriculture because one had to go through an iron-fisted Chancellor. It is a jolly sight easier in many ways to argue in Brussels than to argue with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Dr. Cunningham

I cannot resist the temptation of saying that perhaps an iron-fisted Chancellor would be better than the clay-footed one we have at present. I substantially agree with the hon. Lady's point. She is a constituency neighbour of mine and used to represent my constituents in the European Parliament.

Another aspect of the intervention on agriculture bears some scrutiny. The implication was that, if we had not been in the European Community and had not been subject to some of the—I am prepared to concede—vicissitudes of the common agricultural policy, everything in the garden, perhaps I should say pastures, would have been wonderful for our farmers. I cannot accept that as a legitimate conclusion.

I am not convinced that we should have a referendum because it would finally and irrevocably settle the issue.

Several hon. Members


Dr. Cunningham

No, I shall make a little progress. I am a little confused as to why so many Conservative Members did not raise all these issues when the Single European Bill was before the House. Not only did that Act make some important and far-reaching changes to our circumstances, but Conservative Members who were in the House at the time voted to have it guillotined. To contrast the lime allocated for discussion on and deliberation of the intricate details of the Maastricht treaty with the performance of the Conservative party and the Government at that time is instructive because Conservative Members voted not only to have the Single European Act—

Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Cunningham

No, I have not yet finished making my point so it is a little unreasonable to ask me to give way on it.

Conservative Members voted to curtail discussion on the Single European Bill. At that time, there were no great campaigns or claims that we were giving away irrevocably the powers of this Parliament, undermining parliamentary democracy as we have always known it or betraying the wishes of the British people. The attitude was that it was hell for leather—let us get it through. That is in stark contrast to the views now being expressed at least by some Conservative Members.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

Several Conservative Members in the House at present did not vote for the Single European Act. I continue to be worried about the right hon. Gentleman's use of the word "irrevocable". He said earlier that nothing was irrevocable. Is not that the crux of this debate? In reality, if we give away our sovereignty and effectively put into British law something whereby we are not controlled by the British Parliament but by 11 other countries—and who knows how many other countries there will be as more join the Community —that is irrevocable, even if all the countries agree to change the law. Is not that the crux of the argument? The magnitude of the problem and the magnitude of the subject mean that we are entitled to say that this is a subject on which the British people should have a say.

Dr. Cunningham

I am for the British people having a say in general elections—in assessing how I represent them and how I perform with regard to the interests of the people in my constituency. They have the opportunity to decide whether they want me to continue to represent them. I do not accept that people do not have a say.

At the general election, the Labour party made it clear that it strongly supports membership of the European Community. We made no secret of that. I am prepared to accept that those issues were not pre-eminent in the election campaign in which we all participated last year. Nevertheless, it is wrong to say that people, either as individual candidates or as political parties, did not have an opportunity to raise the issues or question them.

Mr. John Townend

At the general election, what opportunity was there for the members of the electorate who opposed Maastricht when all the major parties were for Maastricht? They had no choice whatever, and that is the main argument for a referendum.

Dr. Cunningham

I do not accept that. The majority of voters drew a conclusion from the fact that all political parties came to the judgment that the best interests of our country lay in being a full-hearted member of the European Community.

Mr. Townend

They had no choice.

Dr. Cunningham

It was the collective view: the hon. Gentleman is right. I think that it was the unanimous view of the political parties. It was also the right view.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

I am listening with great attention. First, my right hon. Friend knows that the Maastricht treaty was negotiated after the 1991 Labour party conference. Therefore, there was no party commitment whatever to Maastricht during our conference. Secondly, the treaty had not been published in English at the time of the general election and, therefore, people not only did not know what it was but were told that—[Interruption.] Of course, they did not know the details. It has taken hours of debate in Committee to bring out the details. The Labour party national executive and the shadow Cabinet came out for the treaty without having any authority from the party conference.

Dr. Cunningham

At least some of that intervention is true: it is a matter of record. If my right hon. Friend's argument is that I have no authority to stand here on behalf of the Labour party and advance these views, he is wrong. In 1992 at the Labour party conference, an overwhelming majority of the national executive committee and the shadow Cabinet voted in favour of the Maastricht process, as did the Trades Union Congress and most of the constituent members of the trade unions. Therefore, I cannot accept that there has been no consultation, deliberation or debate about our view on the merits or otherwise of the Maastricht treaty?

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

There was no consultation.

Dr. Cunningham

I do not accept that: there was widespread consultation within our party and with people in our constituencies—and it has continued ever since.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

How does the right hon. Gentleman explain that, consistently in the past 18 months, public opinion polls and surveys have shown that an overwhelming majority of British people—Conservative voters, Labour voters and others—wished to have a referendum on the Maastricht treaty? The poll that took place in February 1993 showed that 73 per cent. of the people in the United Kingdom wished to have a referendum on the Maastricht treaty and the European Communities (Amendment) Bill.

Dr. Cunningham

I am aware of how public opinion stands and how it fluctuates. In the past, I dare say that there have been occasions when the hon. Gentleman—I do not want to misrepresent his views—has campaigned for matters such as capital punishment on the basis of public opinion. If we had simply taken public opinion as our guiding light, rather than our judgment in such matters, and if capital punishment had been reintroduced—

Several hon. Members


The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)


Dr. Cunningham

If we took note of public opinion at a specific time, all sorts of arguments would be adduced in favour of referendums. I return to my point about the speech by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills.

8.30 pm

Then we would have referendums on the basis of snapshots of public opinion. If we had acceded to that request, a whole lot of people who have subsequently been found to be wrongly convicted might have been executed as a result of simply giving in to public opinion without further and proper consideration of the issues. So I am not persuaded by that argument.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

My right hon. Friend is correct to say that if capital punishment had existed in Britain people who have been found innocent would already have been executed.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Lots of people would not have been murdered.

Mr. Winnick

Will the hon. Lady contain herself?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a great distinction to be made between matters, however controversial, which Parliament should decide—whether capital punishment or any other issue—allowing the electorate to decide in the general election whether in its judgment we were right or wrong, and great constitutional issues such as that which we are debating today? Surely the British people should have some say about whether further economic and political power should be transferred from Britain to the European Community. On that issue alone many Opposition Members believe that a referendum would be justified.

Dr. Cunningham

I know my hon. Friend's view. I have just set out my reasons for not accepting his argument. I see no force in what he says to persuade me that the British people have not had the opportunity—

Mr. Budgen

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Teddy Taylor

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Cunningham

I am being fairly generous in taking interventions. I am just beginning to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and I have been asked to give way again. Regretfully, I have to say, "Sorry, not for the moment." In response to my hon. Friend—I had better address the Committee, but I feel uncomfortable speaking to him with my back to him—I would say that one thing is absolutely sure: a referendum approved by the House, containing a question tabled by a Conservative Government, would not provide the British people with one of the options that we want them to have. We want them to have the opportunity to vote on whether we should adopt the social chapter.

Furthermore, the best hope that we have of achieving agreement that the social chapter should apply in our country is not to have a referendum but to win a vote, hopefully during the Report stage of these proceedings. That is the best option for achieving the most important political objective that our party has set itself in the debate in the Committee.

Mr. Salmond

If that is the right hon. Gentleman's major difficulty, perhaps he will support our amendment to one of the new clauses on the amendment paper this evening. To reach that new clause we must first pass new clause 49 in the name of his hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould). Is he aware that today the Scottish Trades Union Congress overwhelmingly voted in favour of a referendum on the Maastricht treaty? Does not that show that there has been some change of mind since the conferences last year on which the right hon. Gentleman put so much emphasis?

Dr. Cunningham

I shall deal first with the hon. Gentleman's amendment. I do not know whether it will be put to a Division, but it seems to me that he is offering me something of a false prospectus. He is saying that if only we agree to supporrt the argument for a general referendum, there is a hope—but no certainty—that his amendment will have the support of the same majority. I do not believe that many Conservative Members—I do not wish to malign them—who are strongly in favour of a referendum on whether we should endorse the Maastricht treaty will vote for the inclusion of a question about the social chapter. They see the social chapter as one of the greatest single threats from the European Community to what they regard as the future well-being of Britain.

Mr. Salmond

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Cunningham

No, I have given way once to the hon. Gentleman. I cannot accommodate all the interventions if I give way to the same hon. Gentleman twice in a couple of minutes. He is offering me a false prospectus and I do not have too much difficulty in rejecting it.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Budgen

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Cunningham

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor). Then I shall draw my remarks to a conclusion.

Sir Teddy Taylor

The only hopeful thing that has happened in a miserable day is the statement by the right hon. Gentleman that nothing is irrevocable. Will he take some time to explain how the House of Commons could legally turn anything back once the Maastricht treaty was ratified? If he could explain that, it would be one of the most hopeful things to have happened today. Our interpretation is that there is no lawful way in which the Houses of Parliament could go backwards once Maastricht was through.

Dr. Cunningham

The hon. Gentleman has to convince the British people to elect a Government who would repeal or withdraw—[Interruption.] It is not inconceivable, at least in theory, that a Government could be elected who had come to the conclusion that Britain's membership of the Community was no longer in the best interests of the country. That is why I say that in a democracy, by definition, things can be changed as a result of a change in Government.[Interruption.] No Parliament can irrevocably bind its successor. [HON MEMBERS: "Yes, it can."]

Mr. Iain Duncan-Smith (Chingford)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Cunningham

No. I said that I would give way for the last time to the hon. Member for Southend, East, and then draw my remarks to a conclusion. I must then keep a much delayed engagement before returning to the Committee later in the debate.

Mr. Duncan-Smith

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Cunningham

No. I cannot speak for the Conservative party.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

Or for the Labour party.

Dr. Cunningham

I am speaking about decisions taken by the Labour party, about which my hon. Friend apparently feels cavalier. Those decisions were taken overwhelmingly by the national executive committee. The shadow Cabinet and the party conference. That is the position on which I base my remarks to the Committee today. They were properly and constitutionally taken decisions of the party. I do not know how my hon. Friend can say from a sedentary position that I do not speak on behalf of the Labour party. Those decisions are clear and on the record. There is no point in disputing them.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

My right hon. Friend is telling us that the abandonment of powers under the treaty is not irrevocable. He says that another Parliament or Government could take them back. Under the treaty, especially after we have gone into monetary union—it may be a separate decision, but it is a binding one—we shall give over control of interest rates, our central bank, any European central bank, and our exchange rates, levels of borrowing and money supply. What can we take back out of that lot?

Dr. Cunningham

We have had those debates and discussions in the Chamber in the past few weeks. They have been dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) and others at some length. I simply do not accept my hon. Friend's long list of assertions.

I have the feeling that this is a debate and vote which we might describe as a Group 4 Security vote. It is a "go as you please" vote. Regardless of the decisions of the party, many of my hon. Friends intend to make up their own mind how to vote. That is a matter for them. But speaking on behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Cabinet, and in support of the decisions of our party, let me say that we shall vote against the new clause in the Lobby tonight.

Sir Roger Moate (Faversham)

It is a bit rich for the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) to refer to the way in which my hon. Friends changed their position on the Single European Act. We fully understand that the right hon. Gentleman has to leave but he should understand that the Labour party and its Front-Bench team have turned so many somersaults on the European issue and now they proclaim—to my deep regret—that they are convinced and passionate Europeans. They have opposed virtually every piece of European legislation for the past 25 years.

For the right hon. Member for Copeland, who has just left the Chamber, to attack the principle of a referendum when he voted for one in 1975 is extraordinary. I wish that he had stayed in the Chamber long enough to explain how he could argue so passionately against it today when he voted in favour of it in 1975. He was then a young Member, and no doubt ambitious—it did not get him far, as he is still in opposition. Doubtless the same can be asked of other Members in the Labour Front-Bench team—why are they against a referendum today, when they were for it in 1975? The deputy leader of the Labour party, no less, was the Whip on that occasion, rightly voting in support of a referendum to allow the British people a say.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East)

I voted against membership of the Common Market in 1975, and times have moved on considerably since then. However, the question then being asked was different. The European Single Act, which was pushed through the House on a guillotine, gave away some of the powers that Conservative Members are now complaining about. They did nothing about it then.

Mr. Duncan-Smith


Sir Roger Moate

I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan-Smith).

Mr. Duncan-Smith

The right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), who has just left the Chamber, made an intriguing statement, which lies at the core of the issue. He said that nothing was irrevocable. There is a good example of why that statement is wrong and why the whole argument about how irrevocable the treaty is, as it binds one Parliament to another. In 1977, under the then Labour Administration, the acquired rights directive, now referred to as the transfer of undertakings, was initiated. Since then, we have had Conservative Administrations, and during that time there have been rulings in the European Court of Justice that have gradually changed the meaning of that directive, so that the present Government have had to introduce legislation to change the directive as it affected our right to decide whether or not certain local councils should have to take on the rights of employees. Will my hon. Friend comment on that?

Sir Roger Moate

My hon. Friend has given a good illustration of creeping irrevocability. We are not necessarily talking about whether something is irrevocable or not, but whether it is intended that it should be for ever. When the original treaty of Rome was signed and when the Maastricht treaty is signed—and those who subscribe to it say that we should move to common defence and foreign policies—the clear, honest and open intention will be to transfer power to another forum on a permanent basis.

The proposition is simple—if Parliament is contemplating such a move, in the unique circumstances of a transfer of power with the intention that it should be irrevocable, Parliament should ask the permission of those that elected its Members. We talk about a sovereign Parliament, but really we mean the sovereignty of the people in Parliament. We in this Parliament have no rights to transfer or to intend to transfer irrevocably those powers to another organisation without gaining the electorate's authority. That is a simple concept, which seems to be gaining acceptance if one considers the precedents to which I shall refer later.

I must tell the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) that it was that motivation that lay behind the Labour Government's introduction of a referendum in 1975. The principle was right then, and I believe that there are overwhelming arguments for it to be adopted again. There is a stronger argument for the Labour party to advocate a referendum than the Conservative party. The Labour party's official position goes far beyond that adopted by the Government. The Labour party advocates the acceptance of a single currency—the ultimate expression of the ambitions of a single state. If that is not an issue that should be put to the British people, I do not know what is.

8.45 pm

I am extremely disappointed that the Government are against a referendum, but it is not surprising, because Governments are seldom in the business of erecting obstacles to their own plans and legislation. It is not surprising that they should reject the idea of volunteering a referendum. President de Gaulle did so and we saw the consequences for him; President Mitterrand did so and he nearly came a cropper. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Government have not voluntarily erected that obstacle.

But whatever the Labour party's views on the issue, I strongly argue that it is the Labour party that is betraying the British people by not sticking to the principle that it espoused in 1975. I shall return to that issue, as it involves a fundamental duty of the Opposition. If the Labour party were espousing the referendum today—which I believe the British people want and demand—there would be an overwhelming coalition for it in the House. It is very much the failure of the Labour party's Front Bench team to endorse a referendum that is depriving the British people of their right to vote on the issue, which is a matter of regret to me.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary advanced an argument in an intervention during the speech of my hon. Friend for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills quoted precedents. As on other occasions, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary challenged a referendum as the right constitutional formula. He said that it was not Conservative, and it undermined parliamentary sovereignty.

However, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did not challenge the precedent quoted by my hon. Friend, which is of the utmost importance—perhaps he will do so later. That precedent was the introduction of the Northern Ireland border poll by a Conservative Government in the 1970s. That was a firm, cast-iron precedent—it was a referendum introduced by a Conservative Government on a matter involving the future powers and sovereignty of a part of the United Kingdom. However, it was not simply introduced into our constitution; it has become as entrenched a part of our constitution as anything can be.

Every time a Cabinet Minister comes to the Dispatch Box and says that Northern Ireland will remain a part of the United Kingdom until a majority of the people of Northern Ireland decide otherwise, he reaffirms his belief in the principle of a referendum and in the fact that the people of Northern Ireland, whenever it is necessary and required, will have the right to determine their future. I urge my right hon. Friends, whatever their dislike of referendums and whatever their tactical objections, to reconsider the principles that they say underline their case.

Mr. Winnick

Surely the position is unlike that in 1975, when most of the press—the tabloids and the serious press —were in favour of a yes vote, and the Government and the Conservative Opposition and the Liberal party were all urging the electorate to vote yes. Now, is it not true that the two Front-Bench teams do not want a referendum because they cannot assume that they would win? If they thought otherwise and believed that victory was possible, they might be in favour of it. I do not underestimate the position, but the circumstances are different from those in 1975 and I believe that the Front-Bench teams do not want to put the issue to the British people as they fear losing a referendum on it.

Sir Roger Moate

One can advance any motivations. I do not necessarily believe that that is the Government's motivation. Having met enough obstacles to halt the ratification of the treaty, even if they felt inclined to hold a referendum—which they clearly do not—the Government would probably view a referendum as providing more evidence to our European partners of our weakening resolve, and would pose another obstacle to and damage the British position.

Mr. Bill Walker

Did my hon. Friend not notice a common thread running through the argument about a referendum? It is all right to let the people of Northern Ireland have a referendum as they are the Northern Irish, it is all right to let the Scots have a referendum as they are the Scots, but it is not right for the United Kingdom to have a referendum. It is interesting that the Labour party is currently calling for a referendum on constitutional matters affecting Scotland, yet the Bill goes right to the heart of the constitutional rights of the Scottish people as achieved in the 1706 Act of Scottish Parliament which became the 1707 Treaty of Union.

Sir Roger Moate

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is a matter of regret that we are arguing with our own Front Bench and with the Conservative party position. There is a great deal to be gained in our constitutional arrangements by accepting the principle of the referendum on great constitutional issues. It is a matter of regret, because we have begun to accept it in practice, yet we argue against it in principle.

We have had referendums in Scotland, in Wales, in Northern Ireland and in the United Kingdom. That is quite a lot of referendums in a short space of history, yet here we are arguing against the referendum as though it were an alien device that we must resist. It is a simple proposition—this answers an earlier intervention about animal rights.

We are talking about great constitutional issues, and. as we do not have a written constitution and a supreme court to refer to, the only ultimate authority that Parliament can have is the people. It is a simple proposition, and we should accept it.

Mr. John Carlisle

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government understood the gravity and the importance of the subject by granting a paving debate, in the Prime Minister's words, so that the House could express an opinion? It was granted in the summer, but when the debate took place in November, there was heavy whipping —my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-west (Mr. Budgen) was talking about the pressures of it—and the Conservative party made it almost a personal vote of confidence in the Prime Minister. There were all sorts of shenanigans, and there was no way that it was an opportunity for free expression, certainly not among Conservative Members and possibly not among Opposition Members either.

Had that debate been a genuine paving debate, and had hon. Members on both sides of the House been allowed to express the opinions of their constituents and themselves without party whipping, we may not have been in the position we are in today.

Sir Roger Moate

I do not agree with my hon. Friend, because many people feel strongly enough about issues of such profound importance not to accept the ruthless whipping that he described. Nor do I accept that the vote to which he referred had much to do with the Maastricht treaty. It had very little to do with the Maastricht treaty. Ultimately, we are talking not about the whipping system but about the principle of a referendum.

Let me return to the precedents. We have the precedents of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, and we have the 1975 European Community referendum. However, there are other precedents which I would ask my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to consider, because he and others say constantly that the referendum undermines the principle of parliamentary sovereignity. If that is so, is he saying that the Northern Ireland referendum, the border poll and its permanency in our present constitutional arrangements undermine the authority of this Parliament? If he is not, I hope that he will change his position. Is he saying that other Conservative Prime Ministers in the past who have advocated referendums were also undermining that great Conservative principle?

Sir Philip Goodhart, in his book on referendums, quoted five out of nine Conservative Prime Ministers who had advocated the use of the referendum. It is six out of 10 now that Lady Thatcher has become a staunch advocate of the referendum, so we are doing quite well. Is my right hon. Friend saying that, when Mr. Churchill advocated a referendum for the extension of Parliament or union with France, he was undermining parliamentary democracy? Is he saying that Mr. Balfour and Bonar Law were undermining parliamentary democracy by supporting the use of a referendum?

My right hon. Friend is not arrogant, but it would be arrogant to assume that somehow, in the 1990s, we have become the great defenders of parliamentary democracy and sovereignty against such a distinguished list of Conservative Prime Ministers, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) who introduced such a measure into our constitution in the 1970s.

If the answer is that the referendum has now become an acceptable constitutional arrangement, then there is an overwhelming case now for a vote on a referendum on the Maastricht treaty.

My last point is fundamental. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said in his first intervention that there was an argument for a referendum in 1975 on the treaty of Rome, as that was when the major decision was taken; but we are now talking about what is in effect a refinement, and I believe that this is the time for such a vote. To pretend that it is a refinement is putting quite a gloss on it.

I accept that, from the perspective of my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, the Maastricht treaty might be a refinement; it might be a step away from European union. That is one interpretation, but it is certainly not the interpretation of the Labour party. If, through some mischance—these things do happen—the Opposition were suddenly to be in Whitehall and Downing street, they would be strong advocates of a single currency and would take measures to move towards it, and they would use the Maastricht treaty as a platform.

Whatever our agenda is, and it is a good agenda, none the less the European Commission, Mr. Delors and Mr. Mitterrand have their own agenda. When the Maastricht treaty is ratified, they have every ambition to go on to economic union and the single defence policy. All those things are possible, and we cannot know which will happen.

We do not know whether the Maastricht treaty means a great deal or very little. Many of my hon. Friends are trooping through the Lobby saying, "Why are you worried? It's a dead duck." One of my hon. Friends said to me, "I am voting holding my nose, believing that it will not happen," and he might be right.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Sir Roger Moate

When I have finished this point.

Many European leaders believe Maastricht to be the launching pad for the next stage of European union, leading ultimately to federalism. That is their ambition. The fact that we do not know, it could go one way or the other, does not mean that the British people should not have the right to choose—because one thing is certain: in years to come, if we move in the direction that many of us, and the Government, are resisting, we will be told that we voted for the Maastricht treaty, so we must accept the consequences.

How many people here in the past few months have been asked why, if they do not believe in this treaty, they voted for the Single European Act? They may have been dragooned through the Lobby or persuaded by arguments of party loyalty—quite proper arguments, incidentally—but then their votes have been thrown back at them, just as such arguments would be thrown back at us.

Mr. Jenkin

May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that our own Government have given no assurances that they will not seek to move to the third stage of monetary union or, in the shorter term, to re-enter the exchange rate mechanism? Their agenda is therefore open to question.

9 pm

Sir Roger Moate

I do not question the Government's agenda on this issue. My hon. Friends will not agree with me, but I believe that the direction set out by the Prime Minister offers us more than any other—certainly more than would be offered by the Labour party Front-Bench spokesmen, with their wholehearted commitment to European union, and more than most of our European partners would offer. Excluding the single currency or opting out of the commitment excluding the social chapter, and being determined to expand and enlarge the Community—all these moves offer a proper way forward. We do not know, however, whether the Government will have the power, faced with a great number of other forces, to deliver these objectives. I do know that the Maastricht treaty, good, bad, or indifferent, is a major treaty and is perceived as such by the people of this country.

The intention behind the treaty is expressed in its terrifying preamble, which sets out the ambitions of the federalists. Those ambitions have been nurtured for 30 years; they will not go away just because of the recession in Europe—they will reassert themselves. That is why we need a referendum. The Labour party could have helped us to deliver one, but it will not. So probably we will not get one, even though I will vote for it. Perhaps the House of Lords will, too.

If there is an argument for a referendum on the Maastricht treaty, there will be an even more powerful argument for a referendum on the single currency, because that would be the ultimate and irrevocable step that would take Britain into a federal united states of Europe. That federalist ambition still exists. I am disappointed that the Government have not perceived that this was an opportunity to get the endorsement of the British people for their decision, one way or the other. That would have been to their credit. It would have helped this Parliament politically, and above all it would have been right.

Mr. Bryan Gould (Dagenham)

I am glad that new clause 49 has been selected for debate and Division. That assures us that the Committee will at least have the opportunity to vote on this important issue—a chance which was in doubt for some time.

Many of those present have spent long hours in the Committee debating the important issues surrounding the treaty of Maastricht, not just because we wish to inform ourselves of the arguments but because we sought to use the Chamber for its traditional and proper purpose: as a sounding board from which the great issues could be taken out of public debate in the country at large.

Notwithstanding the efforts we have made and the hours we have spent, however, we have been at best only partly successful. I believe that the British people are still only dimly aware of some of the issues that we in the Committee have rightly concluded are of great importance.

That partial failure has not come about by accident. It has arisen because some of our leading politicians have tried to ensure that the issues are not publicly debated. They tried to ensure that at the time of the general election. They have now tried to ensure it, with the aid of other parties, by holding debates such as this important one very late at night. They have then tried to be satisfied, unfortunately with the co-operation of many members of the press, that those journalists will have gone home by the time many of the important issues are debated.

These leading politicians have peddled the idea—we heard the Foreign Secretary at it again today—that nothing of great importance is happening, that these are minor incremental changes that follow on inexorably from what has been decided. No one, they say, should get worked up about them. Behind it all there is the constant refrain, the constant briefing of the press, the constant undermining of those who believe these issues to be important, to the effect that these are arcane issues of interest only to obsessives and fanatics. We are given to understand—how often we have heard this point made —that these matters are taking up time that would be better spent on more important subjects. That is the context in which we as Members of Parliament have tried to deal with these important issues.

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman, in his reasonable tone of voice, is talking nonsense. These are crucially important issues and they are being discussed where they ought to be discussed. At the general election, I tried over and over again, as perhaps other right hon. and hon. Members did, too, to talk about these things. I did talk about them, but they were not considered of great moment by the press, presumably because there was no great battle between the parties. But the effort was made, certainly by me and by the Prime Minister, to bring these matters to the fore.

We come to the debate. It is bizarre of the hon. Gentleman to say that we are holding the debate out of prime time because of some conspiracy by the Government. The authors of that discomfiture are much closer to the hon. Gentleman than I am. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and his hon. Friends are largely responsible for that accident, if it is an accident. It has nothing to do with us.

I have taken part in only one or two of the debates on the Bill, but I have read the others. The quality of debate has been much higher than the reports of those debates suggest. The debates on subsidiarity and common foreign and security policy—to name the ones in which I took part —have been of high quality. Parliament has been doing its job. There has been no conspiracy of silence. The press has been more interested in the manoeuvres and comings and goings, but the hon. Gentleman must acquit the Government of any attempt to conceal the issues or deny that they are important. They are very important, and this is the place where they should be decided.

Mr. Gould

The Foreign Secretary may have spoken in his intervention for longer than I have managed in my speech. I was prepared to let him go on because it was interesting and heartening to have what I took to be his assurance that a vote on this central issue will not be conducted after 10 pm. Notwithstanding the length of his earlier intervention, I invite the Foreign Secretary to rise again to give the assurance that no attempt will be made to move the business motion at 10 o'clock. Will he give us that assurance?

Mr. Hurd

Certainly not; it does not follow in any way from what I said.

Mr. Gould

The Foreign Secretary concedes immediately my point that these matters are being debated and decided late at night when virtually no one, with one or two honourable exceptions, is present in the Press Gallery.

Following the painful admission that we have not succeeded in getting these issues into the public domain, let me say something more hopeful. Despite that, somehow, in a way which should give us confidence in our democracy, the people have got wind of the fact that something is amiss. The Foreign Secretary confirmed again that because there was no battle between the parties —he meant the Front Benches—the issue was not discussed during the election. He conceded as much in his intervention. Despite that, the people know that something is wrong.

The people have shown that they understand that the treaty of Maastricht is important and that it would be an outrage for a decision to be taken on it without their being asked their opinion. That is the meaning of the opinion polls, the 73 per cent. and the vote by the Scottish TUC today. That is the meaning of every expression of opinion that I have had the privilege of encountering. I speculate whether any hon. Member can point to an expression of opinion which supports the Maastricht treaty and denies the case for a referendum.

Mr. Salmond

The hon. Gentleman will have heard the Labour Front Bench accuse me of offering a false perspective in the amendment which we have tabled to his new clause 49. With his experience of Parliament, he will know that that is not the case, because the procedure is that if his new clause is carried, the Chairman of Ways and Means will decide whether to call the amendment. Whether that amendment is called and regardless of the result, there would be a further vote on the new clause to decide whether to incorporate it in the Bill. Therefore, those of us who believe in the social chapter in no way depend on the good will of people who do not to force it into the referendum amendment. If that is the reasoning of Labour Front-Bench speakers, they are on weak ground.

Mr. Gould

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is exactly right. If the Committee supports the new clause, I hope that it will support the amendment, because that would meet the stated objectives of my Front-Bench spokesmen.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

Before my hon. Friend leaves the issue of the test of opinion, will he comment on today's extraordinarily important decision by the Scottish TUC in Glasgow? Labour Front-Bench spokesmen made much of the Labour conference decision taken seven months ago or more on an emergency resolution after half an hour's debate and only eight speakers. Not a single constituency Labour party or trade union had discussed the matter before casting their votes. Today in Glasgow the Amalgamated Engineering Union, which is no revolutionary band, the Transport and General Workers Union, the National Union of Public Employees and the National and Local Government Officers Association, and union after union led by their general secretaries, presidents and national executives—because, as my hon. Friend knows, those votes are cast not by some Scottish adjunct of the trade union movement but by the very centre of power in those unions—cast their votes. Does my hon. Friend agree that that marks a seismic shift in the Labour movement's opinion on the subject?

Mr. Gould

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's powerful point. It simply confirms what many of us have argued on many occasions—that decisions taken even seven, nine or 12 months ago simply cannot be said to hold for ever. That is certainly true of the decisions taken in the Labour movement.

I invite hon. Members to consider another expression of public opinion. I doubt whether there is a single hon. Member who has not found in his or her mailbag over recent weeks and months a rising tide of concern expressed in letters from constituents. They ask, "What is the Maastricht treaty about? Will it really deny us our democratic rights of self government? Should we not have a referendum?" Those are important expressions of opinion and few hon. Members will have failed to notice that that is what their constituents are saying.

Mr. Budgen

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the events of 16 September also completely changed the debate? The ERM was meant to be the necessary preliminary to a single currency. The British people cannot be expected all the time to consider arcane arguments about the difference between fixed and floating exchange rates. However, on a pragmatic basis, they are surely entitled to say, "The Government's whole economic policy burst apart on 16 September. It is based upon our implementing the Maastricht treaty. Are we not entitled to think again?"

Mr. Gould

The hon. Gentleman is right. In addition to events on 16 September, there was also the Danish referendum on, I think, 6 June. Many events in the past year or so have demonstrated that the Maastricht treaty is a document from another age, that it was drawn up for a quite different Europe and that it was the concept, the brain-child, of an elitist group of politicians who had their own private view of what Europe's future might be and did not bother to ask anybody else whether that view was shared.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, apart from the wonderful initiative by the Scottish TUC and by our constituents, there was a similar wonderful initiative within the Conservative party? Does he know that the national conference of young Conservatives, which was held in Southend-on-Sea, overwhelmingly rejected a motion supporting the Maastricht treaty?

Mr. Gould

I am glad to have that piece of intelligence as well, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I rate it slightly lower in order of importance than the decision by the Scottish TUC.

What sort of resistance is put up by those who oppose a referendum to the popular pressure that is now manifesting itself? What arguments are used by these upholders of our constitution and our democracy?

The first argument, which is hardly to be found on the lips of any true democrat, is that the Maastricht treaty raises issues that are too difficult for the British people to comprehend. That is not only anti-democratic but peculiarly offensive to the British people. What reason is there to suppose that they are any more stupid than the French, the Danes or the Irish?

9.15 pm

Then there is the refinement of that argument, which is that the British people do not know enough about the issues, and therefore it would be unfair to hold a referendum. Even some of those who are most concerned about the treaty have written to me to say that they are worried about a referendum because they are not certain that they understand the issues. Whose fault is that but the Government's? They held a general election and pushed through a Second Reading of the Bill without publishing the text of the treaty in English and they have still failed to publish a complete text of what is, in effect, our first major comprehensive written constitution.

If people are serious about trying to inform the British people about the issues, there is one certain way to guarantee that the issues will be brought out, debated and, at least to a reasonable degree, made familiar to the British people. It is to have a referendum. I have no doubt that, like many others, the Foreign Secretary, anxious as he was during the last general electition to ventilate the issues but failing, as even he would concede, would leap at the chance to express his views about the great advantages of the Maastricht treaty.

So far, our leading politicians have not been assiduous in taking the argument into the public domain. I read in today's press that the Prime Minister will speak at a series of public meetings on the issue. That will be a welcome first. I hope that those who are keen to develop the arguments—on a soapbox or otherwise—will support the case for a referendum.

There is then the argument, which is a little more subtle than those arguments that are so offensive to British democracy, and which I have seen expressed in letters to constituents and elsewhere, to the effect that these matters can safely be left to Parliament. That means, safely left to a Parliament that has been elected without considering in the process of that election whether the issues were important or should be supported, a Parliament where the Whips dictate the votes of most right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, a Parliament that regularly truncates debates after two or three hours, using closure motions, a Parliament that, with all respect to you, Mr. Morris, fails mysteriously and confusingly to find a way to enable itself to vote on one of the few meaningful issues, a Parliament where the Government have made it clear that, whatever the results of the votes on those important issues, they will ignore them and will go ahead to ratify the treaty whatever the outcome, a Parliament in which the Labour party Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen have tacitly agreed to ease the passage of the Bill.

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)


Mr. Gould

Perhaps not tacitly. Perhaps my hon. Friend objects to that word. I thought—I could have sworn—that I had heard in the House, in the Committee and in the parliamentary Labour party repeated statements from the leaders of my party that they would do nothing to frustrate the passage of the Bill. I have not so far used the word conspiracy and I understand why my right hon. and hon. Friends might be sensitive about the use of that term, but if one takes as a reasonable definition of "conspiracy" that it is an agreement that is tacit, perhaps unstated, to act in concert for nefarious purposes, we might be looking at a conspiracy.

Mr. George Robertson

Perhaps I should not rise so easily to the bait. I have not yet been a member of the national executive of the Labour party and I have not yet been, and may never be, a member of the shadow Cabinet, but my hon. Friend was a member of both those organisations up to the party's annual conference last year. He was there in those ruling bodies of the party as the party's policy on Europe evolved. He therefore had a much more instrumental role than many of us.

When we made it clear that we were not interested in wrecking the Maastricht treaty because our annual conference had laid down that policy last year, it should be understood that my hon. Friend was at that conference. We decided that we should use parliamentary means to secure the social chapter. In other words, we were intent on using Parliament for its primary purpose of ensuring that the issues were debated properly. Surely that must be a reasonable approach for someone who has occupied high positions in the party over many years. Surely it is reasonable and honourable and not a tacit admission of anything other than that we shall conduct the Labour party in the way in which the party has always been conducted.

Mr. Gould

My hon. Friend may be unduly sensitive. It seems that his intervention does nothing more than confirm my argument. Indeed, he goes further and rightly says that the position taken by those on the Opposition Front Bench is explicit and not tacit. The two Front Benches, deliberately or consciously, find themselves acting in concert. That is relevant to the argument that it is unnecessary or wrong to have a referendum because Parliament is able to decide the issue. Given that the two Front Benches are agreed and will Whip their respective followers, surely Parliament is not free to decide these issues in the way proposed.

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman is describing a parliamentary world of which I know nothing. I live in hope of change, but so far the Opposition Front Bench has been unfailingly difficult and obstructive.

Mr. Gould

I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench have managed to convey that impression. It is remarkable, however, that when there are Divisions that matter, even on Labour amendments, we, the Opposition, fail to embarrass the Government by defeating them and preventing them from ratifying the treaty.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Does my hon. Friend agree that while there is collective responsibility, in which he played a part, it is honourable that when someone can no longer discharge that corporate responsibility he makes his position clear, as my hon. Friend did at a meeting at Blackpool, when I was sitting next to him?

The relevant conference resolution did not endorse the Maastricht treaty. It described the terms, probably with accuracy, as the best available. It did not endorse acceptance of them. That is why my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench say that they will not support—they had every right to make this judgment—any amendment that would threaten the treaty. Against that background, are not the two Front Benches, despite the impression of the Foreign Secretary, much more at one on the issue than the public might think?

Mr. Gould

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. He has the position bang to rights.

I do not want to offend the Liberals because I gather that they support new clause 49—well, I hope that that is the case. The Liberals, however, also have their disreputable role to play, as do some other minority parties, in frustrating the ability of Parliament to deal properly with the issues that are before us. They, too, do their deals with the Government Front Bench. It is—[HoN. MEMBERS: "No."] There are denials. I am glad to know that, even if the Government were foolish enough to seek to suspend the 10 o'clock business motion, the Liberals would have nothing to do with that. I am sure that they will stick to their principles of open government and ensure that these important matters are debated before the full gaze of the British people as relayed to them by, now, a virtually empty Press Gallery.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; at least, I should feel grateful, because he deals with Liberal Democrats in a much more measured way than he deals with his own Front Bench.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the cause of parliamentary reform, which my party supports. We want to discuss serious issues at sensible times of day, in a sensible fashion, but current parliamentary procedure does not allow that. Let me add that—as I shall make clear if I am fortunate enough to be called to speak—I shall vote for a referendum. I find no difficulty in trying to aid the Bill's progress so that we can reach a decision about the referendum; I am only sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not been able to persuade his party to back the idea.

The arithmetic suggests that, if Labour, the Liberal Democrats and certain Conservatives backed it, we would have a referendum.

Mr. Gould

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, particularly for his support in regard to the referendum. I only hope that he will be able to put into practice his principles on the first point that he made. That test may well come at 10 pm; we shall watch carefully.

At the heart of the argument of those who oppose a referendum—I mean the serious argument; the rest has been marginal—is the proposition that it would be contrary, damaging and inimical to our constitution. The hon. Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) said enough about the precedents to demonstrate that that is nonsense. Those precedents have been coming thick and fast over recent years: we need only look at the writings of A. V. Dicey, the great apostle or high priest of parliamentary sovereignty. Even he argued in favour of referendums as the appropriate response to particular circumstances.

What are those circumstances? Is it not an irony that those who pray in aid the constitution are the very people who are most intent on subverting and damaging that constitution? In my view, not only is our constitution entirely compatible with a referendum on this issue; it demands such a referendum. Even the greatest supporter of parliamentary sovereignty—Dicey, perhaps—must concede, as a matter of logic, that however powerful Parliament is, certain rules have priority over those of Parliament.

Sir Terence Higgins

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gould

I am sorry; I am in the middle of an argument.

If Parliament did not have such rules, we could not know what Parliament is. Rules about Parliament's composition, identity, functions and procedures must logically have priority; for that reason, they cannot depend on Parliament itself, because Parliament preaches them.

What, then, is the authority that lies behind those rules? Let me use a term invented by the German jurist Hans Kelsen: in each society, state and political entity there is what he described as a Grundnorm—a basic norm. In any democracy worthy of the name, that basic norm must be the will of the people. It is the will of the people which defines and gives authority to Parliament. Parliament may purport to change the rules that define it—to change its mode of operation, and the processes of government and self-government—but it simply has not the authority to go back and change rules which, as I have said, are logically prior to Parliament. Only the will of the people can make such a fundamental change in the way in which we govern ourselves.

So far, what I have said is a matter of incontrovertible legal and constitutional theory. The real question that now arises is whether the Maastricht treaty poses an issue of such fundamental importance that to accept the change involved would be to redefine fundamentally both Parliament and the way in which we govern ourselves. The treaty of Maastricht is not, in my view, just an incremental change. It is a fully-fledged statement of a written constitution for a new state. It is not I who say so; it is the drafters of the treaty who proclaim that they hereby establish a European union, of which we are all to be citizens.

That union, if we examine it, has, as I said in an earlier debate, all the trappings of a state. It has its own head of state, chief executive, legislature, civil service, bank, foreign representation, defined boundaries and territories and its own economic, agricultural, industrial and trade policies. Above all, it has its own constitution and supreme constitutional court, which sees its function as being to interpret, develop and protect that constitution. We delude ourselves if we pretend otherwise. Even the term "federal" is inadequate to describe what is laid down in the treaty of Maastricht. It may be good, or it may be bad, but that is what it is.

9.30 pm

Let us take a particular example of a very important power of self-government—the power of a democratic electorate in this country to decide what should or should not be the economic policy applied by the Government of this country. Under the treaty of Maastricht, the most important powers over economic policy are ceded to a central bank which is told, in terms, to take no notice of any other institution, and certainly not of any elected Government. That change, of such importance and centrality, is, as so many hon. Members have said, meant to be irreversible. That is what the treaty says.

It is irreversible in the sense, contrary to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said an hour or so ago, that if the Labour party could persuade the British electorate at the next general election, once the treaty is in force, to elect a Labour Government committed to a different economic policy from that laid down by the European central bank, we should have to say to the electorate on the morning after that election, "We're very sorry, but we can't implement a different economic policy. That matter is beyond political debate and action within this country. It is now a matter for the European central bank." Unless we could persuade each of our 11 partners to change that policy in some respects, it would be beyond our unilateral action to change it.

What answer is given to that argument by those who oppose a referendum? Fundamentally, what I think they say, since they cannot, in the end, deny the black and white provisions of the treaty, is that it does not really matter, that these issues are of concern only to a lot of fuddy-duddies who are preoccupied with antiquated concepts such as sovereignty and who love the word "sovereignty" because it has a wonderful 19th century ring about it. It may be easy to sneer at the word "sovereignty", but it is not so easy to sneer at the words "democracy" and "self-government". Those are the issues, those are the words, those are the terms which are truly involved in this debate.

What an astonishment it is to discover that it is in this House of Commons, of all institutions, that the view is expressed that these are matters of little consequence and that it is in this House of Commons that there is such a fundamental misunderstanding of what these issues really mean. That is the view which is taken in a Parliament which, in its history, traditions and function, is the very symbol of our nationhood, the very mechanism by which we subject to democratic control the power of the Executive, and which is the very instrument by which we define that self which we talk of self-government.

Democracy is not just a matter of mechanisms, or of elections to this, that or the other body. Democracy is a form of self-government. To say, "Well, we can give up the powers of self-government which we exercise, because we shall have elections to a European Parliament" does not meet the point, if the self with which the British people identify is the British self rather than a European self.

Each of us, in our various ways, reaches this place in many cases as a result of great effort. We naturally feel very pleased with ourselves when we get here. It is a privilege to serve in the House of Commons. Merely to be here is a reward in itself, but getting here is not only a matter of self-congratulations, of taking the plaudits and enjoying the benefits. To come to the House is surely also to acknowledge and accept responsibilities, responsibilities not only to the Whips, to one's local paper or one's personal ambition but to what the House represents in our history and government.

If we, as elected politicians, fail to understand that, if we turn our backs on those responsibilities through complacency, arrogance or ignorance, or if we get the political process wrong, we leave the people no alternative: they will have to get it right. They are chilling words. When one looks around the world and sees the vast majority of people who do not enjoy the benefits of democratic self-government, which we now so carelessly propose to give away, and the lengths to which they are prepared to go to get it right, we learn that, at the very least, it can be a messy, confusing and unattractive process.

I hope that when the time comes to vote on new clause 49, enough people—I wish there were more here now—will recognise their responsibilities to this country, to this institution and to the people who elect us. That is the case for a referendum, and that is why we shall press new clause 49 to a Division.

Sir Terence Higgins

It is extraordinary and immensely sad that those who have been arguing hardest and at the greatest length that the Maastricht treaty and the Bill will reduce the power and influence of our Parliament are now resorting to the use of a device that I believe strikes far more fundamentally at the powers and responsibilities of this House in order to achieve their objective of defeating the Bill and preventing ratification of the treaty.

If we continue to add to the unfortunate precedents —referendums have not as yet been that numerous—we shall inevitably undermine our system of representative parliamentar democracy. I stress the word "representative". We all know of Edmund Burke's famous dictum that we are sent here as representatives, not delegates. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) who moved the new clause but who is no longer here was a little too fair to Edmund Burke who made the speech containing that dictum to the Bristol electors after he had just been elected, not before. At every election in which I have stood, I have strongly put forward that view. I stand for election to come to this place as a representative, not as a delegate.

The referendum is the exact antithesis of that concept. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills spoke as if the referendum rather than the system of representative democracy was the norm. That is quite untrue. I speak with a much passion as he did. I believe strongly that we must defend that representative system. I am not sent here as a computer—

Several hon. Members


Sir Terence Higgins

No, I shall not give way now. I may do so a little later.

I am not sent here as a computer to vote as I would if I knew what the majority of my constituents believed was right on a particular issue. We all have a far more difficult task than that. Our task is to listen to our constituents, to take into account the views that they express, to study matters, whatever they may be, as profoundly as we can, to listen to the debates in the Chamber, and then to vote as our constituents would vote if they had had all those advantages.

Mr. Budgen

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Sir Terence Higgins

I may give way later, but not now.

I believe that that is our fundamental task. It is immensely difficult. It is also important that we should vote not simply in the interests of our constituents in that sense, but in the interests of the country as a whole. One crucial difference between a system of representative democracy and a system of referendums is that minority interests can be taken into account in a representative democracy. In a real sense a system of referendums represents the dictatorship of the majority—that is important in terms of race or whatever other interest groups may be affected.

It is right that we should deal with the fundamental principle of referendums in the debate because if further precedent is set the principle of representative democracy will be undermined. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills is stuck with a piece of jargon—"Trust the people." Yes, of course it is important that we should trust our constituents, but our duty is to trust that they will express their views to us on how we should vote on an issue, but our decision is based not simply on numbers, but on the arguments. It is important that we should listen to our constituents, but then—

Mr. Budgen


Sir Terence Higgins

I have made it clear to my hon. Friend that I may give way later, but not now.

It is important that we take into account the arguments that our constituents put to us, and that we in turn advance the views that we may have, which might emanate from the House of Commons. That is a difficult and complex task that we must undertake. That is the sense in which we should trust the people.

The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), who was not prepared to give way—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I shall give way in a moment. The hon. Member for Dagenham said that it was arrogant to say that we shall take a view which may differ from that of our constituents, but in my view we must weigh their arguments. That is important if one is to be an effective Member of Parliament.

I have not heard many arguments from my constituents about the Maastricht treaty. The problem has been rather that I have had to explain the treaty to them. I have done so, at great length throughout the election campaign, at numerous public meetings. I have had a video made explaining the arguments, and so on—

Mr. Cash

I would like to see that.

Sir Terence Higgins

I shall be happy to lend my video to my hon. Friend. It is important that we have that to-and-fro strength of argument; that two-way flow of ideas.

A referendum is a totally crude and different way of approaching an issue. We would be playing a pure numbers game, without taking into account the importance of the various arguments. That is what I believe is the fundamental difference between our representative system of democracy and the principle of a referendum.

Mr. Budgen

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Sir Terence Higgins

In just one moment.

The crucial question would be: what question would be posed in the referendum? There would have to be a crude question and a crude answer. We could be asked the simple question, "Do you deplore Delors?" I must admit that on that question I should be inclined to vote yes, but the gut reaction would be at an appallingly superficial level. It would certainly not take into account any of the arguments that we have had over 29 sitting days in the Committee.

Mr. Budgen

I hope that my right hon. Friend will not think that I am being facetious. I have watched my right hon. Friend very closely for a decade and I know that he is a very distinguished right hon. Member of Parliament who has honourably followed his arguments about the representative nature of our role in this place.

9.45 pm

However, surely the only way in which we can represent our constituents and express our mature judgment in their interests is if the Government exercise a certain degree of goodwill and generosity towards their supporters. That is particularly important when both the Opposition and Government Front Benches agree on a very important constitutional measure. If there were simply a crude and aggressive attitude towards the Back Benchers on either side of the House who disagree, it would appear that the whole House agreed with the measure. At the present time, we have not the respect for individual judgment, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) referred, but simply crude, aggressive and authoritarian behaviour towards those who disagree.

Sir Terence Higgins

I have had the pleasure over the years of serving on various Committees with my hon. Friend and I am always concerned when he makes complimentary remarks about me. He is really saying that when hon. Members seek to fulfil the duty that I sought to outline a moment ago—

Mr. Budgen

They are prevented from doing that.

Sir Terence Higgins

My hon. Friend says that they are prevented from doing that. He really means that they are failing to carry out that duty.

Mr. Budgen

Some fail, some are prevented.

Sir Terence Higgins

It is no good saying that some are failing and some are prevented. Quite simply, my hon. Friend is arguing that the hon. Members who arc succumbing in the way that he has proposed—assuming that that is the reality of the position—are failing in their duty. I do not accept that that is true of hon. Members.

Mr. Spearing

The right hon. Gentleman may not be surprised to learn that I agree with a great deal of what he has said, particularly about referendums. The question in 1975 might have been, "Do you believe Harold Wilson when he says that no law can be passed without the consent of a British Minister and that the threat of EMU has disappeared—yes or no?"

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the ground rules of democracy, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) referred a few moments ago, have been broken successively in the following respects: first, we were taken in over "negotiate no more, no less"; secondly, Baroness Thatcher agreed to European political union and EMU on the basis of a previous so-called pledge without any mandate from this House; and the present Prime Minister claims a mandate on a treaty that he had not published before the general election. All three have broken the ground rules suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham and therefore some of us have nothing left but the device that the right hon. Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) criticises. However, at least it is a device that we can use.

Sir Terence Higgins

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman accepts that it is a device. Before I consider that device, I want to consider a point which, strangely, has not been mentioned in this debate, although it has been in other debates on referendums. I want to consider whether the referendum should be advisory or mandatory. In that respect, we run into some very difficult issues.

If the referendum is simply advisory, it is difficult to see how any new arguments could be advanced which we in this House have not, over many days, considered very carefully. If the referendum is mandatory, that would be a total betrayal of what we are sent here to do. We must consider whether the referendum must be advisory or mandatory and the hon. Member for Dagenham did not consider that point.

Mr. Gould

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Terence Higgins

No, I will not as the hon. Gentleman would not give way to me.

The most absurd way of proceeding would be to sit for 29 days in Committee—and no doubt for longer on Report and thereafter—so that we are all convinced of what the outcome should be one way or the other and then have a referendum which reversed that decision. Will we then come back to the House and say, "We have considered it all clearly; we made up our minds; we debated it at immense length; the referendum went the other way and we will reverse the decision which we, exercising our judgment in the House of Commons, reached in the traditional way"?

Sir Teddy Taylor


Sir Terence Higgins

If so, there is a big gulf between us as to our understanding of the democratic system in the House of Commons. I shall come to the point which was made a moment ago.

Mr. Barnes

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Terence Higgins

I will take up the point which was made in an intervention because I have not addressed it. I shall structure my remarks as best I can.

The hon. Member for Dagenham referred to the history of the matter and the way in which we have gone from the original decision that was taken in 1972 through the further decisions and the passing of the Single European Act to the present stage. Earlier, I said that the referendum process, which was used by the Labour Government purely for political expediency, set further in concrete the decision that was made than would have been the case if we had not had the referendum. Paradoxically, those who advocated a referendum at that time, who then lost, have suffered considerably and have reduced the degree of flexibility with regard to subsequent events. We must not make the same mistake.

I shall take up the point that was made about Dicey. The hon. Member for Dagenham must look at different editions of Dicey if he wants to get the conclusion. Neither the first edition of Dicey nor the last was in favour of a referendum. The only editions which were in favour of a referendum were those in which he, for reason of political expediency, had decided to advocate it. I had to study Dicey at Cambridge. It was an unbelievable bore. Dicey has been given too much weight.

Mr. Budgen

He made a living out of it.

Sir Terence Higgins

The former right hon. Member for Finchley was keen on quoting Dicey. In her famous speech —one might almost say notorious—at the time of the 1975 referendum debate, she referred to the various editions of Dicey. I had forgotten that. When she was sitting next to me just before she went to the other place, she said, "It is all in Dicey". I said, "But you have got the wrong edition". She had forgotten her original speech.

My point is that those who advocate referendums—the plural of referendum is referendums—typically do so when they have lost the argument.

Sir Teddy Taylor

How did my right hon. Friend vote?

Sir Terence Higgins

I take up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate), who put much stress on the Irish referendum. That example is somewhat different.

Sir Teddy Taylor

That is disgraceful.

Sir Terence Higgins

I think—[Interruption.] I am conscious of the fact that we are approaching the 10 o'clock motion. There is some distinction between—to use a piece of jargon—a plebescite and a referendum. On issues involving borders, there is a distinction. I have consistently voted against referendums, and I shall continue to do so.

Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe)

When my right hon. Friend referred to the question whether referendums—I agree with the plural—should be advisory or mandatory, is he aware that our hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), who is so much in favour of referendums—[HON. MEMBERS: "He is not."] I misunderstood him. He made it clear that he would not be bound by referendums. I am delighted to know that he will be in the right Lobby tonight, for a change.

Sir Terence Higgins

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) must speak for himself. As I understand it, he has always been strongly against referendums. I trust that he will be consistent.

Many hon. Members are inconsistent about referendums. [HON. MEMBERS: "So are you"] No, I have made a distinction on the Irish issue. That is a legitimate distinction. Except on that issue, I have consistently and will continue consistently to oppose referendums.

Back in 1975 the Labour Government, for reasons of expediency and divisions in the party, went ahead with a referendum, thereby creating a further dangerous precedent. The present Government should be congratulated on not going along with that approach. They have stuck to their guns on the issue. They have not been prepared to resort to a referendum to deal with any differences which may exist in the party.

If we examine the matter objectively, we see that there is a clear point of principle and that the House would be right to reject new clause 8. There has been some suggestion that even if the new clauses are defeated this evening, as I profoundly hope that they will, there might be more support for the idea of a referendum in the upper House. I am bound to say that it would be a dangerous action, when the elected House had rejected the idea of a referendum, for the other House to seek to reverse that decision. That would be the antithesis of what our system of representative democracy stands for. That is the basis on which I believe that all Members of Parliament have a duty to perform.

Mr. Salmond

I have every confident hope that I shall finish this speech in prime time tomorrow afternoon. I shall certainly vote against the 10 o'clock motion.

I rise to speak in strong support of new clause 49 and to advance some arguments why amendment (a) to that new clause on the social chapter should be properly considered by the House. The right hon. Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) argued that our view about referendums could be selective. He suggested that we could pick and choose what referendums we had. I believe that we must apply a consistent criterion when choosing issues on which referendums should be held. Surely that consistent criterion should be that referendums should be employed when major constitutional issues are at stake.

So the first question for us this evening is whether the Maastricht treaty is a major constitutional issue.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) clearly showed that there is a border between Scotland and England? Therefore, I imagine that he takes the view that, if there is to be a referendum on borders, that is one border which must certainly be considered.

Mr. Salmond

I have noticed that the hon. Gentleman has recently discovered an enthusiasm for the concept of Scottish popular sovereignty. He rightly said a few days ago that, in 1707, the Scottish Parliament moved into adjournment. His point was well made. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that I agree with him only rarely, and I hope that he will take my remarks as a genuine compliment.

My point about the consistency of referendums is that we must decide whether Maastricht is a major constitutional issue. I know that the Government have attempted from time to time to say that Maastricht is not such an issue and that nothing much is at stake. To paraphrase them, they say, "It is all right, chaps—everything is going to turn out all right." But most of us who look seriously at the content of the Bill and the treaty accept that major constitutional issues are obviously at stake in the Maastricht process.

Powers will be transferred to a central authority in the European Community, either now or in the foreseeable future. Many of us think that it a thoroughly good idea and are none too concerned about the dimunition of the powers of the House. But many other hon. Members think that it is a bad idea, and want jealously to protect what powers—real or imagined—the House possesses.

The point at issue in the debate is not whether the transfers of power are right or wrong, but whether the subject qualifies as one of the major constitutional issues that should properly be put to the people in a referendum.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

To follow on from the hon. Gentleman's argument, may I ask him why he thinks that there was not a referendum either on signing the treaty of Rome or on entering the single market?

Mr. Salmond

The argument has been advanced that perhaps there should have been, but there was a referendum on the European Community in 1975. There were referendums in Northern Ireland and Scotland—

It being Ten o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report progress.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business), That, at this day's sitting, the European Communities (Amendment) Bill may be proceded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]

The House divided: Ayes 309, Noes 280.

Division No. 244] [10 pm
Adley, Robert Browning, Mrs. Angela
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Aitken, Jonathan Burns, Simon
Alexander, Richard Burt, Alistair
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Butler, Peter
Alton, David Butterfill, John
Amess, David Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Ancram, Michael Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)
Arbuthnot, James Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Carrington, Matthew
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Carttiss, Michael
Ashby, David Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Churchill, Mr
Aspinwall, Jack Clappison, James
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Baker, Rt Hon K.(Mole Valley) Coe, Sebastian
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Colvin, Michael
Baldry, Tony Congdon, David
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Conway, Derek
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Bates, Michael Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Batiste, Spencer Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Cormack, Patrick
Bellingham, Henry Couchman, James
Beresford, Sir Paul Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Blackburn, Dr John G. Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Booth, Hartley Dafis, Cynog
Boswell, Tim Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Day, Stephen
Bowden, Andrew Deva, Nirj Joseph
Bowis, John Devlin, Tim
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Dickens, Geoffrey
Brandreth, Gyles Dorrell, Stephen
Brazier, Julian Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Dover, Den
Brown, M.(Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Duncan, Alan
Dunn, Bob Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Durant, Sir Anthony Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dykes, Hugh Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C&S)
Eggar, Tim Key, Robert
Elletson, Harold Kilfedder, Sir James
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter King, Rt Hon Tom
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Kirkwood, Archy
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Evennett, David Knox, David
Faber, David Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Fabricant, Michael Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Leigh, Edward
Fishburn. Dudley Lennox-Boyd, Mark
Forman, Nigel Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lidington, David
Forth, Eric Lightbown, David
Foster, Don (Bath) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Llwyd, Elfyn
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) Luff, Peter
Freeman, Roger Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
French, Douglas Lynne, Ms Liz
Fry, Peter MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Gale, Roger MacKay, Andrew
Gallie, Phil Maclean, David
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan Maclennan, Robert
Garnier, Edward McLoughlin, Patrick
Gillan, Cheryl Madel, David
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Maitland, Lady Olga
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Major, Rt Hon John
Gorst, John Malone, Gerald
Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW) Mans, Keith
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Marland, Paul
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Grylls, Sir Michael Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Mates, Michael
Hague, William Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom) Mellor, Rt Hon David
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Merchant, Piers
Hampson, Dr Keith Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Hannam, Sir John Milligan, Stephen
Hargreaves, Andrew Mills, Iain
Harris, David Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Haselhurst, Alan Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)
Hawkins, Nick Monro, Sir Hector
Hayes, Jerry Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Heald, Oliver Moss, Malcolm
Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward Nelson, Anthony
Heathcoat-Amory, David Neubert, Sir Michael
Hendry, Charles Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Nicholls, Patrick
Hicks, Robert Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L. Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Norris, Steve
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Horam, John Oppenheim, Phillip
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Ottaway, Richard
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Page, Richard
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Paice, James
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Patnick, Irvine
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Patten, Rt Hon John
Hughes Robert G.(Harrow W) Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Pawsey, James
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Pickles, Eric
Hunter, Andrew Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Jack, Michael Powell, William (Corby)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Rathbone, Tim
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Redwood, John
Johnston, Sir Russell Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Richards, Rod
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Riddick, Graham
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Robathan, Andrew
Jones, Robert B.(W Hertfdshr) Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Thurnham, Peter
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela Townsend, Cyril D.(Bexl'yh'th)
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Tracey, Richard
Sackville, Tom Tredinnick, David
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim Trend, Michael
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Trotter, Neville
Shaw, David (Dover) Twinn, Dr Ian
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Tyler, Paul
Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Viggers, Peter
Shersby, Michael Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Sims, Roger Walden, George
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Wallace, James
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Waller, Gary
Soames, Nicholas Ward, John
Speed, Sir Keith Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Spencer, Sir Derek Waterson, Nigel
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset) Watts, John
Spink, Dr Robert Wells, Bowen
Spring, Richard Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Sproat, Iain Whitney, Ray
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch) Whittingdale, John
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Widdecombe, Ann
Steel, Rt Hon Sir David Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Steen, Anthony Wigley, Dafydd
Stephen, Michael Willetts, David
Stern, Michael Wilshire, David
Stewart, Allan Wolfson, Mark
Streeter, Gary Wood, Timothy
Sumberg, David Yeo, Tim
Sykes, John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, John M.(Solihull) Tellers for the Ayes:
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Mr. Sydney Chapman and
Temple-Morris, Peter Mr. Timothy Kirkhope.
Thomason, Roy
Abbott, Ms Diane Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Adams, Mrs Irene Canavan, Dennis
Ainger, Nick Cann, Jamie
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Cash, William
Allen, Graham Chisholm, Malcolm
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Clapham, Michael
Austin-Walker, John Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Barnes, Harry Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Barron, Kevin Clelland, David
Battle, John Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Bayley, Hugh Coffey, Ann
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Cohen, Harry
Beggs, Roy Connarty, Michael
Bell, Stuart Corbett, Robin
Bendall, Vivian Corbyn, Jeremy
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Corston, Ms Jean
Bennett, Andrew F. Cousins, Jim
Benton, Joe Cox, Tom
Bermingham, Gerald Cran, James
Berry, Dr. Roger Cryer, Bob
Biffen, Rt Hon John Cummings, John
Blair, Tony Cunliffe, Lawrence
Blunkett, David Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Boateng, Paul Dalyell, Tam
Boyce, Jimmy Darling, Alistair
Boyes, Roland Davidson, Ian
Bradley, Keith Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Brown, N.(N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Budgen, Nicholas Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Burden, Richard Denham, John
Butcher, John Dewar, Donald
Byers, Stephen Dixon, Don
Caborn, Richard Dobson, Frank
Callaghan, Jim Donohoe, Brian H.
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Dowd, Jim
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Duncan-Smith, Iain
Dunnachie, Jimmy McCartney, Ian
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Macdonald, Calum
Eagle, Ms Angela McFall, John
Eastham, Ken McKelvey, William
Enright, Derek Mackinlay, Andrew
Etherington, Bill McLeish, Henry
Evans, John (St Helens N) McMaster, Gordon
Ewing, Mrs Margaret McNamara, Kevin
Fatchett, Derek McWilliam, John
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Madden, Max
Fisher, Mark Mahon, Alice
Flynn, Paul Marek, Dr John
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Marlow, Tony
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Foulkes, George Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Fraser, John Martin, Michael J.(Springburn)
Fyfe, Maria Martlew, Eric
Galbraith, Sam Maxton, John
Galloway, George Meacher, Michael
Gardiner, Sir George Meale, Alan
Garrett, John Michael, Alun
George, Bruce Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Gerrard, Neil Milburn, Alan
Gill, Christopher Miller, Andrew
Godsitf, Roger Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Golding, Mrs Llin Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Moonie, Dr Lewis
Gould, Bryan Morgan, Rhodri
Graham, Thomas Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Mowlam, Marjorie
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Mudie, George
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Mullin, Chris
Gunnell, John Murphy, Paul
Hain, Peter Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Hanson, David O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Hardy, Peter O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Harman, Ms Harriet O'Hara, Edward
Harvey, Nick Olner, William
Henderson, Doug O'Neill, Martin
Heppell, John Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Parry, Robert
Hinchliffe, David Pendry, Tom
Hoey, Kate Pickthall, Colin
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) Pike, Peter L.
Home Robertson, John Pope, Greg
Hood, Jimmy Porter, David (Waveney)
Hoon, Geoffrey Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Prescott, John
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Primarolo, Dawn
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Purchase, Ken
Hutton, John Quin, Ms Joyce
Ingram, Adam Radice, Giles
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Randall, Stuart
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) Raynsford, Nick
Jamieson, David Redmond, Martin
Janner, Greville Reid, Dr John
Jessel, Toby Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Jowell, Tessa Rogers, Allan
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Rooker, Jeff
Keen, Alan Rooney, Terry
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Khabra, Piara S. Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Kilfoyle, Peter Rowlands, Ted
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn) Salmond, Alex
Knapman, Roger Sedgemore, Brian
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Sheerman, Barry
Legg, Barry Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Leighton, Ron Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Lewis, Terry Short, Clare
Livingstone, Ken Simpson, Alan
Lord, Michael Skeet, Sir Trevor
Loyden, Eddie Skinner, Dennis
McAllion, John Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
McAvoy, Thomas Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Walley, Joan
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S) Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Soley, Clive Wareing, Robert N
Spearing, Nigel Watson, Mike
Spellar, John Welsh, Andrew
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Wicks, Malcolm
Steinberg, Gerry Wilkinson, John
Stevenson, George Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Stott, Roger Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Strang, Dr. Gavin Wilson, Brian
Straw, Jack Winnick, David
Sweeney, Walter Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Tapsell, Sir Peter Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Taylor, Rt Hon John D.(Strgfd) Wise, Audrey
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E) Worthington, Tony
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck) Wray, Jimmy
Tipping, Paddy Wright, Dr Tony
Trimble, David Young, David (Bolton SE)
Turner, Dennis
Vaz, Keith Tellers for the Noes:
Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N) Mr. Eric Illsley and Mr. Jon Owen Jones.
Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold

Question accordingly agreed to.

Again considered in Committee.

Question again proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Salmond

I can only take that vote as a vote of confidence in my speech. Clearly, hon. Members wanted to hear a great deal more, and could not wait until tomorrow for it. There are some advantages in having one's speech interrupted by the 10 o'clock motion, not least because one can hear the football results, albeit the result of the European Champions cup match was disappointing. [HON. MEMBERS: "What was the score?"] Unfortunately, Glasgow Rangers are out of the competition.[Interruption.]

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. Would hon. Members leaving the Chamber please do so quietly?

Mr. Salmond

I am sure, Mr. Lofthouse, that you will have interpreted the result of that match as a European issue, and agree that it is quite legitimate to mention it.[Interruption.]

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I am having great difficulty in hearing the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Salmond

I notice that, when I speak about football scores, hon. Members hang on my every word. I understand that Rangers narrowly failed to qualify for the final of the European Champions cup.

On new clause 49, I had developed the argument that Maastricht was a major constitutional issue which, regardless of what hon. Members believe about the issue, could properly be regarded as major enough to be put to the people in a referendum. However, there are other specific arguments, because it must be clear that we have reached, to use a fashionable word, gridlock on several keys aspects of the Bill.

We are gridlocked because some hon. Members are pro-Maastricht and the social chapter. That belief encompasses the Liberal Democrats and the majority of the Labour party. Some people are pro-Maastricht but against the social chapter. That is the official view of the Conservatives. Some Labour Back Benchers are pro the social chapter but against the Maastricht treaty, and some people are against both.

That gridlocked combination of forces means that we are guaranteed no meaningful parliamentary vote on the critical subject of the social chapter. Therefore, the social chapter should also be put to the people in a consultative referendum. That is why my hon. Friends and I have tabled amendment (a) to new clause 49. If rationale and logic have anything to do with the process of votes in the Committee, that should be an important development.

It has already been noted that the outcome of tonight's vote is in the hands of the Labour party. The arithmetic shows that, if Labour Members are united in voting for a referendum, the Government will lose the vote on new clause 49 by about 30 votes. Therefore, the matter is entirely in the hands of Labour's Front-Bench spokesmen.

Last Friday, 16 April, Labour's spokesman on Europe, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), wrote to me outlining his reasons for voting against a referendum on Maastricht. The letter states: The Labour Party has made it clear on a number of occasions that it will oppose a Refendum on Maastricht for one principal and very good reason. A Referendum would involve a Yes/No question on the Maastricht Treaty. The Maastricht Treaty provides for an opt out from the Social Chapter for the United Kingdom alone. A Yes/No question on the Maastricht Treaty would therefore not provide any opportunity for a reservation to be put forward in relation to the Social Chapter. That was the one principal and very good reason for Labour not wishing to support the new clause on a referendum.

I put it to those on the Labour Front Bench that the difficulty can be reasonably resolved if they support amendment (a). If that is the one, principal and very good reason for not supporting the referendum new clause, that difficulty can be resolved and, hopefully, there can be some reconsideration.

Earlier on in the debate, the right hon. Member for Copeland—I nearly said for Sellafield—(Dr. Cunningham) argued that this was not the appropriate way forward, because the Labour party would be trusting the anti-Maastricht Conservative forces to vote the social chapter amendment on to the new clause. That argument displays a surprising ignorance of the procedures of the House of Commons.

All of us are familiar with "Erskine May", because we have looked at it from time to time. It shows that the procedures of the House of Commons are quite simple. If new clause 49 were to be carried, the Chairman of Ways and Means would take a decision as to whether to call a Division on amendment (a). Whether or not that amendment were voted on, and whether or not that vote were in favour, there would be a further vote and a decision on whether to incorporate new clause 49, amended or unamended, into the body of the treaty.

The danger that the right hon. Member for Copeland foresaw—that the Opposition could be conned into voting for a referendum and then find that they would have a referendum with no reference to the social chapter—is not a real danger. On the second vote on new clause 49, they could simply switch position if there were not support elsewhere for the amendment to incorporate a second question into new clause 49 to cover the social chapter. The Opposition Front-Bench team have nothing to fear about proceeding to a positive vote for a referendum and putting us in the position of having the only real opportunity to make a decisive vote in favour of the social chapter that will be allowed to us.

On the same day that the hon. Member for Hamilton wrote to me explaining the Labour party's fears, I tabled amendment (a) in an attempt to solve that difficulty. However, in The Scotsman on Friday, I found that the hon. Member for Hamilton had decided that the amendments had no chance of being debated or accepted. We are debating them, and I am grateful that the Chairman of Ways and Means decides those matters and not the hon. Member for Hamilton. I hope that he will have a quick confab with his colleagues on the Front Bench and decide, in this new situation, whether the Labour party can support new clause 49, and then go on to vote for amendment (a), which would include a question on the social chapter in the referendum. Then, if we are let down by the anti-Maastricht Tories —I am sure that we would not be, given the expression of interest that I am seeing there—the Labour party can reverse its vote.

I was disappointed by another part of the article in The Scotsman. The hon. Member for Hamilton said that the SNP campaign for a referendum was "belated and last-minute". I find that surprising, because, between 2 October last year and 13 April this year, I have written no fewer than four times to the leader of the Labour party arguing the case for the referendum new clause. I have had no reply to my letters.

I can think of only one other issue in Scottish politics where the Leader of the Labour party—normally a courteous man—is as reticent. I will not develop the argument about local council affairs on Monklands district council. I find it surprising that, given that the leader of the Labour party has not answered four letters over that period, I can be told that this is a belated—

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

That is wrong.

Mr. Salmond

I have the four letters here, and I am willing to make them available in the Library, or to the hon. Gentleman. It is surprising that, having argued consistently over that period, I should be told that this is a belated and last-minute campaign. It most certainly is not.

I have reasonable hopes that the leader of the Labour party might be interested in the referendum new clause. It is not something that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has consistently opposed throughout his political career. On the contrary, he has been on record several times arguing in favour of the referendum as a legitimate device in constitutional politics.

For example, there is the "Bulletin of Scottish Politics" of spring 1981. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was being questioned on a Scottish referendum on devolution, when he said: I think another referendum (on devolution) is inevitable. Without one, there is no hope of getting any significant constitutional change through Parliament in a reasonable timescale. Also, given that we had to concede it once—albeit for tactical reasons—it would be difficult or impossible to refuse it on another occasion. I would add that this principle seems to apply in the case of the Common Market too. We have now definitely made referenda part of the constitutional equipment, and we have to stick by that.

10.30 pm
Sir Teddy Taylor

Even if the initiative taken by the Scottish National party was belated, pathetic and cynical, which some, rightly or wrongly, have said, will the hon. Gentleman make it abundantly clear to the occupants of the Opposition Front Bench and to all Opposition Back-Bench Members, and to their trade union friends with whom they are associated, that if they really wanted to they could secure their wonderful social chapter tonight?

Mr. Salmond

The hon. Gentleman's words speak for themselves. As I have said, the Labour party does not have to trust the hon. Gentleman to vote for the social chapter in the form of amendment (a) to the new clause. If he did not, and the amendment was not agreed to following a Division, the Opposition would have the backstop option of not pressing new clause 49 in a subsequent Division. The Labour party is in a no-lose position if it is prepared to vote for new clause 49.

We hope for conversion in the next couple of hours or so. I hope that all Labour Members who are being urged to go home by the Opposition Whips so that only the occupants of the Opposition Front Bench are present for the embarrassment later this evening will be called back now that new arguments are being advanced. We live in hope that the arguments will have some importance in our proceedings as they are developed. We may—who knows? —have a chance later in our proceedings to develop the arguments further. There may be more time for the hon. Member for Hamilton to change his mind.

Mr. George Robertson

Many months ago, the hon. Gentleman tabled new clause 48, which states: This Act shall not come into force until the House of Commons has expressed a view of the desirability of a referendum in each component nation of the United Kingdom with respect to the commencement of this Act. Last Thursday, the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) tabled an amendment to that new clause, in which he urged that there should be a specific question on the social chapter. How is it that, for about eight months, the new clause did not refer to the social chapter? It seems that the SNP has recently discovered the social chapter and is intent on making a greal deal of it. Its position has changed since Thursday.

Mr. Salmond

The hon. Gentleman should refer to his correspondence. On 16 April, he wrote to me and specified that there was one principal and very good reason for the Labour party not backing the referendum amendment or new clause. He believed, wrongly as it turned out—

Mr. Robertson

That is not the position.

Mr. Salmond

Presumably the hon. Gentleman has control over what he writes. He wrote that there was one principal and very good reason, but perhaps I was wrong to take him by such words. On 16 April, however, the hon. Gentleman—presumably he was speaking for the Labour party—identified his belief that it would not be possible to develop the social chapter argument as part of the referendum argument as the principal and very good reason for the Labour party not supporting the new clause on the referendum.

In our desire to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman, my hon. Friends and I amended our new clause on the referendum. He must know that last week I had no way of knowing—presumably he had not—which new clause on a referendum would be accepted, so I took the precaution of amending all five. We now know, of course, that No. 49 was accepted.[Interruption,] The hon. Member for Hamilton says, from a sedentary position, that there are other reasons for Labour's not being prepared to support the new clause on the referendum. It is a pity that he did not mention them to me last week, but never mind. Let us consider what some of those "other reasons" might be.

I have heard other Labour Members say that a party conference decision last year must be respected. I read the speech made at the conference by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman); I remember it well, as a speech that was judged in relation to the particular time at which it was made. It was a very good speech. In particular, the right hon. Gentleman argued that the Maastricht Bill had perhaps been fatally wounded by the Danish referendum. He said that there was no way of knowing whether it would return to the Floor of the House. He asked why the Labour party should split itself internally over something that might never arise. Unfortunately, that argument has been overtaken by events; the question has now arisen, and it cannot be dodged.

At that time, the right hon. Member for Gorton had no way of realising that a head-on, meaningful vote on the social chapter would not be allowed during the passage of the Maastricht Bill. That surprised many hon. Members, and could not have been foreseen at the time of the Labour party conference.

There is substantial evidence, with the benefit of the information that we now have, that there is a substantial change of mind among large sections of the Labour movement. Already, we have heard how the Scottish Trades Union Congress—composed of exactly the same unions that composed the Trades Union Congress, which also voted, or at least advised, against a referendum last year—today voted overwhelmingly in favour of a referendum on Maastricht. I was not present myself, but I suspect that the arguments in favour of a referendum were similar to the arguments that we should deploy tonight.

The STUC would be frustrated by parliamentary processes not allowing a vote on the social chapter. It would be well aware that, since the general election, the Scottish Labour party has developed a policy on the constitutional question in favour of a referendum in Scotland—in favour, moreover, of a referendum in Scotland with two questions on the paper: exactly the kind of referendum that my hon. Friends and I are suggesting.

Mr. Cash

No doubt one of the STUC's reasons for taking such a position is the fact that it has discovered articles such as that written by James Michie for the National Association of Local Government Officers about the effect that the Maastricht treaty and the proposals for economic and monetary union will have on unemployment. The referendum question is not just a theological or constitutional issue; it is about whether people will be able to keep their jobs. We only hope—and no doubt the hon. Gentleman will want to suggest—that the TUC and the United Kingdom take the same position, and that the coal miners do the same.

Mr. Salmond

I hope that other groups will do so as well. I should have thought, however, that the STUC would be far more influenced by the knowledge that the cause of Europe has been done few favours by our debates. I think that many STUC delegates would think that the argument for Europe would be far better deployed in the country, with more principle and conviction, than it is being deployed in the House of Commons.

The hon. Gentleman will also know of the deep-seated knowledge in Scotland, in particular, of the constitutional principle of popular sovereignty, which is at the heart of the Scottish tradition—although it is not necessarily always at the heart of the tradition in this place.

I think that the STUC will have realised today that the Scottish and European cause would be helped if the argument about the future of Europe were taken to the people of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I am certain that the delegates in Glasgow today hope for a change of mind on the part of Labour Front Benchers, which I—along with many other hon. Members—urge on them this evening. The STUC will be mindful of the importance of defeating the Government in an area that is absolutely central to their legislative programme, with all the consequences that might flow from such a defeat.

The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) came under pressure for suggesting that he believed that there was some conspiracy about the fact that we are debating such a vital subject at this time of night, with the vote pushed into the wee small hours of the morning. I subscribe to that view. There is something suspicious about this vital debate being timetabled in such a way as to ensure that we go into the Division Lobbies very late in the evening. Many people would prefer the vote to be in the dead of night, as opposed to the full light of day.

I suspect that many of those who sit on the Opposition Front Bench will soon prefer to forget about this evening's proceedings and about the vote that perhaps they will engage in later on. I warn those on the Opposition Front Bench that, although they may prefer to forget the dirty deeds that will be done later this evening, the Scottish National party will make sure that the people of Scotland neither forgive nor forget if they support the Government on this vote.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

I have been sitting here since the debate started. What is significant about it is the paucity of reasons why we should not have a referendum.

The speech of the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) was not so much a declaration of policy as a smokescreen to hide the Labour party's confusion over this issue. One of the reasons often given is that the general election was the time for decision and that that is why the Government have a mandate. However, not a single person during the election campaign ever discussed Maastricht with me; no one asked about it; nobody wanted to discuss in on the doorstep; nobody raised it at public meetings. Therefore, it seems to me to be something of a fraud to say that the general election campaign settled the Maastricht treaty issue.

Another point that has been put forward was referred to by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould). He intimated that it had been suggested that the public would not understand—that the issues were too complicated. My answer to that is that when we ask people to vote in a general election we ask for a pretty simple decision but what goes into the decision that they take can be very complicated indeed. Many people, for example, like so much of the Labour party's manifesto, so much of the Conservative party's manifesto, and even some of the Liberals'. They take those complicated issues and translate them into one decision. I see no reason why a referendum should not be subjected to exactly the same procedure.

Another point that has been raised is that Parliament has already decided and we do not need a referendum—the decision has already been taken. My view has been heavily influenced by my membership of the Council of Europe. I have discovered that there are two versions of the Maastricht treaty. There is the version that is sold in this country. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister sincerely believes in what he says and sincerely thinks that the promises he has made can be honoured, but when one talks to continental colleagues one hears about a totally different version.

Mr. Budgen

The Foreign Secretary has a wonderful way of dealing with this. He says that they have rather elaborate language, by which he means that we ought to disregard the language when it seems inconsistent with the gloss that the Government put on the treaty.

Mr. Fry

I am grateful for that intervention because I had the privilege of listening to Chancellor Kohl at the latest session of the Council of Europe. He received tremendous applause for claiming that the train to European unity was on the move. What worried me was that not only was the train on the move but he was the driver, and I suspect that he had put down the lines in advance so he knew exactly what the destination would be.

10.45 pm

It is important that the people of this country realise that, no matter how honest the Government's intent, the vast majority of the Community see things very differently and want to interpret the treaty in its exact form. They will not later accept arguments that this or that does not matter.

It is also argued that holding a referendum is not the British way. I respect the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins), but there have been referendums and we are now dealing with matters of great constitutional significance. I argue that the handing over of power under the treaty is more substantial than some of the reasons for having had referendums in the past.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

Is there not a fundamental difference between asking people whether they want pubs open on a Sunday or whether they want devolution, which is wholly within the Government's competence, and asking people to give a view on a package deal, a treaty which has been negotiated with our partners?

Mr. Fry

My response is exactly what I said earlier. Yes, it is a complicated issue, but let us not insult the intelligence of the British electorate. We are jolly glad when they elect us to this place, so it is right to give them the opportunity to express their views on such a complicated issue.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the attitude expressed by the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) is paternalistic and patronising? We are here because our constituents vote for us and we must represent them. At the end of the day, if we cannot trust the people of this country, who can we trust?

Mr. Fry

I entirely endorse my hon. Friend's sentiments.

Sir Roger Moate

Will my hon. Friend remind the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) that the Northern Ireland border poll was nothing to do with devolution within the United Kingdom and was more serious than the closing hours of pubs? Was it not wrong for the hon. Gentleman to draw that analogy? This is a matter of great constitutional importance and to treat it with contempt by comparing it with pub opening hours is foolish.

Mr. Fry

I am grateful for that information, which I hope that the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) has absorbed.

Perhaps the final reason for not having a referendum is the fear that the electorate might say no. Can the Foreign Secretary tell us whether it is the case that, despite the full power of the Government's publicity machine, despite the full support of members of the official Opposition Front Bench, the Liberal party, most of the media, the Confederation of British Industry and the great and the good, in three weeks the Government could not obtain a yes vote in a referendum? If they could not, I suggest that that is the best reason why we should not accept the treaty.

Of course, there are reasons why we should have a referendum. One of the main ones is that I have not heard any effective reason why we should not. However, as someone has already said this evening, the main argument must be that it would give the people of this country the opportunity to express their views. More particularly, it would mean that the people who argue passionately for and against would have to put their case to the country. The complaint of many constituents—that they do not understand—would be removed.

There is overwhelming evidence that a considerable majority of the electorate want a referendum and would feel cheated if they did not get one. There is a strong argument for explaining Maastricht so that people can discover what it will mean, instead of discovering the consequences when it is too late to do anything about it. It is true that some other countries have voted yes. The Irish voted yes because they believed that they would gain considerably from the distribution of EC funds. In some countries we would call that bribery and it is bribery with other people's money, with our money. I do not think that one could ever accuse the British people of being ungenerous, but I suggest that when we are lining up those whom we should support, those who are suffering in Somalia, Sudan and Bosnia come a long way ahead of the people of Greece, Portugal and Ireland.

Mr. Budgen

What about Italy?

Mr. Fry

I will deal with Italy in a moment.

The third reason why I believe that we should involve the British people in making the decision is that it makes good political sense. If the country accepts the Maastricht treaty—I believe that there would be a fair chance of that happening, after a strong campaign—at least the people will have accepted considerable responsibility for the decision. If it goes terribly wrong and becomes terribly unpopular, I can just see the politicians of the day falling over backwards to try to deny that they had anything to do with taking us into that monstrous organisation. At least if we brought the people into consideration they would share that responsibility. I should have thought that that was the right way to go forward into an uncertain future.

Far from being un-British, as some have suggested, the referendum would illustrate the depths of debate that there has been, and should be, in the country on the issue. One of the most disappointing aspects of the treaty has been the fact that most of our partners have failed to discuss the matter in great depth. The reason for that is not too difficult to find.

My contacts with continental politicians have led me to believe that, largely because of proportional representation, which makes their position dependent on their place in the lists prepared by their parties, they have an arrogance towards public opinion that no British politician could afford to share. That is why there has been no full debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) mentioned Italy, and it is significant that even Italy is now realising the errors of its ways and may turn towards our system of electing Members of Parliament.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

May I suggest one scenario to the hon. Gentleman? I support the referendum and I will vote for it tonight. But I have had tremendous difficulty in following the Maastricht debate, and I have received only one letter on the subject since it all began—and that told me to support the referendum.

The important factor is that I fully support the social chapter, and I sat here for two days waiting to speak in the debate on it, but was denied the chance to do so. If there were a referendum, the people of Scotland, and of Wales and of England, the working-class voters and the unemployed, would turn down the treaty if they did not get the right to include the social chapter. We must be sure that any referendum includes a reference to the social chapter.

Mr. Fry

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not ask me to comment on the literacy of his constituents in comparison with the literacy of mine, but I have certainly had considerably more than one letter about Maastricht. The best way to obtain the answers to the questions that the hon. Gentleman wants to ask is to have a referendum.

Mr. Salmond


Mr. Fry

Just a moment.

The most important argument is summed up in the answer to one question: have we in the House the right to give away substantial parts of our national sovereignty without the agreement of the British people? That is the fundamental question which every hon. Member must ask himself.

Mr. Cash

My hon. Friend could also ask whether, in aid of the parliamentary sovereignty to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) referred, we have the right to commit political suicide by handing over the whole system to the unaccountable, unelected central bankers, which will effectively prevent us from ever being able to reclaim the powers that the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), who led for the Opposition, claimed were irrevocable.

Mr. Fry

My hon. Friend makes the point that I was about to make. It seems that we are being asked to agree to an irrevocable treaty. However, I was always led to believe that each House of Commons, while respecting the decisions of its predecessors, is able to speak and decide for itself and make its own decisions—something which some critics of Parliament have called the tyranny of Parliament because of our power to make fundamental changes.

Mr. Salmond

The hon. Gentleman will have realised that the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham), in his own inimitable fashion, was simply allowing him to develop the argument that the way to get the referendum and the social chapter is to ask for a vote on the new clause, as my colleagues and I are proposing.

Mr Fry

If I were to respond in the way suggested by the hon. Gentleman, I would reduce my enthusiasm to vote for the referendum. Therefore, I will decline that invitation.

With this treaty, we are transferring more and more decision making and law making to an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels. The move to a single currency —we are committed at least to the first and second stages —will mean that the House will lose the fundamental control of taxation which I remind hon. Members was the main cause of the civil war of the 17th century. It goes to the fundamental duty of the House to control taxation and public expenditure.

I suggest that we have increasingly seen our traditional way of life being affected, even down to whether we can serve cream and jam teas at village fetes. The intervention in our way of life will increase unless we stop the nonsense emanating from Brussels. I am worried that, by our adhering to the terms of the treaty without gaining the consent of the British people, that interference can only increase.

Those of our countrymen who understand what is happening largely do not like it. At the very least, they are suspicious. If they are to be subjected to external rule, surely they have the right to be asked first.

Parliament is supposed to be the protector of our national liberties and freedoms. It is supposed to provide the legal framework within which our people live. That is why—this is very important—when the voice of the electorate has been heard at a general election, the electorate accept the changes of policy that are caused by a change of Government. That is why we are remarkably free of civil disobedience and riotous disturbances in this country.

We are a law-abiding nation because our people have trusted the law makers to act in the people's interest, not in the interests of the law makers. I accept that, in that, the Government are supposed to give a lead. The Government have to put forward policies. However, a wise Government do not live too far ahead or away from public agreement.

In exchange for what is effectively a social contract, our citizens have overwhelmingly supported our system of government. We have not had a serious revolution since 1745 and that was fairly bloodless. In exchange for that, the liberties and freedoms of the people being protected by Parliament, the people have been prepared in successive wars to risk their homes, fortunes and their lives for Queen and country.

Whether it was the thousands who were slaughtered in Flanders in the first world war, the few in the battle of Britain or those who went to free the Falklands, those men and women offered their lives in defence either of our freedom or, in the case of the Falklands, the right of people to decide their own future. That is the fundamental point.

In such circumstances, the people of this country allow us to exercise power on their behalf, knowing full well that they can get rid of us democratically at the next general election. I do not believe that they have given us in this Chamber any permanent right to do as we will with their liberties and freedoms. They have lent us this power on the understanding that he that giveth can taketh away if needs be. What worries me is that once we have given it away, we cannot take it back. Surely hon. Members should be asking themselves: can we vote to reduce foreign interference in or domination of our liberties and freedoms? Majority voting in the new system and handing power to the European Parliament and the Commission mean that we will simply be a smaller voice in a larger hole. The best that we can hope for is a series of muddy compromises. We do not get much muddier deals than those that are done in Brussels, considering the massive fraud of the common agricultural policy and, indeed, the extravagance of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

11 pm

How can we seriously keep faith with our people if we agree to the Maastricht treaty without giving them the opportunity to express their views? The right to vote was painfully won by the trade unionists, those who did not own property and the suffragettes. We do not have any right to reduce the value of what they painfully fought for over the years. Indeed, there is no point whatever in that struggle if we give away our sovereignty so easily.

The fundamental question is: who has the sovereign power? Is it the electorate, representing the nation, or the Houses of Parliament? I believe that Parliament expresses the power of the people on their behalf and speaks in their name, not in our name.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

My hon. Friend heard the sincere speech of our right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) about all hon. Members exercising—I think I have his phrase correct—their judgment on behalf of the people in the United Kingdom. I must ask my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) a question because, clearly, he is reaching the end of his speech. After what has happened. are we able to exercise our judgment? Has not the most despicable, deplorable and disgraceful pressure been brought to bear by the party establishment to force hon. Members to act against their better judgment, against what they have experienced and overwhelmingly against the interests of their electorates and voters? The House is not supposed to exercise its judgment on the individual experience of hon. Members. This whole matter is a fraud and a charade, and Parliament should be ashamed of itself. I hope that my hon. Friend will refer to this matter.

Mr. Fry

I hope that my hon. Friend does not expect me to respond in the same animated way as he made his intervention. I admire him for not voting for any amendments tabled by the Government on the treaty. Tonight, I will vote for the new clause which, I hope, will bring about a referendum.

Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)

Can the hon. Gentleman think of a better example of the operation of an independent-minded Member for Parliament than the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton)?

Mr. Fry

No, I cannot.

Sir Russell Johnston

According to the Government, he should be de-selected.

Mr. Fry

I cannot think of a better example. The other 649 hon. Members are perhaps not so independent for a variety of motives, including loyalty.[Interruption.] The intervention of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) has distracted me from my speech.

Unfortunately, it is probably true that in the not-too-distant future this ancient parliamentary building will become the council chamber for the north-west region of Europe. It should become the council chamber because there has been a gradual evolution in the thinking of the British people. In reality, the idea of a European state commends itself to the majority of people on these islands. But it should not be imposed on them. They should have the right to say that they would rather wait and retain the sovereignty that we have now.

As I said, hon. Members have to make up their minds. But I was not elected to the House to take part in such a scale of transfer of sovereignty as I believe that Maastricht will entail, and certainly not without the consent of the British people. The phrase "trust the people" was scoffed at by one hon. Member. I would rather turn it round the other way. If we cannot show that we trust the people, why should they trust us?

Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)

This has been a good debate and a full one. I have certainly enjoyed many of the speeches by hon. Members from various parties. It is entirely appropriate that we should discuss this fundamental issue not only in the context of Maastricht but for broader constitutional reasons. I believe that a referendum can be appropriate within the terms of our parliamentary democracy, depending on the issue that is to be decided.

The Maastricht treaty and its ratification is self-evidently an issue on which a referendum is appropriate. I am not of the view that a referendum would threaten our system of representative democracy to any significant extent. One of the problems with those who argue along those lines, as some have this evening, is that they assume that because we are elected to Parliament for terms of four or five years, we have the power to exercise judgment on behalf of our electorate on every issue which arises, even those which arise after a general election and those on which we may not have any opportunity to sound out opinion in our constituencies.

That brings me to a specific point about the debate on the referendum on the Maastricht treaty. It has been said before, but it bears repeating. There was no serious debate on Maastricht during the 1992 general election campaign or the period immediately before it. It could not have been the case. The treaty had not even been published in English by the time of the general election. So it could not have circulated or been discussed. It certainly was not discussed openly in the general election campaign.

It has also been said that all three major political parties came out in favour of ratification of the treaty. So anyone who wanted to express a different view was left with merely the possibility of abstention. That is hardly the way of advancing a representative democracy. So when we talk about representing people we have to be clear that we have a grasp of what their views are and what they think are the issues.

My impression from my constituency and from talking to other hon. Members here is that the general public in Britain have a poor understanding of what is in the treaty, what it stands for, and what its effects could be. We all share the blame for that. We should have taken the debate out into the constituencies. Some of us have done that. It has been difficult, but it has not been done to a great enough extent.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, after a three-week campaign in which the issues could be debated on television and there could be many public meetings, the British public would he much better informed?

Mr. Watson

Absolutely. I am convinced that they would be. I had the privilege of spending some three weeks in France last summer during the referendum campaign. Whatever one may say about how the issues became tied up with Mitterrand, economic policy and the decline of the socialist party, it was clear that the issues were put before the French people. The issues were debated every evening on television. There were public meetings in the smallest village halls.

People got involved in that campaign. Whether they voted for or against the common agricultural policy or Mitterrand, people were informed and were able to make their decision on the Maastricht treaty on the basis of the information and the effects that it would be likely to have. Although I personally happened to be disappointed with the outcome, the referendum was a clear plus for representative democracy in France. We could benefit from a similar exercise in the United Kingdom.

The question of threats to our representative democracy have to be tempered with considerations such as the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) mentioned a few minutes ago. He said that pressure had been put on hon. Members on all aspects of the Maastricht treaty. If individual Members could arrive at their own decisions, the argument that a referendum would be a threat to our democracy would carry more weight. Of course, that is not the case—many of them are not permitted to do so, particularly Government Members, but also Opposition Members.

Mr. Bill Walker

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is always courteous to me—he is my pair. Does he agree that one of the problems in Scotland is that we fight a constitutional battle at every election? The constitutional issue is constantly at the top of the Scottish agenda at election time. One of the dangers faced by Parliament is that, if we do not give the Scottish people an opportunity to express a view on whether or not they want Maastricht —which they did not have at the general election—it could have fundamental implications for the unity of the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman and I both know that the conduct of the official Labour party tonight will have considerable impact because the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and others will exploit it.

Mr. Watson

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman links the issue in Scotland to the constitutional position. I do not believe that the 1992 general election gave anything other than a clear expression of the views of the Scottish people and what they want constitutionally. However, their wishes were denied by the hon. Gentleman's colleagues in Government. Therefore, there is a clear case to be made for having a referendum in Scotland on the constitutional issue. My party and I are in favour of that, and as the hon. Gentleman is nodding vigorously I take it that he has now come round to that view, which I very much welcome.

On the aspects of representative democracy, I was interested in one comment made by the right hon. Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) who is not now present. He said that if we had a referendum campaign and put the arguments to the people, the decision would be made at an appalling superficial level. That argument makes two assumptions. The first is that the people of this country would gain no understanding from the referendum campaign, which is not true; they would undoubtedly get hold of the issues. The second assumption is that most hon. Members understand the treaty, its implications and why they have been voting as they have for the past four or five months. I believe that only a minority of hon. Members have anything other than a flimsy grasp of the issues. But we are suggesting that the people could not pick up the issues—they are more intelligent than hon. Members give them credit for. We are prepared to take the people's views once every five years, but not more frequently. A referendum campaign would undoubtedly serve the valuable function of informing people.

I am in favour of referendums on constitutional issues, and those held in this country have been on that basis. However, they have also—crucially—been about the transfer of power. That theme ran through the Northern Ireland referendum on the border issue in 1973, the membership of the European Community referendum in 1975—if anything was ever about the transfer of power, that referendum certainly was—and the Scottish and Welsh referendums which were about transferring power from Westminster to Scottish and Welsh Parliaments. It is also the issue dominating the Maastricht debate.

I am passionately pro-European, but am concerned about the Maastricht treaty, particularly economic convergence, which is why I shall not support the treaty's ratification. The treaty involves the transfer of power and the loss of power, certainly in terms of economic and monetary policies. I believe that such fundamental issues will adversely affect my constituents, which is why I oppose ratification of the treaty.

I am in favour of a referendum, which is a legitimate means of enhancing our democracy, not undermining it. I deplore the suggestion that those of us who support a referendum do so simply as a device to wreck the Maastricht treaty, which is not true. Hon. Members have stated their case today and some who are in favour of the treaty are also in favour of a referendum.

To make a purely party-political point, the Labour party changed its policy in the early 1970s to one of support for a referendum during the term of the Government led by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). The Labour party position changed prior to the 1974 general election, and the party entered the election advocating a referendum.

11.15 pm

The evidence is that it was a popular decision. People welcomed the opportunity of being consulted and having their opinions canvassed. As far as any polling evidence is available, the Labour party benefited and was successful in both the 1974 elections. It is popular with the people. Although they give us a certain amount of power as their representatives, people feel that they should have their say on crucial constitutional issues.

I should like to refer to an issue that has been discussed earlier this evening—the interesting decision by the Scottish Trades Union Congress to change its position in favour of a referendum. It should be stated that that was not the only motion discussed today. I shall read out the motion which established that position. It states: That this Congress appreciates the Constitutional importance of the Maastricht Treaty and therefore urges the Government to organise a referendum on the Treaty before a Parliamentary vote. Such a referendum should be the conclusion of a wide-ranging debate on the details of the Treaty and the further impact on the British and Scottish people. It is interesting in that it represents a change of position and reflects the mood of the times. In Scotland that would be in favour of a referendum on our constitutional settlement, so it would be inconsistent not to support a referendum on Maastricht.

The motion also has to be set in the context of the STUC policy on the Maastricht treaty. I shall read out a paragraph of a motion which states: Congress calls on the General Council to campaign against the terms of the Maastricht Treaty, to demand that the British Government immediately revokes its assent to the Treaty and to call for a referendum by which the British people can freely express their own will on this matter. That was an anti-Maastricht motion and it was overwhelmingly defeated this afternoon, shortly before the motion in favour of the referendum was carried.

The STUC is not in favour of a referendum because it is against the treaty; it is in favour of ratification of the treaty yet still sees the benefit of a referendum so that the people of the United Kingdom can have their say. That reflects the need for people to be consulted. The people put their trust in us and we should have the confidence to put our trust in them on such a fundamental issue.

Another matter that carries some weight was raised by the right hon. Member for Worthing. He said that we have already endorsed the Bill on Second Reading and it is likely to be further endorsed within this Parliament. He asked how that would sit with a decision of the people of the United Kingdom if they were to vote against it.

Those of us who advocate a referendum are not doing so simply because we want to see the treaty wrecked. I do not know what the outcome would be. Thinking back to the 1975 referendum, there was certainly great imbalance in the way in which the arguments were presented. The media came down on one side as did many of the resources which industry and political parties were able to command. I suspect that it would be little different if we were to have a referendum on Maastricht and that in itself may prove sufficient to sway the decision.

I do not know how it would turn out. I know how I would want it to turn out, but we cannot predict with any certainty because in many cases money brings power and influence and arguments become clearer if they are backed with sufficient resources.

I do not see why a referendum would cut across our parliamentary democracy. We make decisions here as Members of Parliament, but that does not stop us consulting people and saying, "This is what we think, what do you think?" If people say that they want something different, that does not necessarily mean mass resignations and the fall of the Government. We put our trust in the people and say, "This is our view, you can accept or reject it, but we shall let you decide". That is what democracy is about.

Mr. John Carlisle

I have made very little contribution to these debates over the past few weeks, but I have been watching and listening to what has been going on. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) on a most splendid speech. We expect of him the patriotism he showed, and it was appreciated by both sides of the Committee. During the past few weeks, some men and women here present have fought an historic battle against the biggest threat that the House has faced for many centuries. If we ratify this most awful treaty, our children and grandchildren will look back on the event in sorrow.

We all admit that this subject has not caught the public's imagination, as judged by the number of letters they write, although those of us who have shown our dissent from the treaty have probably received more correspondence than others. It has also been remarkable to see, over these weeks, how those who have attended and spoken in our debates have, almost to a man and woman, been those who oppose the treaty. Those who vigorously support it have been conspicuous by their absence: they have rarely been here, with one or two notable exceptions.

The trouble for the Government began when, after Second Reading, they took it for granted that all would be well. Having gained a massive majority last May on Second Reading, why did they not crack on with the Bill to ratify the treaty? The Prime Minister and Government told us that it was because the Government wanted to take stock and sound out opinions, and that there would be a paving debate in November when the House could express an opinion.

When that paving debate arrived, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) has described, the most disgraceful tactics were used to get people into the Lobby to support the Government. Right at the death, before the vote, some shoddy deals took place, across the Floor of the House as well as within our party. The tragedy of that evening was that the Government failed to realise that the warning shots that were fired, in a debate that would have no effect on the treaty, were expressions of real opinion. With the narrow margin of three votes, they decided to bully their way ahead and push the Bill through as fast as they could. That was a serious error of judgment, both by the Government and by the Prime Minister.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

Did not those shoddy deals include some by the Scottish National party, whose members are not even in the Chamber?

Mr. Carlisle

I have never been and am never likely to be privy to the deals made between the occupants of the Front Benches, and I have no intention of ever sitting on the Front Bench—not that any Government would have any intention of putting me there. But certainly, ii the rumours are to be believed, shoddy deals were struck., and a great many people should be ashamed of the way they behaved.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Although the Scottish nationalists did engage in a dreadful deal, they have tried to redeem themselves tonight by offering the Labour party the chance of getting its glorious social chapter if its members will vote for amendment (a) to new clause 49 tonight. If the Opposition really care about the social chapter—I do not believe they do; it is a load of rubbish—they can have it tonight, so should they not be grateful to the Scottish nationalists for giving them this glorious chance?

Mr. Carlisle

My hon. Friend rightly points out the divisions between the various opposition parties, but there are also divisions on our side. Many of us have been deeply hurt by the ministerial insults to which we have been subjected. During the summer, we were called naive and described as pigmies, yet all we were doing was reflecting the opinions of our constituents, and expressing, as is our right and duty, the fears felt by them and others.

It ill befits a Government to take it upon themselves to insult their own Back Benchers, and it ill befits Ministers to refuse to go to various constituencies. Indeed, at our annual central conference, it was wrong for the chairman of the party to pick on individuals and to mount a vicious campaign to encourage constituents to turn against their Members. I remind the chairman that it is my party as well as his. I am sorry that he is not here to hear what has been said.

Mr. Budgen

Will my hon. Friend note that our right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), who was a most distinguished former chairman of the party, has described the whole process as shameful?

Mr. Carlisle

Yes. It was interesting that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden), who originally indicated his dissent, then said that he would support what he called this wretched little Bill and in the end supported the Government. The whole saga has brought out the worst in the Conservative party. At times, many of us were ashamed to be members of it.

In the whole argument on the referendum, I cannot understand what everyone is so frightened about. Many hon. Members have said that we should trust the people, and that their opinion is worth having. As I told the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) during the Division at 10 o'clock, his speech was one of the most outstanding contributions that I have heard from the Opposition. He spoke much sense, in particular when he said that there was an arrogant feeling that the House always knows best and that the people do not know. As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) said, had we had a referendum, the information which people thirsted after would have been available.

Members of the Cabinet have admitted that they have not even read the treaty, yet they are pushing it through the House. Had there been a referendum early in the process, it would have provided a way out for the Government. They would have understood the deep-rooted feelings on this side of the House, which are expressed not just by those who have consistently, night after night, opposed the Government. To a certain extent, what sticks in our craw are those colleagues, many in ministerial office, who have gone through the Lobbies in support of the Government, as my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) said, with clothespegs on their noses, because they do not like the treaty. Many have said to me, "Thank heaven there are those of you who are opposing it."

That feeling is reflected outside the House. I respect the decision of those Ministers of the Crown, and I am glad that they are in government to reflect my view. Long may they stay there; but the day may come when they have to ask themselves why they stayed in office and did not follow their consciences, as the rest of us have done.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, I was originally against the idea of a referendum when it was suggested by Baroness Thatcher. I thought that it would undermine parliamentary democracy and all that I had stood for in my 14 years here. I do not say now that I want a referendum, since in some people's eyes it might be because we were staring defeat in the face.

This is the largest constitutional crisis to hit the House. Hon. Members have referred to how much things have changed since the treaty was signed. They may still change. The Danes have still to vote. The Germans are in the courts. The French have had an opinion poll since their referendum, with 60 to 70 per cent. saying that they wish they had voted against the treaty. So opinions have changed. The Government should have recognised that. To plough on willy-nilly, as they have done, totally disregarding the will of the people, is wrong.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I think that my hon. Friend is coming towards the end of his speech, but he has not yet directed his attention to one of the real failures of the debate. It is that, on most occasions, the Government, who are so keen on the treaty, have entirely failed to answer the debate. I have great respect for Ministers, but surely in such a debate, and especially in Committee, the Foreign Secretary, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Paymaster General or the Financial Secretary to the Treasury have a duty to Parliament and through it to the people to respond, so that, at the end of the debate, people will at least know the Government's position.

11.30 pm
Mr. Carlisle

I agree with my hon. Friend. In speeches that I have heard, Ministers have spent the whole time defending what they say is not in the treaty. They have spoken about so-called misinterpretation by my hon. Friends who have picked up, line by line and comma by comma, the implications of—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. Perhaps we could hear a little about the referendum.

Mr. Carlisle

I apologise, Mr. Lofthouse. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) diverted me.

During debate in Committee, and as the argument, albeit low key, has raged throughout the country, so opposition to the treaty has hardened. The number of hon. Members voting against amendments and not supporting various new clauses has been consistent or has increased.

I and some of my hon. Friends are a bit long in the tooth, but some younger hon. Members have been under great pressure. One would have thought that they would buckle, but opinion in this place and outside has remained consistent. About 73 per cent. of people want a referendum and would vote no, and that percentage has remained consistent for months. That is why it is remarkable that the Government have chosen not to have a referendum.

Those who are most keen on a referendum were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry). They are the older people who fought in the war. Hon. Members have had many discussions in the houses of those who fought for their countries and came through the last world war and other wars. Those people cannot understand how their beloved House of Commons and their representatives are selling them down the river.

Mr. Graham

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Carlisle

Yes, because I have a certain affection for the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Graham

As I have said, I am in favour of a referendum for many reasons, but I shall not go into them in an intervention. Plainly, if people in Britain saw the social chapter included in the treaty, the Government's reputation might be improved a bit. As long as the social chapter is not included, people will see the Government as hoodwinking them. I am sure that hon. Members remember the campaigning in the run-up to the referendum in the 1970s. We were told, "When we join the Common Market, we will have bigger pensions and more jobs and holidays. We will do really well." I remember that campaign on the streets of Govan and Linwood. We were about to enter a bonanza land. Now those Ministers are telling us, "That is not on. It is too costly."

Mr. Carlisle

I shall not be drawn on the social chapter. My affection for the hon. Gentleman may lessen, and in future I may buy him singles rather than doubles. However, I am grateful to him for his intervention.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) drew attention to one of the most helpful remarks in the debate. It was made by the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), who said that nothing was irrevocable. The right hon. Gentleman, who is not here to defend himself, has either not read the treaty or has not fully understood its implications. The tragedy of the whole process is that, once we pass the Bill and ratify the treaty, there is no going back even if decisions were wrong. A referendum would enable us to hold back and say, "No, we are not happy with the way things are." I fear that, in this case, it is not the British House of Commons. Governments cannot come back and overturn decisions. That power has gone, and gone for ever.

The second point concerns the myth that is put about —I regret to say, by some of my hon. Friends—that we should pass the Bill because the treaty will never happen. That is the most spurious and defeatist of arguments.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

And dishonest.

Mr. Carlisle

It is dishonest. If we work on the theory that we should pass legislation, or, in this case, ratify a treaty because we think that it will not in the end affect us, we are all wasting our time. Many hon. Members have used that theory as an excuse not to join us in opposing the treaty. The people must have, and should be given, the chance to express their opinion, which I know would reflect that held by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who oppose this wretched treaty.

Mr. Charles Kennedy

The speech of the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) showed yet again—it has been a feature of almost every speech from a Conservative Member, not just in tonight's debate but in almost every debate that we have had on any aspect of the Bill—the private horrors in the Conservative party, with pressure being put on Back Benchers, and all the rest of it. We appreciate that the Government must try to get their way, but the referendum issue has a distinct nature, quite separate from trying to change this or that part of the Bill, or to put in the social chapter rather than leave it out. Therefore, if there were one issue on which it would have made eminently good sense for the Government and, for that matter, the Labour party simply to have a free vote to find out the sentiment of the House, it was a referendum.

When my right hon. Friend the leader of the Liberal Democrats first mentioned his preference for a referendum some months ago, it was made clear then, and I make it clear now, that it causes us no difficulty that there are differences within the party. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston), who has been most active during the debates on the Bill, will assuredly vote against the new clause that is aimed at introducing a referendum. I have worked with him throughout the proceedings on the Bill, and I shall be voting for a referendum. That makes no difference, given that we share an identical view—that Maastricht should be ratified and built on along lines that would not find favour with any of the Euro-sceptics on either side of the House, as we should like Europe to go in a more federal direction. We feel that we can hold that view while having open and honest differences about whether the British people should be consulted on the Bill.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, with such an astonishing record of consistency, with such defence of fair and democractic principles, with such courage, the Liberals should be interested in having their peformance brought out in the prime-time debates rather than carrying the whole thing through at dead of night, as they conspired to do by voting with the Government on the 10 o'clock motion?

Mr. Kennedy

I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. We were anxious that today should be a clean debate on the referendum in prime time, and I regret that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) scuppered today's proceedings by tabling a motion attacking the Chairman of Ways and Means and taking up three hours of our time in a debate on that. If there are criticisms, they should be directed towards the right hon. Gentleman, not towards the Liberal Democrats.

Mr. Michael Spicer (Worcestershire, South)

I ask this question because I genuinely want information. The rumour around the tea rooms and corridors is that the Liberals are split on the issue. Is the hon. Gentleman carrying the whole of his party with him in what he is saying?

Mr. Kennedy

Given that intervention, I am beginning to feel some sympathy for Ministers who have been trying to get their message across to the furthest reaches of the Back Benches. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the record tomorrow, he will see that I began by saying that there should be a free vote, and that there are different views among Liberal Democrats. I cited the example of my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber who holds views on the referendum that are the opposite of mine.

Mr. Bill Walker

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kennedy

The night would not be complete without the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Walker

Does the hon. Gentleman wonder how hon. Members who represent Scotland and who regularly advocate referendums on matters affecting Scottish constitutional issues can tell their constituents that they could not support a referendum on the treaty? The hon. Gentleman approves of it—I do not—but he must recognise that it has massive constitutional implications. Does he think that it makes any sense for those hon. Members to tell their constituents that they will not support a call for a referendum on the treaty, when they constantly call for a referendum on Scotland?

Mr. Kennedy

That is somewhat off the point, but I am in favour of referendums on Scotland and on Maastricht. One could argue that the nature of the treaty, which involves other powers and other countries, albeit within the EC, means that a referendum on it would be of a different nature from one that would pertain only to our constitutional arrangements. I would not argue for such a distinction, but I appreciate that it could be made.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kennedy

Yes, but I must then make progress.

Mr. Winterton

I genuinely like the hon. Gentleman, although I disagree with his views. On this issue, however, we are as one in our support of a referendum on the treaty. Does he accept, however, that he was unfair on the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) when he said that that right hon. Gentleman had wasted more than three hours of our time? Tomorrow has also been allocated for further progress on the Bill, when we will merely debate issues on which both sides of the Committee appear to be united. Why should we proceed after 10 o'clock to debate a matter that could be debated tomorrow? If the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues had supported those of us who opposed the lifting of the 10 o'clock rule, perhaps we would have got what we all desired.

Mr. Kennedy

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his complimentary opening comments. We are not privy or party to what the hon. Gentleman's business managers and Whips decide about certain amendments. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) spoke about deals, but my party has not been party to any. We cannot plan on the basis of possible Government action; that is a matter for them.

It is clear from the debates that have taken place in the Chamber and outside throughout this whole drawn-out process that the social dimensions of the treaty remain profound and politically charged. Whether the Government are attempting to weave, take the sting out or avoid defeat tomorrow, it is important that the debates on those dimensions are rehearsed then, especially if one subscribes to the view held by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and many of his hon. Friends about the importance of our forum as the cockpit of the nation. Those debates should take place whether or not the Government have staged a tactical retreat in advance.

The precedent for a referendum on constitutional issues has been established in all four parts of the United Kingdom. Other countries have also held referendums in the course of ratifying Maastricht. I share the hostility that is expressed when we are told that the issues are too complex for the people to understand. That is an awful slippery slope and the thin end of the wedge. Our people have a good democratic track record based on constitutional history and I cannot believe that they would not understand the arguments if they were thrashed out in a referendum campaign, especially when the people of Denmark, Ireland and France were capable of doing so. When people say that it is all too complicated for the typical citizen and the average voter, that reveals more of the arrogance of those who make the assertion than the intelligence of the voters to whom the proposition is being put.

Mr. Donald Anderson

The answer is, as President Mitterrand said, that the people will answer the wrong question, not that the question is too complex. They will answer the wrong question because the response will reflect the view of the Government of the day. The French referendum was about the standing or otherwise of President Mitterrand, views on immigration and views on agriculture—issues which were all unrelated to the Maastricht treaty. I took part in the French referendum and I know that Maastricht played a small part in the decision of the French people. That is the danger of referendums, not the complexity of the issue.

11.45 pm
Mr. Kennedy

Any Member sitting on the Opposition Benches, irrespective of the party that he represents, probably thought just over a year ago, "The damned people of this country made the wrong decision." How inconvenient and troublesome it was for us, but in their wisdom that was the decision that they took. I revert to the thin-end-of-the-wedge argument: if anyone fears that the people will answer the wrong question, or answer the right question but not give the answer that is wanted, which is another way of putting the same thing, he is embarking on a dangerous road.

Sir Russell Johnston

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Kennedy

I shall happily give way to, perhaps, my former hon. Friend.

Sir Russell Johnston

My hon. Friend has suggested that those who are opposed to referendums might be arrogant. He referred to the referendum in Denmark and asked why there could not be one in the United Kingdom. Does he recall that it was established after the referendum in Denmark that about two weeks before it took place about 28 per cent. of the Danish population had never heard of Maastricht?

Mr. Kennedy

Those of us who have sat through the night over the past few months considering the Maastricht treaty might think that the 28 per cent. were blessed. I would say to my hon. Friend, or my party colleague, which is how I would describe him in this instance, that in the United Kingdom the arguments have been pretty well thrashed out when referendums have taken place in the past. The media—especially the television medium—have performed a valuable role in giving a considerable amount of coverage to referendums. I should like to think that the percentage of those in the United Kingdom who had not heard about Maastricht would be considerably smaller than in Denmark.

I must make that the last intervention because I want to—

Sir Terence Higgins

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kennedy

No, I will not give way to the right hon. Gentleman. I have given way to him already. I must move on.

Maastricht is a constitutional issue. I have much sympathy with the so-called Euro-sceptics as they have dissected the various aspects of the treaty. They have examined citizenship, the meaning of a European union, the provision of a central bank and the longer-term development of a single currency, which are all issues of massive constitutional import for the United Kingdom. It is the Government Front Bench that has bedevilled the entire process. There are those who have told the truth as they see it. They have expressed their views honestly and openly as they see them. I should like to think that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have done so. On many occasions we have been in the minority, but we have talked about the way in which we would like to see Europe develop.

I acknowledge that many of those who are dead against Maastricht, along with many other features of the European experiment or construction, have also spoken honestly. Unfortunately, the Government have not spoken out firmly and consistently for what they want from Maastricht. They have not set out their long-term vision because they have been trying to appeal to two irreconcilable audiences—those who are in the vanguard, as it were, of European development, who want to see Britain's future firmly enmeshed and integrated in the rest of Europe, and those who are not.

For as long as the House of Commons and the country generally suffer from that vacillation—the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary and their ministerial colleagues have been trying to square the circle —we shall not be able to say that we have distinguished ourselves with a sufficiently honest or open debate on an important treaty. That is one of the reasons—in regard to Maastricht itself—that lead me to believe that we should secure a more open and honest debate if that debate were thrashed out up and down the land.

I subscribe to some of the criticisms that we have heard tonight and on other occasions. It has been pointed out, for example, that we have had to sit late into the night; certainly we have used our votes to facilitate that, because we want the treaty to be ratified. I should like to think, however, that if a message has emerged from the way in which this extremely important matter has been handled by the House of Commons, it relates to the overwhelming case for reforming our own procedures.

It is high time that we started sitting in the mornings, sitting earlier and more constructively in the afternoons and using prime time in the sense that that is recognised by people outside—that is, normal working hours. The public should see major decisions being made—big votes being taken—early in the evening, perhaps after a day's debate. I should like to think that a referendum campaign could be broadened to cover more than Maastricht itself, and to deal with what the handling of the treaty has revealed about the mechanisms of the House of Commons.

There is, without doubt, a sense that the politicians are out of step with the electorates. We have seen that in the United States, with the phenomenon of Ross Perot's taking nearly 20 per cent. of the vote; we have seen it on the continent, where people are turning increasingly to right-wing leaders of a rather unpleasant variety. It may be the result of the recession; it may be because the political classes have been seen to be talking about Maastricht in what is all too often an exclusive way, not including the public. That is a dangerous position to get into in any individual democracy. It is particularly dangerous when we are trying to weld together a complicated European Community, leading on to a European union that is, itself, a hybrid or mosaic composed of a number of democracies with different traditions and attitudes.

I believe that a referendum at this stage would be a useful way of forcing all of us to go out and explain to our electorate, in as much detail as we can, what the treaty is about and our individual attitudes to it. We might find at the end of such an exercise that there was less distance between this place as an establishment and the country as a whole, and I believe that that would be healthy for democracy itself.

My final point has already been raised by the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). He said that, at the end of the day, he did not believe that a referendum would solve the issue, just as Harold Wilson's referendum in the mid-1970s on the renegotiated terms of the Common Market did not resolve that issue. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is right; I hope that a referendum would not resolve the issue. The whole point of a referendum is that—like a general election—it provides a snapshot of public opinion on a particular day. It does not show the whole film; it shows one frame out of the reel. In any democracy, the campaigns and debates of both sides will go on. They will not end when the ballot boxes have closed on a particular day of a particular month in a particular year. When the treaty has been ratified—as I hope that it will be—there will be another intergovernmental conference in 1996, and decisions will flow from that. There will be more heated arguments in the House.

Mr. Donald Anderson

There will be another referendum.

Mr. Kennedy

Whatever the Government of the day, if it comes to a proposal for a single currency, for instance, the House of Commons might well decide on a referendum. Why not? We, as democratically elected Members of Parliament, are obliged to renew our mandate every four or five years; equally, when the very basis of our parliamentary democracy is involved, I see no logical reason for us not to try to renew our mandate for Britain's continued involvement in Europe—and for the deepening of that involvement in a more federal direction, which I should like to see.

Although at times our proceedings have been neither neat nor elegant—we have not distinguished ourselves in our handling of the treaty so far—we can go a long way towards improving our reputation by putting the question to the people. I do not believe that we have anything to fear. Despite the strong sentiments expressed here and the reservations expressed outside, I am confident that a vigorous referendum campaign on the Maastricht treaty—which would oblige party leaders and others to line up, broadly speaking, in its favour—would produce a yes vote. That would lead to the authority of the House being strengthened and to the role of this country in Europe being strengthened, too.

Mr. Hurd

Tonight's argument is full of echoes from the past. It started many years ago. In 1972, Parliament passed the European Communities Act. Thus, 20 years ago Parliament enabled the Government of the day to ratify British accession to the treaty of Rome. We thereby then, in 1972, committed ourselves to the defined aim of that treaty—the ever closer union of peoples. We thereby then, in 1972, agreed a system of European lawmaking which we have practised ever since as members of the Community.

When I listen to and read the report of the debates in this Committee, I am struck over and over again—and yet again tonight—by the way in which criticism centres not so much on the treaty of Maastricht as on those two aspects of the treaty of accession. It centres not on the proposals of 1992 but on the decision of 1972. That came through very clearly when I listened to the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry).

When I put that point to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), he partially accepted it. It was in 1972 that the House faced, and resolved, this fundamental question of the relationship between its powers and British membership of the Community. As I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills when, in an eloquent and remarkable speech, he moved the new clause, the echoes were very clear. The arguments, almost the words, were those used by another eloquent and remarkable parliamentary orator, the former Member of Parliament for South Down. The echoes were unmistakable.

Mr. Benn

The point that the right hon. Gentleman makes confirms everything that we say: that in 1972 there was no popular consent. The argument was never presented to the public. The decision was imposed by the Government—whether he was a member of it I cannot remember—on the House of Commons against the wishes of the then Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman is right: the Government have never won public support for that transfer of power. Even in 1975 it was a bit too late, but even after the 1975 referendum there remains deep public hostility, because those who advocate a federal Europe have never had the guts to tell the public what it is really about.

Mr. Hurd

But the referendum that the right hon. Gentleman proposes would not alter that situation one whit. It would leave all the apparatus of the treaty of Rome, the treaty of accession, the 1972 Act and the Single European Act in place. That is exactly the point that I was beginning to make.

Three years later, in 1975, the Government who were then in power—the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) knows more about this than most of us—were divided on this issue and solved this critical internal problem by proposing a referendum. The Conservative party had to define its attitude. Its leaders knew that the motives of the Government of the day were not reputable. They were concerned to keep themselves in office, papering over this division over a central part of their policy.

If there were ever a case for holding a referendum on Europe, that case was stronger at the time of entry than it has ever been since, yet when the Conservative party in opposition in 1975 had to define its position it came out against a referendum, and it was right to do so. The reasons were spelt out on 11 March of that year by the leader of the party. It was her first major parliamentary speech as Leader of the Opposition. I joined almost all of my party, including many right hon. and hon. Friends here today, and went into the Lobby to vote against the holding of a referendum on our membership of the Community.

It is worth looking up that speech. It was a remarkable speech which took into account both sides of the argument. She pointed out that the 1975 referendum was not a principled constitutional innovation, as I have said. It was a device, but that did not dispose of the argument. There was a general constitutional argument which also had to be considered. She dwelt—and we need to dwell tonight—on the nature of our parliamentary tradition, and many hon. Members on both sides of the argument have done so.

12 midnight

I do not believe that our parliamentary tradition has failed, as has been suggested, to cope with the problem since 1972. With the Danes and the Folketing, we have the most highly developed system for the scrutiny of Community legislation. Our Prime Minister was the only leader to go to the Maastricht conference with a specific authority from his Parliament, which was then met in full.

It is worth running through the sequence of events to show how the parliamentary system has worked in this respect. On 20 and 21 November 1991, before my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister went to Maastricht, the House of Commons was asked to approve a motion endorsing his negotiating position and did so by a majority of 101. That was not necessary and probably not even usual before such a conference and negotiation. It was a precaution because my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was anxious at all stages to carry the House—the previous Parliament—with him.

On 18 and 19 December, immediately after Maastricht, the House of Commons was asked to approve the outcome of the negotiation and did so by a majority of 86. In May last year, after the election, the present Parliament was asked to grant a Second Reading to the Bill, necessary for the ratification of the treaty, and did so by a majority of 244.

This is not an idle or atrophied system. It is parliamentary democracy at work, complete with imperfections—I agree with the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy)—untidiness and arguments about procedure and when we should discuss this or that point. I do not give great weight to the argument that this was done blindfold because it took time to achieve and circulate an authentic full text of the treaty. Of course, it was not done blindfold. Parliament knew what was happening. Those who took part in the discussion at the general election knew what the treaty involved, and the blindfold argument does not stand up in real life.

Mr. Cash


Mr. Hurd

May I just pursue this sequence of events?

Of course there was not a clash between the parties—there was a difference of emphasis—but I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould). I do not like to toss around the word "arrogant", which has been tossed around, but his speech was a rather patronising lecture on the nature of parliamentary responsibilities. As I said when he was kind enough to give way, I reject entirely the suggestion that there was a conspiracy to keep the silence on this matter, either in the general election or beyond. Personally, I can testify how often I tried to include in that campaign the speeches and broadcasts on the subject—admittedly for party political reasons, as I wanted to bring out the nuances between the parties. However, it was not possible to do so because, from the media's point of view, it was not a great issue.

Mr. Cash

Does my right hon. Friend recall that he advocated a White Paper during the leadership election campaign? Will he explain why we had no White Paper? Since Second Reading and our withdrawal from the exchange rate mechanism, and in the light of the Danish referendum, how can we give the same credibility to the Second Reading that we might have done in May last year? Does he agree that the circumstances have changed radically, as result of which we deserve a referendum?

Mr. Hurd

We had a White Paper on events in the Community, but as I recall it was made particular by a foreword by the Prime Minister. Of course events move on. I accept what my hon. Friend says about that. There were the Danish referendum and the events of 16 September, but the treaty is the same treaty. I do not accept my hon. Friend's analysis of the ERM. There have been many discussions about that in the Committee. and I do not accept that what happened revolutionised the situation in the way that my hon. Friend described.

I make this point gently, but it is odd that those who would put most emphasis on the sovereignty of the House believe that it needs to be buttressed, to put it mildly—I would say that it would be weakened—by recourse to a referendum on the matter before us.

I share the opinion of those who think that if there were a campaign a referendum would endorse the treaty. I cannot prove it, but I think it likely that once the phantasms were effectively swept away, that would probably be the result. We certainly are not taking our present line because of fear of a negative result.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

I ask my right hon. Friend one question: does he believe that the majority of Conservative voters are in favour of the treaty on European union?

Mr. Hurd

I cannot prove it scientifically to my hon. Friend, but I believe that the answer is yes.

As Parliament is sovereign—

Mr. Budgen

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hurd

I shall get on a bit, and then I shall give way to my hon. Friend, as I believe that I always have done.

As Parliament is sovereign, it is clear that it could decide to hold a referendum, which it could either accept or reject. It could certainly choose, as it has before, to ask for advice from those who sent us here. But I return to the fact that we owe our constituents our judgment, and if we decline to exercise that judgment we are to some extent damaging the authority of Parliament.

Many people can be quoted on both sides of the argument. One of those is certainly Winston Churchill. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) referred to him. When the point came up in 1911 Churchill said: We believe in democracy, we believe in representative institutions, we believe in democracy acting through representative institutions … We believe Members of Parliament are representatives, not delegates. We believe that Governments are the guides as well as the servants of the Nation. I readily acknowledge that Churchill can also be quoted on the other side of the argument, but when he held the opposite view in 1945 the normal constitutional procedures were in suspense, as my hon. Friend would agree.

My right hon. Friend the Baroness Thatcher quoted Dicey in her speech in 1975, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) said, Dicey too, went through a flip-flop. He was against referendums in one edition and in favour of them in another, when he passionately opposed home rule. Then he reverted to wisdom in what I believe was his final edition, and he was against referendums again. One could now also quote my right hon. Friend the Baroness Thatcher on both sides of the argument, but it might be prudent to resist the temptation to do so.

Mr. Budgen

May I refer my right hon. Friend back to the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) asked him about the balance of opinion within the Conservative party? Judging by his own local party, does he agree that it is probable that about half the Conservative party in the country opposed the treaty? Yet out of a parliamentary party of 335 Members, only 26 oppose the treaty—between 8 and 9 per cent. Does that not show that, as a result of the pressures on the parliamentary party, we in that party do not even begin to represent the balance of opinion in the party outside?

Mr. Hurd

As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill)—and I am not sure whether my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) has buttressed the argument—there is no scientific measure.

Like the Labour party, the Conservative party has a party conference. We had a trot around this course at the last party conference. We had a very lively debate in which I and others had the privilege to take part. We had a vote at the end of that debate and the result was very satisfactory from my point of view. That was after the Danish referendum and after the events of 16 September. That was the Conservative party in full plenary conference, expressing its views very substantially and clearly on that particular issue. We do not have quite the same rigid views about our party conferences as the Labour party, but my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East is provoking me into making constitutional doctrine in this matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills was absolutely right. The 1975 referendum is not the only referendum that has been held. However, it is not fair to go on to argue, as my hon. Friend did, being a little economical with history, that the referendum has become a normal part of our constitutional practice.

The strongest point in the armoury of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills was the Northern Ireland border poll. I accept that. It is the only example of a referendum being put into practice by a Conservative Government. Others have been toyed with for different reasons by leaders of the Conservative party, but they were not actually activated. In that, as in many respects, Northern Ireland is unique in the politics of the kingdom.

An act of self-determination solely for the people of the Province was, and remains as it is still on the statute book, a reasonable technique.

I want now to consider the proposal for a referendum on this subject. We have contended throughout the debate that the treaty does not mark a fundamental constitutional shift. When we joined the European Community we joined a body with both an economic and a political dimension. If we read through the debates in 1972, through the literature of 1975 and through the document that the leader of my party sent to party activists during the 1975 campaign, the political and economic arguments for remaining in the Community are clear.

The doctrine of the primacy of Community law that lies at the heart of so many understandable criticisms about the nature of the Community is a doctrine of 1972, not of the treaty of Maastricht.

Mr. Donald Anderson

Is not that argument fortified by the 1975 referendum which surely cannot have been a decision on a Europe that was static and which would remain fossilised in the 1975 position? Inherent in that popular vote in 1975 was a vote for the dynamic Europe that would evolve.

Mr. Hurd

That is right. However, the hon. Gentleman's point begs the question of in which direction it should evolve and I will consider that in a minute.

The use of qualified majority voting is perhaps a test. It was not invented in the treaty of Maastricht. It is in the treaty of Rome. It received its greatest extension in the Single European Act. There was no referendum on that and precious little call for one.

The treaty of Maastricht adds to and, in some helpful ways, redefines and corrects the Single European Act and, I believe, is on the whole less constitutionally innovative than that Act. We have discussed subsidiarity and I will not repeat those arguments. Whether or not people believe that it is a weak or strong buttress, it is certainly an advance on the present position from the point of view of most hon. Members. That is an example of the point that I am trying to make.

Of course the treaty provides for the three stages of economic and monetary union. I deal with that point because many hon. Members have stressed it. In respect of the third stage of economic and monetary union, the only stage where compulsion comes into it, the Government have specifically and successfully reserved the decision for the House of Commons.

I will not go through all the details, but in other respects with regard to the treaty we have advanced our arguments and analyses. In the big new areas of European work, for the first time the principle of ever-closer union to which we have been committed since 1972 is defined in the treaty of Maastricht as co-operation between national Governments accountable to national Parliaments. It need not have been so. I mentioned that there was a Dutch draft in September which swept away that concept and put all European work under the court with the Commission having the monopoly initiative. We rejected that. The treaty that is before us is on a different basis.

12.15 am
Mr. Spearing

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the treaty of union requires the whole to be under a single institutional structure, even allowing for intergovernmental matters? Does he agree that the intergovernmental mode, of which he and the Prime Minister have made great play, will be inevitably interlarded in meetings of various Ministers, including the Foreign Secretary, in the general council? Therefore, the two in practice, as distinct from law, will become increasingly indistinguishable.

Mr. Hurd

The single framework of which the hon. Gentleman speaks includes intergovernmental cooperation. That co-operation was not included before: it was always the Community. The question was: how far should the Community's jurisdiction and activity extend? We now have a new structure under the Council of Ministers—the heads of state and Government—but not under the Commission. We have a different structure which includes, for the first time, the two new pillars. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is the difference.

The House has the right and the capacity under our system to approve the treaty if it decides to do so. Other countries have referendums. Nine member states have proceeded through the parliamentary process and three have proceeded through the referendum technique. Having listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough and others, there is one point that I must stress because it is a difference between now and 1975. The treaty of Maastricht is not a take it or leave it matter as far as the Government are concerned. It cannot be detached from the rest of the Government's programme. I do not know what Lord Wilson's Government would have done if the vote had been no. I do not know how on earth it would have managed to take out of its policies something which even then was clearly central. I do not know how it would have wrestled with that.

Ratification of the treaty lies at the heart of our national interest: it is not an optional extra. We have made that point in the House at the cost of some crtiticism and discomfort. Governments are elected to govern and, in this case, to propose, just as Parliaments in the United Kingdom are elected to decide and, indeed, to dispose.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham made a critique which was much fairer and more balanced than that of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould). [Interruption.] It is not "Oh, dear". I have noticed the way in which the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham have evolved with the passage of time since the days 20 years ago—[Interruption.] I am embarrassing him so I will leave that train of thought—but it is true.

One point made by my hon. Friend was true—my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough also referred to this. It is true that a good many of those who have consistently argued in favour of a steadily centralising Europe have not abandoned that belief. They will continue to argue for it. They have received—and they know it—not a rout or total reversal but a check in the way in which the Maastricht treaty came out, compared with the Dutch draft which I mentioned. They will live to argue again.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough referred to Chancellor Kohl. Chancellor Kohl specifically rejects the notion of a super-state and specifically endorses and emphasises the notion of subsidiarity. He uses phrases about a united Europe, just as Winston Churchill did. His question is: how is that defined?

I must quarrel with the point made by the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye. I cannot accept that the Prime Minister and other hon. Members on the Government Front Bench have failed to set out the sort of Europe that they want. Time and again in the House and outside, we have said that we believe in a Europe which is enlarged beyond its present membership of 12, open trading and decentralising and which uses, makes a success of and keeps distinct the intergovernmental pillars in the treaty. We have set out the idea time and again. It can be realised only on the basis of the treaty. It certainly cannot be realised by tearing up the treaty. But on that basis I believe that once the treaty is ratified we can go ahead and play an increasingly influential part in achieving that type of Europe. That is certainly the aim of the Government.

Let us consider what would happen if the series of new clauses were passed. I shall not dwell on what would have to happen immediately. There would have to be legislation. We would have to spend many hours, days, even weeks, working out the question, the date and how the various organisations would be financed. We would spend many more days not on substance but on procedure. I am not sure that that is what is expected of us.

Of course, all that work would be justified if my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills were right and we proposed constitutional revolution and destruction. I hope that I have demonstrated that the treaty does not represent that.

Mr. Graham

We have seen the House divided and many hon. Members have argued furiously about the rights and wrongs of Maastricht. We have spent months and months on it while unemployment has increased, factories have been closed, and people have died because they could not afford to live in this country. Surely if we had a referendum in three weeks it would be clear whether the people of Britain supported the Maastricht treaty or not. We could get on with normal living and hopefully make Europe a better place to live in. We cannot come to a final decision because the House is divided. So why not leave it to the supreme power in Britain—a referendum of the people?

Mr. Hurd

It is odd for a Member of Parliament, even the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham), to suggest that, because Parliament is divided and different views are strongly expressed, we should avoid or transfer the decision. That is an odd doctrine. Few major propositions in the House are not divisive in the sense that people argue about them strongly within and between parties. That is not normally regarded as an argument for refusing to take a decision on an issue when so much work has gone into its discussion.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hurd

I wish to get on, if I may.

It is sometimes said that we have put the decision into the hands of the Danes. That is completely erroneous. The decision for Britain lies where it belongs—in the hands of the British Parliament. We are preparing, in an admittedly untidy, imperfect but I think lively way, for that decision with a thoroughness of parliamentary debate.

I want to deal with the nature of the debate. We need not be ashamed of it. The press has been much keener to report manoeuvres and excitements outside the Chamber than what has been said inside the Chamber. I have taken part admittedly in only two of the debates in the Committee. I suppose that they were two of the more interesting debates—on subsidiarity and on the common foreign and security policy. I have read the others.

Obviously, I believe that those of us who put our case on the two matters which I have mentioned, and on others, had the better of it. I believe that we showed that subsidiarity was a real concept and demonstrated the helpfulness of the common foreign and security policy based on co-operation. But I am sure that some right hon. and hon. Members who were critical of those parts of the treaty felt that they had the best of it. But no one who sat through at any rate those two debates—and I believe that the same is true of others which I have read—can deny that the debates were of high quality and that the informal coming and going of the Committee stage enabled it to be of high quality.

Ministers and, indeed, critics were exposed to a coming and going of discussion which I thought was considerably better than the reports of it allowed. The House was doing its job. The House is doing its job. It is preparing for the final decision which it will take on Third Reading.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Does my right hon. Friend think that the quality of our debates was enhanced by the virtually indiscriminate use of the closure? On occasions Front-Bench spokesmen, and in the case of the citizenship debate the Home Secretary himself, did not even answer the questions and points that were put in the debate.

Mr. Hurd

I think that, as always, many criticisms could be made about the way in which our debates have been conducted, but I do not think that one of them could be that the Committee has hustled through debates on the Bill. I do not think that that would be the general view of those who have assisted in the votes and I do not think that the accusation of undue speed could accurately be levelled. Ministers have done their job of replying to the points made in the debate.

It would be wrong and foolish to abandon or transfer the work. It would be a shirking of the responsibilities that we were given only a year ago, and it would be a blow to the standing of the House in years to come. We would be saying to our constituents, "We have examined the matter, but we do not intend to take a decision. We have spent hours, days and weeks examining the issues and now it is over to you. We are going to throw the treaty, with all its diverse controversies and complications, into your laps to make of it what you will." I agree with the principles set out by Lady Thatcher in 1975. It cannot be right to refuse to do our job, so it cannot be right to accept the new clauses.

Mr. George Robertson

Unusually for a debate in this Committee, I am seeking to catch your eye, Dame Janet, in order to participate. I say "unusually" because on only one previous occasion has a member of the Opposition Front Bench chosen to participate at the end of a debate as well as at the beginning. My right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) made only brief introductory comments, and many comments have been made by other hon. Members, so it is right and proper that, as a member of the Opposition Front-Bench team which has come in for some attention during the debate, I should respond to some of the issues that have been raised in the interesting, wide-ranging and varied debate.

The issue is important for the Committee, which is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland made the Labour party's position clear today. Our position should come as no surprise, as it was not adopted for the convenience of today or this stage of the Committee's debates. It was adopted after considerable consultation, and was finally decided on at the annual Labour party conference last October by an overwhelming majority.

In order to get the matter out of the way, I should first like to deal with the issues raised by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) on behalf of the Scottish National party. If what I have to say seems arcane to hon. Members from south of the border, they should listen carefully. During the past few weeks only, the Scottish National party has been campaigning for a vote on the referendum and for the Labour party to join SNP Members in the Division Lobby to defeat the Government. The SNP has been advancing that argument on the basis of a thesis that to do so, and to defeat the Government and approve new clause 49, would bring down the Government—or, at the very least, force the resignation of the Prime Minister. The hon. Gentleman said that we would never be forgiven by the Scottish people for voting with the Government to keep the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) in his position as Prime Minister.

It is on that basis that the Scottish National party has created its argument in the past few weeks. What evidence does that party have that, faced with the prospect of defeat this evening, the Foreign Secretary would say that it was a resigning matter for either him or the Prime Minister? I do not believe that they would resign. We know from experience what happened on the occasion when, in Committee, the Government were foolish enough to put a proposition to the vote and were defeated on the issue of the Committee of the Regions. I understand that the Foreign Secretary was out of the country at the time, and the Government were not forced to a humiliating defeat on his advice. Whatever happened, they learned their lesson, and on three subsequent occasions, facing defeat, they simply accepted our amendments. Ministers would have to accept the will of the House. If there were a referendum, they would have to ask the Scottish National party and its leader to help them in the campaign for the Maastricht treaty. That would be the effect.

There is no evidence to suggest that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary or anyone of note in the Government would resign if Parliament decided on a referendum, yet we are being told that it is critical and crucial and that the Government hang by a thread this evening, relying for their survival and the Prime Minister's future only on the votes of Labour Members.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

Will my hon. Friend give way?

12.30 am
Mr. Robertson

Let me finish explaining the position.

We are then told that the Labour party and the SNP would not have to campaign with the Government for a Maastricht treaty that did not include the social chapter, because the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan has produced amendment (a) to new clause 49.

I have to tell right hon. and hon. Members who have just come in, and who may well be at their first debate of the Committee, that amendment (a) to which the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan gave so much attention this evening, the critical point that he says obliges the Labour party to vote for the referendum, was tabled last Thursday. However, the SNP has tabled its own new clause calling for a referendum.

I concede that the idea of a referendum is not a new SNP policy, because it tabled its own new clause 48, which does not contain any reference to the social chapter. It was not tabled last Thursday or starred this Monday; it was tabled on 2 December 1992, 19 weeks ago.

For 18½weeks, the SNP has been campaigning for a referendum without any questions on the social chapter, a referendum on a treaty that specifically excludes Britain from the social chapter. However, last Thursday, SNP Members decided, realised or woke up to the fact that they could do something that could give them a momentary advantage. Why would they look for advantage? Why would the SNP want to criticise the Labour party for voting with the Government? They want to get off the hook.

This elaborate, noisy smokescreen has been put up for only one reason—to cover up the cynical way in which, only a few weeks ago, the gullible SNP teamed up with a desperate Government to stand against the principle of elected councillors representing Britain on the European Committee of the Regions. That is why they have made such a big issue of this and why last Thursday, opportunistically, they tabled an amendment (a) to each of those new clauses.

Mr. Salmond

Clearly, the hon. Gentleman has been shaken and stirred by the arguments that have been deployed. Can he have forgotten that only last week he sent me a letter saying that, for one principal and good reason", the Labour party would not help to defeat the Government this evening—it would not be possible to get the social chapter into the referendum argument? Now that the fig leaf has been removed, what excuse does the hon. Gentleman have for saving the Prime Minister's skin this evening?

Mr. Robertson

There we have it. This is the man who was trying to save the Prime Minister's skin only a few weeks ago—the very man who led his party into the Lobby to save the principle of Government appointees serving on the Committee of the Regions—and now he dares to lecture me on the subject.

One of the principal reasons why we are not interested in a referendum is that, almost inevitably, with a Conservative Government putting the question to the country, we would be obliged to campaign for a Maastricht treaty that did not contain the social chapter. That is not the only reason; we have, after all, developed our policy on a referendum over the past year, not in the past five days.

We all know why the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan is so desperate. Anyone who has read the Scottish press and learned what has happened in the SNP over the past few weeks knows perfectly well the reasons for this evening's burst of indignation. If the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues who are members of the SNP national executive had not voted for themselves on a motion of censure, they would indeed have been censured by the national executive committee of the SNP.

Everyone knows that this is not a question of bringing down the Prime Minister. This SNP amendment has little or no chance of gaining the support of the Tory dissidents. Yet we are told to change the policy that we have adopted over the past year. That is a bogus and cynical attempt to wriggle off the hook that the Scottish people will never let the SNP wriggle off.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Robertson

I may eventually come to some of the points that my hon. Friend has raised. After all, I have been listening to them for the past nine years.

During the debate, some hon. Members have put up arguments supposedly advanced by those who oppose a referendum and then easily shot those arguments down. That is the simplest and oldest debating trick in the book. We are told that some say that the issue is too difficult for the British people to decide. I have never heard anyone, anywhere, say that. If it were true, the House could not decide the matter either. It is a patronising argument, and I have never heard anyone advance it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) claims that some people say that progress towards economic and monetary union does not matter anyway. I have never heard anyone say that either. Even those in favour of the treaty say that it matters. We have all, in fact, said that it matters.

We have been told that the nature of the treaty is so fundamental that Parliament must put it to a plebiscite. But the treaty does not concern only one issue. Some hon. Members have been honest enough to admit that not just one referendum is being asked for; there would have to be another on stage 3 of economic and monetary union. That, too, is fundamental. If so, why not have another on progress towards a common foreign and security policy? What about the transition to a common asylum policy? Where do we stop? When should Parliament stop taking decisions and start holding referendums?

I was one of the few people here who were on the Labour Front Bench to discuss the Single European Act in 1976—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nineteen eighty-six."] It just seems that long ago. I was in a road accident in 1976.

Some Conservative Members and some of my hon. Friends will remember that there was rarely such a large attendance at debates in 1986. Of course, the Conservative party put through probably the most fundamental treaty not just without a referendum but on a guillotine. I am not surprised that my good old friend, the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), is not here tonight, although he has been a consistent attender at many of these debates. There may be a good reason for his absence, but I can think of one: he was the Leader of the House who moved the guillotine motion. I do not think that he likes to be reminded of that.

Is the treaty irrevocable? Is that the real reason why some people want a referendum? The original decision was on being in or out. If we are in the Community, we are all in the same boat—sharing sovereignty, sharing decisions, occasionally winning, occasionally losing. The decision is not irrevocable. The country can decide whether we are in or out of the European Community. That decision can be made and, if necessary, would be made by Parliament. Nothing is irrevocable.

Mr. Shore

It is the most extraordinary flight of fancy to pretend that, as we sign treaty after treaty with a European connection, we have the equal right that we had before we began this disastrous process to reverse it and pull out if we dislike something. My hon. Friend knows that that is not so. The real reason why we should have a referendum on this occasion is that, in spite of the fact that earlier treaties, all of which I have opposed, handed over great chunks of British power to decision-making in the European institutions, this treaty signs us up to a European union which carries the shape of a new state in Europe. If my hon. Friend cannot understand that, he is not fit to speak for my party.

Mr. Robertson

I do not think that my right hon. Friend ever thought that I was fit to speak on the issue for my party, so that does not come as news to me. I will not rehearse all my usual complimentary remarks about him. Although he has lost the argument and the vote in the Labour party consistently, the reality is that. if the representatives of this country want to come out of the Community and want to get out of the union that is being created—probably only in name—by the treaty, they can do it. I do not want to do that; I do not see the same spectres in the night as so many others do. If the country wants to get out of the Community, it has the right to do so, and nobody can stop it.

Hon. Members have said that we must let the people have a direct say. On what? It is not a simple, straightforward treaty on one issue. On which issues would the people have a say? Would it be on economic and monetary union and a single currency? Would it be on more powers for the European Parliament, or on more new competences in the Community? A yes or no answer is not relevant in circumstances where there is a series of issues.

Parliament has been able to consider the Bill. The Opposition Front Bench has not sought to wreck the treaty on any individual amendment, nor should we. We never said that we would do that. Every socialist party in the European Community and in all the applicant countries wants the Maastricht treaty, so we will not wreck it for them on the basis of one amendment on one aspect. The Government wanted to make the Committee of the Regions some mini health board consisting of a handful of friendly Tory business men, Government appointees. We forced them to accept that it will be made up of locally elected representatives.

On Monday, the Government accepted new clause 1, which places an obligation on the Governor of the Bank of England to place a report before Parliament. New clause 2 and amendment No. 420 were accepted. Who knows what the Government will accept at the end of' tonight's debate?

That all happened because Parliament went through the Bill. Without destroying the treaty, we have improved it for the whole of Europe. A yes or no referendum would not and could not do that.

Mr. Gill

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the majority of Labour voters are in favour of this treaty on European union?

12.45 am
Mr. Robertson

Yes, I do. [Interruption.] I cannot prove that they do, any more than the hon. Gentleman can prove that they do not. When the Labour party conference debated it last year after the election and after debate in the party on the treaty as a whole, an overwhelming majority said that, although it was not perfect, it was the best that was obtainable in the circumstances.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham advanced an argument that is not confined to Opposition Members. He said that Parliament was not really reliable to carry out such scrutiny. He said that, after all, we are all subject to the Whips and that, when both Front Benches agreed on the basic thesis that the Maastricht treaty should go through, Parliament was not reliable. My hon. Friend was in the shadow Cabinet for years telling people what the whipping would be for the following week. Now he tells me that Parliament has no right to a say and cannot make decisions on its own, that it is precluded from doing so because the party leaderships, through their decision-making machinery, some of which is democratic and some of which is certainly not democratic, have decided. That does not stand any scrutiny.

Mr. Allason

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Robertson

No. I wish to make progress.

It was said that, during the election campaign, there was a cover-up conspiracy by the two Front Benches. It was said that the issue was not raised in the election and people did not know about it, and that therefore there must be a referendum. The Foreign Secretary said that, for party political advantage, he tried to raise it. That comes as a surprise, because I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was above that. I and my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) also tried, and we can produce the press releases that we put out. We can produce journalists who were briefed to the point of tedium, but, of course, little was heard about that.

I spent much time repeatedly telling the electorate that the Government were proud of opting out of one of the significant advantages of the Maastricht treaty. During that election campaign, my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham was quite properly drawing attention to other matters. People were listening to him and, sad to say for my political future, they were not listening to me. The topic was there all the time and has not been suppressed in any way.

Mr. Gould

Will my hon. Friend refresh our memories about how people might have voted if they had taken a view contrary to the view of the leaders of both the major parties? Does he recall people having any option to vote for or against the Maastricht treaty, or were they simply presented with a monolithic position, agreed to by the leadership of all the major parties? For that reason, the matter was never an issue in the general election campaign.

Mr. Robertson

My hon. Friend was in the leadership of the Labour party during that campaign, and that leadership told the people that, if we were returned to power we would ratify the Maastricht treaty. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton made that absolutely plain. We would have ratified it, with the social chapter included in it.

The leaderships of the parties were united on a number of other issues. I dare say that that, in a clinical, technical way, denied people the right to vote against such issues. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland said, the British people must have drawn some conclusion from the fact that the leaderships of all the parties standing in the election, with the exception of the Ulster Unionists, were in favour of the Maastricht treaty, however imperfect they may have thought it in the detail. They would have drawn a conclusion from that, but to suggest that there was a conspiracy is nonsense.

We are told that public opinion must be the criterion. I agree that pubic opinion is extremely important. However, hardly a single politician in the Committee, if asked to comment on an opinion poll, would not say, if it were on a matter that he thought was contrary to his party's interest, "Ah well, it is only a snapshot, I am interested only in trends, I don't rely on one opinion poll."

A significant number of people want a referendum on Maastricht, but a similar majority would want a referendum on the return of capital punishment, perhaps on the abortion laws, almost certainly on the Sunday trading laws. On a whole series of issues, if people were asked whether they would like a referendum, they would say in almost the same proportion that they would like a referendum. However, if that is to be the principle on which we base the judgments we take, what will there be left for us to do?

I make the point that many others have made in the debate. Those who cry loudest about Parliament handing over sovereignty to Brussels—when we are sharing power with 12 other countries at Brussels, building on that share of sovereignty, making sure that we participate in, and get advantage from, that shared sovereignty—happen also to be those who are most keen to hand over sovereignty, on this and probably many other issues, to the rule of the plebiscite.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Robertson

No, I shall not give way. I have tried to answer many points, but time is moving on.

Sir Roger Moate

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Robertson

The hon. Gentleman has had his chance, and a fairly lengthy chance at that, but I should like to conclude so that others may speak in the debate.

Most of the people—I concede, not all—who are seeking a referendum do so because they want a "no" majority. If they were frank, as some are, they would admit that what drives and motivates them is not just opposition to Maastricht but opposition to the European Community as a whole. So be it: they are entitled to that view. They failed in Parliament in 1972 and in 1976 and in the referendum of 1975, but they are entitled to keep on their campaigning.

The Labour party believes that Britain is in the European Community and should remain there. We believe that Parliament is the place where the issues can be debated, and the scrutiny that the British people expect and deserve can be given to the treaty and all the serious issues that are in it. For that reason, and many of the other reasons that I have enunciated and that have been enunciated by my right hon. and hon. Friends here and elsewhere, we shall oppose new clause 49.

Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central)

It is significant that, as we near the end of the Committee, the previous two speakers—from the Front Benches—addressed us in a way that showed clearly the cosy relationship that the two Front Benches have had throughout the Committee proceedings.

I am not sure what impact my words will have, but it is vital to me to be able to tell the Committee how strongly I feel about this issue. I feel certain that, however well or badly I put my thoughts, this will be my most important contribution in my 10 years in the House and, together with my vote at the end of the debate, it may be the most important thing that I do for as long as I am a Member of Parliament.

The debate is not simply about whether this great House of Commons continues to govern our nation; it is also about how it is governing today and how in touch it is with the people it governs.

The whole sorry tale of the Maastricht treaty began at an intergovernmental conference in Rome in December 1990. As I was one of the delegation from the House at that conference, I suppose that I must, to some extent, bear some responsibility for what resulted from it. What a farce that first intergovernmental conference was! The delegates were supposed to attend as representatives of their countries, not of their political parties, and with reasonably open minds. On arrival, however, we were all placed in party-political groupings and it quickly became clear to me that few open minds were to be seen. It also became clear to me almost as soon as I arrived that the final proposals that the conference would put forward had been decided before it even started. If one asks what influence that conference had on the final proposals, the answer is absolutely none.

Europe can sometimes be very colourful. On the final morning of the conference, we voted for hours on 220 different amendments, all produced on purple paper. I have them with me and I will keep them for ever to remind me of that day. The voting finally finished, one or two of us having voted against the amendments while hundreds voted for them. Everyone seemed very happy, glasses clinked and we departed homewards. If ever the slogan, "Is your journey really necessary?" was applicable, it was to the 1990 intergovernmental conference in Rome.

The purple amendments gave way to the yellow treaty. Of course when we ask, "Why a referendum?" we must remember that the people of this country were not consulted about the drafting of that treaty. They never have been properly consulted since.

Under normal circumstances, I would not advocate a referendum because I believe that it is the duty of Members of Parliament to take decisions on behalf of their constituents and not to thrust those decisions back on their constituents' shoulders. But this is different. The Maastricht treaty will take away from Members of Parliament the right and the ability, fought for and cherished for centuries, to represent and stand up for their constituents in the House. If that power is to be given away or greatly diluted, as it is under the Maastricht treaty, only the British people, individually, can agree to it. The House of Commons cannot give away power, rights and responsibilities which belong not to it, but to the people.

The constant refrain from Ministers has been that some people are in favour of the Maastricht treaty, while others would like to come out of Europe altogether. That statement is one of those quarter truths that have clouded the entire debate. Most people do not fall into one of those two groups; they lie exactly between those two extremes.

During the general election, in common with many other hon. Members, I knocked on many doors. I must confess that the Maastricht treaty was not on the lips of everyone to whom I spoke. When it came up, however, the message I always received, loud and clear, was that people believed in the need for a common market, for which they clearly understood the nation voted in a referendum some years ago. They believed that a common market, or a free trade area, in Europe made a great deal of sense, but they did not want to go beyond that.

There are many good reasons for a referendum on this issue which I will not rehearse because many of them were given earlier.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

My hon. Friend will accept that our right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made repeated reference to the 1972 treaty of Rome. He said firmly to the Committee that it not only had an economic content but a political one. Is not the reality that the House misled the people into believing that the common market and the treaty of Rome were primarily, if not exclusively, about trade and economic matters and would not in any way impugn or undermine the sovereignty of the country and our Parliament?

1 am

Mr. Lord

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The debate has teased out many truths about what has happened over the years in respect of agreements and treaties. If those truths had been made known to the people at the time, I believe that they would have reacted differently.

Ministers often say that the people are not happy about the Maastricht treaty and the present position in Europe because they do not understand the treaty. When the people come to understand fully what has already been given away in their name, we shall see the strongest possible reaction.

There are many good reasons why a referendum should be held. For example, as all the major parties were in favour of the treaty during the general election campaign, the electorate was unable to register its vote against it. The text of the treaty was not available to the general public until some time after the election.

This is too important a matter to be bulldozed through the House of Commons as a face-saving exercise for the Government so as not to upset our European colleagues. Nothing annoys me more than to hear many hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber who are voting for the Bill saying behind the scenes that they want only to get the Bill out of the way and then start negotiations to get the Europe that we want. What humbug! What family, business or organisation would sign a contract in which it did not believe on the basis that on the next day it could enter into new negotiations for a better deal?

Let no one fool himself about the reaction of Delors or others in Europe to the ratification of the treaty. We think that Europe is slowing down and that our voice is being heard, but once the treaty is ratified, Jacques Delors and his colleagues will have seen the process as a minor hiccup on the grand march towards the Europe in which they believe.

A referendum would not undermine parliamentary sovereignty. After all, previous referendums have not done so. If a referendum is properly carried out, it can supplement and enrich democracy and restore people's faith in the system. An excellent editorial in The Times on 25 February showed how a referendum is far from alien to the Conservative tradition. Various leaders have been referred to, including Balfour, Baldwin and Churchill. They all considered and advocated referendums at various times. Parliament is undermined not by the idea of a referendum but by the squalid tactics that have been and are being employed to get the Bill through the House of Commons.

The Europe to which the Maastricht treaty is taking us is a dream of an out-of-touch, elitist group of civil servants and some senior, not to say in other parts of Europe, elderly politicians. It is not a Europe which makes any sense to the people of the United Kingdom. Jacques Delors said after the French referendum that Europe was an elitist venture and only the decision makers needed to be convinced. At the end of March, Willy de Clerc, the leader of the committee that produced an appalling report on rebuilding the Community's image, said that Governments and the Community should stop trying to explain the treaty. To use his words, "It is 'inexplainable'." He added that treaty decisions were far too technical and removed from daily life for people to understand. Should any laws be so incomprehensible? We are faced with a civil servant's dream and an ordinary person's nightmare.

Civil servants and politicians involved in European legislation seem to suffer from schizophrenia. Views depend entirely on which side of the channel an individual is sitting. Directives that seem sensible and communautaire when agreed in the neutral, rarefied and utopian atmosphere of a Brussels committee room or a Strasbourg restaurant become nonsensical when applied to the local factory, the corner shop or the women's institute. It would be funny if they were not doing so much damage.

A referendum campaign would initiate the debate that the nation has so far been denied and would widen the understanding of the treaty. The Danish people seem to manage it, so why cannot we?

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Will my hon. Friend give way on that very point?

Mr. Lord

With respect, I must press on. The hour is late. There is a little more that I want to say and I have waited a long time to say it.

Are we really going to say that our people cannot have a referendum—that their fate must hang on the decision made by the people of Denmark in their referendum? The Irish and French have now held referendums. Are they so much more intelligent and politically aware than our people? I do not think so.

I am one of the Conservative Members who, throughout our debates on the Bill, have been called rebels. It is a label of which I am neither proud nor ashamed. I have never voted against the Government before in the 10 years in which I have been in the House, but this matter is much more important to me than any of the labels that are bandied about. If "rebel" is the correct term for a Member of Parliament who does what he believes to be right in regard to a great issue of the day, I am happy to be associated with former rebels in the Conservative party who also stuck to their guns.

In the 1843 Session of Parliament, Disraeli voted against the Government 10 times. In 1844, he did so seven times. During the passage of the Government of India Bill in the 1930s, Winston Churchill voted against the Bill 30 times in Committee and once on Report. It is interesting to note that, on at least two occasions, Churchill moved motions to report progress.

Macmillan joined the rebellion against the Government's appeasement policy; and, after a foreign affairs debate in June 1936, he was one of two Tory Members who voted against the Government. A week later, he resigned the Whip. When Anthony Eden resigned in February 1938, he said at the start of his resignation statement: there are occasions when strong political convictions must override all other considerations. Of such occasions only the individual himself can be the judge. No man can be the keeper of another man's conscience". It is interesting to note how little things have changed in the last half century. During the Committee stage of the Government of India Bill in 1935, Winston Churchill wrote to his wife: we do very well in the debate but the Government have mobilised 250 of their followers who do not trouble to listen to the debates but march in solidly and vote us down with large majorities usually swelled by the Socialists and always by the Liberals. It is going to be a long weary business". On 2 March, he wrote to her again: The Government's supporters are cowed, resentful and sullen. They keep 250 waiting about in the Libraries and Smoking Rooms to vote us down on every amendment and we have a fighting force of about 50 which holds together with increasing loyalty and conviction. His letter ended: The Divisions go the other way, but we mock at them for being lackeys and slaves". During this Committee stage, I have heard the best speeches that I have heard since becoming a Member of Parliament. How sad it is that they have all too frequently been made to almost empty Galleries. I believe that the speeches have been so good because, by and large, the hon. Members who have taken part in the debate have understood their subject and cared deeply about it. The Government have won the votes, but they have never won the arguments.

Perhaps the most important point for me so far was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Lindsey (Sir P. Tapsell). In a wonderful speech on 24 March, he comprehensively destroyed any credible case for a central bank. His remarks were given added authority by the fact that—I suspect—he knows more about international banking than any other Member of Parliament.

However, it is not my hon. Friend's remarks about banking that I shall remember for many years to come; it is his description of how a colleague of his in the House many years ago, Walter Elliot, had told him that voting for Munich—out of loyalty to Neville Chamberlain—had not only eventually wrecked his political career, but, more important, permanently damaged his self-esteem. He never ceased to reproach himself for his vote as events unfolded. My hon. Friend predicted that, 10 years from now, very few Conservative Members would admit that they had ever supported the Maastricht treaty.

Churchill said, "Trust the people." We have heard that phrase several times today. On this issue, we must not only trust the people; we must explain to them what is at stake and seek their views. We keep talking about open government, but if people really do not understand what we are doing in the House of Commons, they are shut out of the affairs of our nation just as effectively as if a door had been slammed in their face.

Many recent decisions by the Government have raised serious questions about how in touch with the people we are. How tragic it would be if this estrangement were to reach its peak on a matter of such magnitude. It is essential for any Government to keep in touch with the people. We may not think that they need to be consulted, but what happens if they think that they ought to be and they are not? If their views are not sought and if events in Europe go the way that I suspect they will, they will feel cheated and angry.

What, then, will be the repercussions, not just on European issues but on the whole relationship between the nation and its Government.? We want more open and more honest government. Why do we not start now? A referendum on this issue could be the turning point, giving back to the people their involvement and rekindling their trust.

I particularly urge the Prime Minister not to allow the responsibility for forcing this dubious treaty on our country to rest entirely on his own shoulders. He has done all that anyone possibly could to keep his word on the Maastricht treaty and to honour his commitment, but it is now almost a year and a half since that commitment was given and so much has changed in the Community and the wider Europe. The world has moved on significantly. The Danes have voted no. There is great anxiety throughout Europe about this treaty and a growing belief in all countries that on this issue leaders are out of touch with their people. Our Prime Minister is entitled to say, "I have done my best, but the whole European scene is now so changed that I feel obliged to recognise the concerns of the British people about this issue and to put the matter to them in a referendum."

The Prime Minister wants a nation at ease with itself. Our nation is not at the moment at ease with itself. It is a nation hypnotised by Europe and frustrated by its inability to act decisively, not just in its own best interests but in the best interests of the other nations of Europe. For a nation to be at ease with itself, it needs to be at ease with its neighbours, and we are not.

There should be no need to enforce co-operation between European allies in a treaty. If they agree on policies, they can act together freely and in their own mutual interest. Forced co-operation and co-ordination, as in the exchange rate mechanism, creates unnecessary pressures which eventually have to be released, one way or the other.

I believe that very few Members of this House of Commons really have their hearts in the Maastricht treaty any more. If that is true, how wrong it would be to foist it on the British people without their consent. I am prepared to admit that I want to see a referendum, not just for the reasons that I gave earlier but because I very much hope and believe that the British people do not want the Maastricht treaty and would vote against it.

I hope that hon. Members who vote against a referendum tonight will at least admit to themselves that they may be voting against a referendum on the Maastricht treaty partly on principle but also because they know that a referendum, if granted, would result in a resounding no.

The House of Commons, established and maintained by sacrifices and traditions for centuries, has to make a historic decision. This issue is said to be an extremely complicated one, but I wonder whether that is really true. Perhaps all great issues are essentially very simple. Perhaps we make them complicated when we do not want to face them. The very simple question that I want the British people to be asked is: "Do you want to be governed by the House of Commons or Brussels?"

This is about our country's independence, integrity and individuality. It is about all those things which, as has already been mentioned in the debate today, pilots in the battle of Britain fought and died for. In its own way, the treaty is a battle for Britain, the big difference being that we, as Members of Parliament, do not have to sacrifice our lives but only to cast our votes. I hope that when hon. Members cast their votes, they will allow the people of this country to say what they want our votes to mean and to stand for in the years to come.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

It is an unusual pleasure to be able to follow speeches by members of the two main Front Benches because in Maastricht debates we have usually heard no senior but junior members of the Front Benches —senior members of the Front Benches have wanted to stay away and not commit themselves to anything in the dead of night. It is interesting that two senior Front Benchers feel so guilty about what is being said in opposing a referendum that they have come to justify it at such length and in such arcane ways.

1.15 am

The Foreign Secretary's speech was interesting. I have always regarded him as an other-worldly figure, possibly a foreigner, in his Loden overcoat about which I heard someone remark, "The last time I saw someone wearing an overcoat like that, I shot him." His speech revealed that he is so other-wordly that he has spent the past six months on another planet. He feels that the people of this country are in favour of the Maastricht treaty and that the overwhelming majority of the Conservative party is in favour of it and opposed to a referendum.

If he feels that, why not put it to the test? Why not put the issue to the people if they think as he believes they do? Instead, he says that we should not have a referendum because we did not have one on the Single European Act which, to people like me, simply means that one should not trust politicans again. They said that the Act changed nothing but subsequently admit that it changed everything so much that we should have had a referendum. The Foreign Secretary even says that the 1975 referendum produced a final verdict. Yet we were positively assured that it had stopped progress towards monetary union and all the things that we are being offered now.

My party's Front Bench spokesman gave a brilliant performance in whipping up support for a referendum. For that reason, I did not want to interrupt him. However, he did not deal with the central argument of those of us who want a referendum. It has nothing to do. with the intricate politics of Scottish nationalism or an internal argument in Scotland. I hesitated to intrude on the domestic row. The central point is our belief that, on a matter of basic constitutional change, the people should be consulted. That is what it is about, not a desire to bring down the Government or to do anything else. The people have a right to be consulted.

I thought that the Liberal Front Bench spokesman made the most effective speech of the three Front Bench spokesmen. He made the basic point that the only way to get the treaty settled in and accepted and to get popular consent is to let the people speak. If not, there will be the long whingeing embittering rear-guard action about which the critics of a referendum have complained all along. Refusal will guarantee that the bitter feeling of frustration will be amplified.

If we now refuse the people a referendum, they will justly feel cheated because they will have been cheated. When the consequences of the treaty, in terms of economic deflation and the other problems that we have foreseen, become apparent, their resentment will take the form of a long, whimpering, whingeing bitterness, which will guarantee that neither the treaty nor European union will be acceptable to them and that both will be bitterly resisted.

One cannot make people enthusiastic about Europe by putting them out of a job or, especially, by not telling them that that will be the consequence of the treaty or by not giving them the opportunity to say whether they want to accept it in the first place. A referendum is the only way to get democratic acceptance of the treaty.

I cannot see what the critics of a referendum fear. They have the support of the Front-Bench spokesmen on both sides of the House, and the Foreign Secretary tells us that they have the support of the Conservative party. They have the support of the majority of the Labour party, and the support of the Liberals, the Scottish nationalists, the CBI, the TUC—so they tell us—and of the press and all the rest of the media. They have the support of The Independent and of The Guardian, which believes in "My Europe, right or wrong,"—or, as The Guardian would put it, "My Europe right or wrong." Yet with all that support they still fear that there will not be a majority in favour of Maastricht. That is inconceivable. Their case must be absolutely pathetic if even with all that support they fear that Maastricht will be rejected.

At this stage in the argument I must make a confession. When I used to teach political science—when I was concerned with the theory, before coming here to fail the practicals—I opposed referendums, for two basic reasons. First, I thought that the system as it was worked well and that party government gave us the power to change. I thought that a majority, a mandate, would give a Labour party the power to change the system in this country and make it a fairer society. Secondly, I believed that a referendum, as a conservative device that was opposed to change, would deny us that power. We have to face the fact that a referendum is a conservative device.

Those two reasons for opposing referendums were confirmed by my first experience of a referendum in 1967. In New Zealand I voted in favour of ending the 6 o'clock swill. That was a basic mistake in my life, because the result changed New Zealand society and ruined social habits there. It meant that people were drinking all night instead of going totally berserk and being out of their brains by 7 o'clock, with the rest of the evening to sober up. So my first referendum vote was a basic mistake.

Since then I have changed my view, because the social base on which parties and politics in this country rests is now out of adjustment with the polity in the country. Because the social base has changed we now get, not alternation of parties, not the power to change things, but a prolonged period of dictatorship by the minority. That is the consequence of the change in the system.

There is now a growing gulf between politics, politicians and parties on the one hand, and the people on the other. There is now a class of professional career politicians who want to get on, and one way to get on is to testify one's loyalty to Europe, the source of all blessing, jobs, sinecures and cashflow. Ours becomes a system in which people climb by conforming, and as they do so they get more and more out of touch with the people. That gulf is compounded by the economic difficulties of a country in decline, which mean that politicians cannot deliver the well-being that people ask for.

For all those reasons, there is a gulf between politicians and people, and the people feel resentful. They feel that they are not consulted or listened to. We make that worse if we do not allow them to be consulted on a basic constitutional issue. They should be consulted on constitutional issues, and the Labour party has led the way in doing that. We gave the people the referendum on entry, although it came belatedly in 1975, and we gave the people a referendum on devolution in Scotland and Wales. It went against us, and it was not adequate, but it was Labour party policy to consult the people.

Mr. Salmond

The referendum did not go against you. The people supported it.

Mr. Mitchell

The figure was slightly over 50 per cent., but we did not get the 40 per cent. that we required; it was 32.8 per cent. or something like that. I forget the exact figure. All that I am saying is that we gave the people the referendum; it was Labour party policy, which we all voted for and supported. Why now change our minds? It is clear that there should be a referendum on a constitutional issue.

Mr. Graham

My hon. Friend will know that the Labour party's policy in Scotland is to have a multi-referendum. We are still keen to have one, so we would give the people in Scotland the right to make a decision on a highly complex issue. I say, and I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees, that we shall be insulting the intelligence of the people of Britain if we do not give them a referendum. I do not know which way the people of Britain would vote. However, that is not important. The point is that democracy is important. If it is good for Boris Yeltsin, it is good for other folk.

Mr. Mitchell

I am not sure whether everything that is good for Boris Yeltsin is good for me. I do not take as much of it, if I can put it that way.

The people should be consulted on constitutional issues. Labour has consulted them in the past and there will be a change in their powers over our system of government in respect of their constitutional role. In respect of Maastricht, we cannot make people citizens of a union, with the rights and duties of citizens of a union, without consulting them. We cannot impose on the people the kind of economic framework that we are imposing on them without consulting them.

This basic change is being made by the back door. There is a surge and drive to unity in Europe. However, popular consent cannot be achieved in referendums and there is no intergovernmental agreement. If we had been able to achieve intergovernmental agreement, the CAP would not have survived for as long as it has, still absorbing more than 60 per cent. of Europe's spending. As popular consent and intergovernmental agreement cannot be achieved, the idea is to impose unity from the top down through monetary union which is the core of the Maastricht treaty.

As a result, we will be committed to re-enter the ERM and to monetary union. As part of the treaty we are committed to hand over the powers that a Labour Government, or any sensible Government, would need to revive the declining economy of this country and to widen our industrial base. That includes power over interest rates, over the exchange rate, over borrowing and over the money supply.

All those tools will have been handed over. We do not have the ability or the right to hand over to another entity those powers which rightly belong to the people and the Government whom they elect, without consulting the people. However, that is what we are being asked to do. It is a mistake to create a Europe in which central bankers rule OK and untrammelled without any control over their decisions without consulting the people. We should not hand over those weapons.

At one stage in the debate, we asked what a Labour Government would do, when they took office in 1996 with a mandate to rebuild the economy, to fight rising unemployment and to widen the industrial base, if all those powers had been handed over. The Opposition Front Bench spokesman said, "Oh well, we'll go to Brussels and negotiate." We will not actually do anything because we cannot do anything, so we end up with the spectacle of a Labour Government—a Labour Government—hiring taxis to scuttle around Brussels to ask permission to stop making their own people redundant as consequence of the treaty.

It has been said that this is not irrevocable, but it is. It is absolutely irrevocable. Once the powers are gone, they are gone and that is it. It has also been said that we do not need to consult the people in a referendum because they have already been consulted in the election. That is totally bogus. All the parties presented the same policies on Maastricht. There was no choice for people in most constituencies who were against the treaty. What were they to do? Were they to abdicate the hope of change or were they to concentrate simply on the issue of Maastricht? It is totally unrealistic to claim that the election decided the issue.

It is also unrealistic to say that Parliament should decide the issue because there is effectively a conspiracy between the parties.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mitchell

Yes, of course. I am sorry, I did not see the hon. Gentleman rising.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Will the hon. Gentleman avoid misleading his Front Bench about the powers after the Maastricht treaty has been passed? Does he accept that the power available to a possible future Labour Government to go to Brussels and plead for certain changes in policy will be removed totally when the central bank takes over? Will the hon. Gentleman consider page 91 of the treaty where he will see that, after the central bank takes over, no Labour Government, Conservative Government or even a Liberal Democrat Government will be allowed to make representations or a telephone call to the bank, or even send it a letter? Does he appreciate that it is not simply the abolition of freedom, democracy, socialism or conservatism? Basically, it means that there is not much point in voting for anyone at the next election.

1.30 pm
Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Gentleman is correct. Our only power will be not to send letters to the bank but to receive letters from it. Presumably, we will be charged 30 million ecu for each letter telling us that we are in overdraft. The hon. Gentleman reinforces my point.

Government Front Bench and Labour Front Bench spokesmen are saying the same thing: the treaty is not perfect; it will not work well; time has passed it by; it is probably dead and it is unable to be implemented but we must still pass it as a testimony to our commitment to the Community. Our electors—the people—do not share that commitment, but we must testify to it to Europe. For the first time, the Liberals have tasted power—

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 299, Noes 110.

Division No. 245] [1.30 am
Adley, Robert Chapman, Sydney
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Churchill, Mr
Aitken, Jonathan Clappison, James
Alexander, Richard Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Alton, David Coe, Sebastian
Amess, David Colvin, Michael
Ancram, Michael Congdon, David
Arbuthnot, James Conway, Derek
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Ashby, David Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Cormack, Patrick
Aspinwall, Jack Couchman, James
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Dafis, Cynog
Baldry, Tony Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Day, Stephen
Bates, Michael Deva, Nirj Joseph
Batiste, Spencer Devlin, Tim
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Dickens, Geoffrey
Bellingham, Henry Dorrell, Stephen
Beresford, Sir Paul Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Blackburn, Dr John G. Dover, Den
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Duncan, Alan
Booth, Hartley Dunn, Bob
Boswell, Tim Durant, Sir Anthony
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Dykes, Hugh
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Eggar, Tim
Bowden, Andrew Elletson, Harold
Bowis, John Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Brandreth, Gyles Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Brazier, Julian Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Brown, M.(Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Evennett, David
Browning, Mrs. Angela Faber, David
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Fabricant, Michael
Burns, Simon Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Burt, Alistair Fenner, Dame Peggy
Butler, Peter Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Butterfill, John Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Fishburn, Dudley
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Forman, Nigel
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Carrington, Matthew Forth, Eric
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Foster, Don (Bath)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Maclean, David
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) Maclennan, Robert
Freeman, Roger McLoughlin, Patrick
French, Douglas Madel, David
Fry, Peter Maitland, Lady Olga
Gale, Roger Major, Rt Hon John
Gallie, Phil Malone, Gerald
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan Mans, Keith
Garnier, Edward Marland, Paul
Gillan, Cheryl Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gorst, John Mates, Michael
Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW) Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Mellor, Rt Hon David
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Merchant, Piers
Grylls. Sir Michael Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Milligan, Stephen
Hague, William Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom) Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Monro, Sir Hector
Hampson, Dr Keith Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hannam, Sir John Moss, Malcolm
Hargreaves, Andrew Nelson, Anthony
Harris, David Neubert, Sir Michael
Haselhurst, Alan Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hawkins, Nick Nicholls, Patrick
Hayes, Jerry Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Heald, Oliver Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Heathcoat-Amory, David Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Hendry, Charles Oppenheim, Phillip
Hicks, Robert Ottaway, Richard
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L. Page, Richard
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Paice, James
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Patnick, Irvine
Horam, John Patten, Rt Hon John
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Pawsey, James
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dtord) Pickles, Eric
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W) Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Powell, William (Corby)
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Rathbone, Tim
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Redwood, John
Jack, Michael Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Richards, Rod
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Riddick, Graham
Johnston, Sir Russell Robathan, Andrew
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C&S) Sackville, Tom
Key, Robert Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Kilfedder, Sir James Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
King, Rt Hon Tom Shaw, David (Dover)
Kirkwood, Archy Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Shersby, Michael
Knox, David Sims, Roger
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Soames, Nicholas
Leigh, Edward Speed, Sir Keith
Lennox-Boyd, Mark Spencer, Sir Derek
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Lidington, David Spink, Dr Robert
Lightbown, David Spring, Richard
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Sproat, Iain
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Llwyd, Elfyn Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Luff, Peter Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Steen, Anthony
Lynne, Ms Liz Stephen, Michael
Macdonald, Calum Stern, Michael
Stewart, Allan Wallace, James
Streeter, Gary Waller, Gary
Sumberg, David Ward, John
Sykes, John Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Waterson, Nigel
Taylor, John M, (Solihull) Watts, John
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Wells, Bowen
Temple-Morris, Peter Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Thomason, Roy Whitney, Ray
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V) Whittingdale, John
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Widdecombe, Ann
Thornton, Sir Malcolm Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Thurnham, Peter Wigley, Dafydd
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th) Willetts, David
Tracey, Richard Wolfson, Mark
Tredinnick, David Wood, Timothy
Trend, Michael Yeo, Tim
Trotter, Neville Young, Sir George (Acton)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Tyler, Paul Tellers for the Ayes:
Viggers, Peter Mr. Andrew MacKay and Mr. Timothy Kirkhope.
Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Walden, George
Abbott, Ms Diane Knapman, Roger
Adams, Mrs Irene Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Leighton, Ron
Barron, Kevin Lewis, Terry
Bayley, Hugh Lord, Michael
Beggs, Roy Loyden, Eddie
Bendall, Vivian McAllion, John
Benn, Rt Hon Tony McKelvey, William
Bennett, Andrew F. McNamara, Kevin
Budgen, Nicholas Madden, Max
Callaghan, Jim Mahon, Alice
Canavan, Dennis Marlow, Tony
Cann, Jamie Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Meale, Alan
Cash, William Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Chisholm, Malcolm Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Cohen, Harry Pickthall, Colin
Connarty, Michael Pike, Peter L.
Corbyn, Jeremy Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Corston, Ms Jean Reid, Dr John
Cousins, Jim Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Cran, James Rooker, Jeff
Cryer, Bob Rooney, Terry
Davidson, Ian Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Rowlands, Ted
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Salmond, Alex
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Dixon, Don Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Donohoe, Brian H. Simpson, Alan
Dowd, Jim Skinner, Dennis
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Etherington, Bill Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Spearing, Nigel
Fatchett, Derek Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Fisher, Mark Stevenson, George
Galloway, George Stott, Roger
Gardiner, Sir George Sweeney, Walter
Gill, Christopher Tapsell, Sir Peter
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Gould, Bryan Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)
Graham, Thomas Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Tipping, Paddy
Hanson, David Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Hardy, Peter Wareing, Robert N
Harvey, Nick Watson, Mike
Heppell, John Welsh, Andrew
Hood, Jimmy Wilkinson, John
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Winnick, David
Illsley, Eric Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Jessel, Toby Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Wise, Audrey
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn) Wray, Jimmy
Wright Dr Tony Tellers for the Noes:
Young David (Bolton SE) Mr. Harry Barnes and Mr. Ken Livingstone.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Question put accordingly and negatived.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Morris)

As promised on Monday, I shall now call for separate Divisions only on new clause 10 and new clause 12, neither of which is directly connected with the matter that the Committee has been discussing on new clause 8. A separate Division on new clause 49, which is related to new clause 8 and the referendum, will come after the two new clauses.

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