HC Deb 18 July 2001 vol 372 cc346-82

`This Act shall not take effect prior to the laying before Parliament of the draft of an Order in Council making provision for ascertaining, by means of a referendum, the preponderance of national opinion with respect to the provisions of the Treaty signed at Nice on 26th February 2001, 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.'.—[Mr. Spring.] Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Spring

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

With this it will be convenient to consider the following: New clause 37—Referendum (No. 3)`This Act shall not take effect until the laying before Parliament of the draft of an Order in Council making provision for ascertaining, by means of referendum, the preponderance of national opinion with respect to the provisions of the provisions of the Treaty signed at Nice on 26th February 2001 amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community, 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 departments in carrying the Order into effect.'. New clause 44—Referendum (No. 4)'.—This Act shall not take effect prior to the laying before Parliament of a draft Order making provision for the ascertaining by the Government of the preponderance of national opinion with respect to the Nice Treaty by means of a referendum (providing that the Order shall not be made until provision from public funds has been made by Parliament in respect of expenditure incurred in the undertaking of such a referendum).'.

7.15 pm
Mr. Spring

New clause 12 calls for a referendum on the treaty of Nice, which would put to the test the direction in which the European Union is heading. At the beginning of the Committee stage, the question was posed whether the Bill would assist the development of an enlarged, diverse Europe that enhances the security and prosperity of the peoples of Europe. We believe that the treaty of Nice fails that test.

How can the European Union on the verge of enlargement think that the right course is to become ever more integrated? Surely trying to squeeze a continent of nations in all their diversity into a rigid straitjacket of conformity and uniformity is a recipe for discontent, disunity and disharmony. What was needed at Nice was a Government with the leadership required to press for an alternative approach resulting in a modern, reformed, flexible Europe.

There is a fundamental difference between the Government and the Opposition on the direction in which Europe should be heading. That difference is crystallised in the treaty of Nice. We believe that it is time to let the public have a say on the matter. Instead, as Europe moves further down the integrationist path, there seems to be an ever-growing gap between the views of the public and the leaders of the European Union. That view was endorsed by the newly plain-speaking and born-again Minister for Europe, so there can be no controversy about it.

The gulf cannot be allowed to continue to develop. We have all witnessed the undercurrent of discontent around the EU, which is highly regrettable. The EU cannot afford to remain impervious to the trends of change across the world and expect to succeed. Through the low turnouts in European elections and failing support in opinion polls, the people of Europe have sent a clear message to their Governments. That message is that real unity cannot be imposed by integrationist treaties and diktat, thereby disconnecting European institutions and structures from the legitimate aspirations of the peoples of Europe.

Last September the Danish people made their views clear when they voted no to membership of the euro. Then, in March, the Swiss rejected early membership of the European Union by a ratio of 4:1. Whatever the merits of the case for Swiss membership, the result ought at least to give those of us who are members of the EU cause to pause and think why it came about.

Does the Minister agree that the EU's reaction to the Irish referendum speaks volumes about the extent to which EU leaders have become detached from their citizens? Why did the Foreign Secretary, days after the referendum, sign up to the General Affairs Council conclusions, which stated that the Nice treaty would remain unaltered? What do the citizens of Europe need to do to get their leaders to listen?

Does the Minister agree with the diplomat who was reported as saying: If there had been a referendum in every country, half would have voted against it. The Irish were acting as proxies for the rest of us and this needs to be handled with care"? Does the hon. Gentleman have sympathy for the Irish Republic's Minister of Finance, Mr. McCreevy, who described the Irish rejection of the Nice treaty as a "remarkably healthy development", or for the Irish Republic's Attorney-General, who said: We have as much right as any member state, or indeed the commission, to develop and articulate and advocate our view of the future architecture of the European Union"? It is time for the United Kingdom Government to show the same respect for the views of the British people on the Nice treaty. Following the Foreign Secretary's recognition of the fact that the Nice treaty is not legally or technically necessary for enlargement, the last remaining fig leaf for the treaty has been removed. Indeed, further integration will make enlargement more difficult, not easier.

If Ministers think that the Nice treaty is as popular as they claim, why are they so reluctant to put it to the test? Perhaps the reported comments of the Belgian Foreign Minister last week give us an indication. His remarks were specifically directed at Austria but clearly have wider application. He said: I personally think it is very dangerous to organise referendums when you're not sure to win them. That attitude of mind is deeply regrettable. When European Union leaders are not sure that they can win over the people on the benefits of a treaty, surely it is time to question the treaty itself, rather than the idea of giving the people a say.

In the past two days, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe have set out what has been reported as a fresh Government approach to Europe. We welcome that, but the Nice treaty takes Europe in precisely the opposite direction of that in which they want to go. The Minister said that he wants a Europe of the people and not elites, but the treaty takes power away from the people and the Governments whom they elect and transfers it to the EU level. It increases the number of occasions on which the minority can be overridden by qualified majority voting. It enhances the role of the European Court and of the Commission and its President—a matter that we did not have time to discuss yesterday. Community competence is extended in commercial policy and the remit of the court is increased.

The Minister says that he wants Europe to modernise and that its economy should be reformed, and yet the treaty reinforces the social chapter, signalling further red tape and regulation. That is the very approach that has caused Europe to lag behind in terms of job creation and the economic outlook of eurozone countries. The treaty represents a failure even on the Government's terms.

Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West)

The hon. Gentleman will recall that he voted against the idea of a referendum on the Maastricht treaty on 21 April 1993, when the matter was debated in the House. Presumably he did so because he supported the powerful arguments against a referendum that were advanced by the then Foreign Secretary, Lord Hurd. Which of Lord Hurd's arguments does he no longer support—and why, given that the Maastricht treaty was more far-reaching than the Nice treaty?

Mr. Spring

I thank the right hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to clarify the situation. The past eight years have seen a remorseless and one-way process of political integration. Nice provided an opportunity for the Government to begin to reverse that process. I am sure that the right hon. Lady agrees that the great challenge for the European Union is to connect with the peoples of Europe and to deal with the so-called democratic deficit. One of the clearest ways of doing that would be to return powers to the national Parliaments. In the intervening eight years, the process of integration has advanced remorselessly. We want to draw a line at this point and to involve the peoples of Europe. The right hon. Lady will acknowledge that acceptance, appreciation and support of the European Union is now low in most countries and is still ebbing away. All hon. Members will accept that that is regrettable. It is now time to incorporate the peoples of this country and Europe into the process.

Mr. David

Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that less legislation is now coming from the European Union than was coming from it four years ago?

Mr. Spring

We are dealing with the treaty of Nice and its implications. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has listened carefully to the Committee's debates. We have discovered not only that the Government repeatedly changed their mind before Nice, but that, as the Minister's answers have shown today, they simply did not think through the implications of what they agreed to there. That is the point about this Committee stage.

The Minister has said that he wants Europe to modernise and reform its economy, but the treaty represents a failure even on the Government's terms. The loss of the veto is far wider than they envisaged. Indeed, they originally opposed the measures on enhanced co-operation. The treaty increases the size of the European Parliament beyond the limit that they set for themselves. Steps have been taken towards the regulation and funding of Europe-wide political parties, but the Government originally resisted them. A bad scene was set earlier, when relevant new clauses were rejected and Labour Members declined to allow adequate scrutiny of that process to occur in the House of Commons. I believe that the Government will regret following the route that they have taken.

By contrast, where in the treaty is the evidence of the positive and determined engagement with our European counterparts for which the Minister is now calling? He says that he is a practical European, but where are the practical measures that he supports? Where is the signal that Europe will involve itself less in our daily lives? Where is the reform of the common agricultural policy, which Lord Haskins calls "one policy fits all" and is clearly the biggest single obstacle to enlargement? Where is the call for a multi-system Europe and real flexibility, which should move in a non-integrationist direction?

The lack of leadership from the United Kingdom Government means that even further integration is likely to be agreed upon at the next intergovernmental conference in 2004. As was clear in the Prime Minister's speech at Warsaw, the Government have lacked any clear vision of the architecture and structures that would enable the European Union to reconnect with the British people and the peoples of Europe. The idea that a second Chamber will achieve such a reconnection is absurd. Indeed, that was pointed out by Liberal Democrat MEP Nick Clegg in his pamphlet, which dealt with the matter very effectively.

At the Nice Council, European Union leaders agreed to discuss the status of the charter of fundamental rights, although British Ministers had tried to claim that the matter was settled. They agreed to discuss what would, in effect, be a written constitution for the European Union. Does not that alone illustrate the Government's complete failure to provide leadership in setting out an agenda that is right for a modern Europe and which reflects the wishes of the British people?

The Minister has emphasised in his recent statements the need for the European Union to start the process of reconnecting with the citizens of its member states. There could be no clearer signal that the Government mean what they say than putting the treaty to a referendum. It is time for the British people to have their say. I see from new clause 44 that that principle has support on both sides of the House. I welcome that support. The issue transcends the party political divide, as it is crucial to incorporate the people of this country into the process. I commend the new clause to the Committee.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

I rise to speak to new clause 44, on which I welcome the concluding comments of the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring). Indeed, I am sure that the Opposition so welcome it that he will seek to withdraw the motion on new clause 12. In the same way, the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) will doubtless decide not to press new clause 37, and we will instead have the opportunity to vote on new clause 44, which provides a small test of how much Opposition Front Benchers genuinely seek agreement across the Floor of the House.

Mr. Haselhurst, I oppose many aspects—

Mrs. Anne McGuire (Stirling)

Sir Alan.

Mr. Field

I am sorry. I almost feel that I should genuflect, Sir Alan. As always, I am grateful for the guidance of the Front Bench on these matters. Sir Alan, I think—

The Chairman

Order I do not want to make the right hon. Gentleman uncomfortable. The phrase "Mr. Chairman" would do

Mr. Field

Too many people have taken the poetry out of life, Sir Alan. I think that calling you Mr. Chairman would in some way detract from our proceedings.

7.30 pm

I oppose aspects of the Nice treaty. In it, this country surrenders the sovereignty that it currently holds over 39 areas. However, I may be wrong, and if the British people wish to surrender that sovereignty, it would be proper for the House to agree that approach. Some of my constituents who take an interest in such matters know that the argument that the Nice treaty will halt integration is bogus. The Amsterdam treaty grants the authority for introducing the next round of likely candidates. To question the Nice treaty is not to question the wisdom, the speed or the ultimate aim of including many new member states.

New clause 44 raises profound questions about this country's future and that of Europe. I, like my hon. Friends, speak as a citizen and friend of Europe and someone who knows that our destiny is bound up with the continent of Europe, as it has been since Tudor times. We also appreciate that those who began the journey in the early post-war years did so for the best of motives. They had witnessed two world wars—many had fought in both—which wrought havoc on the structure not only of their lives but of their country. In the 1940s, setting up a European Community was a most noble project. However, if we listened carefully to our constituents during the last European election campaign, we would know that their image of Europe is different from the objectives of the founding fathers all those years ago.

I want to repeat some of the phrases that my constituents used about the great journey on which we have embarked. They believe that we are on a juggernaut which has an automatic pilot. Its controls were set in the 1940s; it has no brake and no steering wheel. For those reasons, those of us who are friends of Europe, but critical of current developments in the European Community, support new clause 44.

There is a case for greater co-operation. Making it divides us into two camps on our perception of the nature of politics. Some believe that it is a technical process, which can be gleaned from books, and that one can write treaties and make policies in that way. Others believe that, although the technical process can play a part, successfully achieving our long-term political objectives requires understanding of the political culture in which one works and that of other countries with which we are increasingly integrated.

I want to emphasise the importance of natural developments, which the Nice treaty ignores. The Guardian produced a recent opinion poll of readers' views of European policy. It illustrates the divide that I mentioned. It showed huge scepticism about the single currency. Voters do not understand the reason for the way in which the project is presented, or the endgame. However, the same group of voters supported sharing sovereignty on issues such as the environment so that the policy in Europe could be more comprehensive. Such policies cannot be bound by the old nation states.

I tabled new clause 44 as a friend of Europe. However, I am not prepared to take just anything from a project that was conceived in the 1940s, no matter how noble the objective. During my vain efforts to persuade my constituents to vote in the European elections, the worst comments revealed that they viewed Europe as a thieves' kitchen. They notice that, for example, when the Danish people are consulted about the euro, they reject it, and that when the Irish people are asked about Nice, they reject the treaty. However, they also notice that when such votes are allowed in a small minority of countries, the machine tries to get the project on the road again by dismissing the voters' views.

The machine decides that the euro will be reconsidered in Denmark, and that, in time, the Danish people will accept it. The President of the European Commission has made absurd statements about the way in which Ireland will ultimately submit to his plans. To an enemy of the European Community, the President of the European Commission is worth every euro or penny we pay him, because we could not have a worse ambassador. He spells out his views of what other people's opinions should be.

New clause 44 goes to the heart of what the Prime Minister describes as the Government's approach in Europe. In a recent speech, he rejected the top-down approach. He perceived its limitations and failures, and said that the Government would adopt a bottom-up approach. How does that accord with pushing through the Nice treaty without giving the people of this country an opportunity to say whether they support its main ideas? Although the Prime Minister's name is not on new clause 44,1 have tabled it in his spirit.

Our approach to Europe has entered a new age. The old brutal approach whereby a small group of people could ram diverse traditions into a technical process, conceived 50 years ago, should be rejected. If we are serious about reconnecting with the voters, and if that phrase is not simply the latest bit of cant served up to appease them, Labour Members will vote for new clause 44.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman's excellent speech, which has impressed me. I am worried about his initial comments. He referred to the possibility of the Opposition withdrawing new clause 12 in favour of new clause 44. What was the reason for that suggestion? It would be appalling for the Opposition to withdraw a new clause on such a fundamental issue. Was the right hon. Gentleman joking? We are not good at understanding jokes. However, perhaps he meant it. That has worried me throughout his speech, which I have thoroughly enjoyed and with which I agree.

Mr. Field

I am not sure whether that was a double bluff. The Opposition's position is well known. They believe that, from now on, the people of Europe, or at least of this country, should be consulted about any major rearrangement of the furniture of Europe. They do not need to make a point. They say that they wish to get past point scoring and standing on precedent—an approach that bores the voters—and I therefore believed that they would respond to a genuine appeal, which was based on nothing other than hope. My constituents hope that we shall cease to play the silly game of party politics on big issues, and try to be as grown up as them.

Mr. Cash

If the right hon. Gentleman is expecting the official Opposition to withdraw their new clause or, indeed, me to withdraw mine, will he give us an assurance that, if we were to vote on his new clause, the Government would reverse the situation that pertains at the moment and give us a referendum on the Nice treaty? It seems that the right hon. Gentleman is simply asking us to do something without having the capacity to deliver it.

Mr. Field

I have no capacity to deliver anything. We would have to win the vote before there could be any instruction to the House. I have spent most of my parliamentary life on the Opposition Benches, as part of a party that could not win elections, although, thankfully, we now can. But even in those dark days we realised that if we were trying to maximise a vote, it was always sensible for the Opposition to group behind any movement by the Government rather than, as a point of principle or for some kind of textbook reason, tabling their own new clause.

Mr. Cash

I am interested in the national interest and in having a referendum. If I thought that there was a genuine opportunity to defeat the Government, as we did on the issue of Select Committees a couple of days ago, I would be happy to withdraw my new clause in favour of the right hon. Gentleman's. Will the right hon. Gentleman give us some tangible evidence that, if I did that, it would do some good?

Mr. Field

Either the hon. Gentleman is trying to extend this debate until the crucial hour at which we all wish it to end, or he is genuinely confused about this matter. There is no way in which I can give him that assurance. The only way we can try to influence Government opinion is to pass a new clause tonight. The Government would then have to try to reverse it. All I am suggesting to the right hon. Gentleman is that the likelihood of winning that vote will be increased if we vote on new clause 44 rather than on those tabled by the Opposition or by the hon. Gentleman. It is in the spirit of doing what is best for this country that I have tabled new clause 44 and I hope that, between now and 9.30pm, sense will prevail on the Opposition Benches.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

I, too, followed with great interest the thoughtful speech of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), but I regret to say that I disagreed with almost all of it. I feel buttressed in the correctness of that conclusion by the fact that we have just fought a general election campaign in which one of the main political parties offered a referendum to the people of the United Kingdom on the treaty of Nice, and that party was comprehensively defeated.

Mr. Frank Field

May I suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the Conservative party could not win the election and, therefore, whatever the party in government was proposing would have been approved? It would be dangerous for Labour Members to assume that voters were not interested in lower taxation or in the euro. They did not think that those issues should feature in the general election because they did not think that the group of people masquerading as Her Majesty's Opposition was fit to be elected.

Mr. Campbell

As a result of that intervention, the right hon. Gentleman may find it more difficult to persuade the official Opposition to abandon their new clause and vote in support of his. In reaching my conclusions on this matter, I have started from a quite different place from the right hon. Gentleman, and we shall have to accept that.

I am sure that there is amazement on the banks of the Liffey, astonishment in Galway and surprise in Sligo that the decision taken by the Irish people should have been elevated to such an extraordinary level of importance by a party that still, in some parts of the United Kingdom, describes itself as the Unionist party. Irish politicians will be astonished that they have now achieved the status of prophets—in this debate, if not in their own land—because of observations that they have made about the consequences of what happened in Ireland as a result of a referendum that arose out of an entirely different constitutional settlement from the one that obtains here in the United Kingdom.

7.45 pm

I do not believe that the decision of the people of Ireland should be allowed to intrude on the decision-making processes of the people of the United Kingdom. The fact that the people of Ireland decided that they did not want the treaty of Nice to be ratified in their constitutional arrangements may be a matter of some procedural consequence to the ultimate ratification and acceptance of the treaty by all the members of the European Union. However, it should not form any part of an argument in this Parliament, or in this country, about whether the treaty requires the endorsement of the British people through a referendum before it can be ratified.

I go back to the recent general election campaign. It seems like a long time ago; in fact, it was only about eight weeks. The position of Conservative Members, who have tabled the new clause, was that their party would have refused to sign the treaty of Nice and it would have gone to Gothenburg immediately after the general election in the confident expectation that it could renegotiate the terms of the treaty.

No great constitutional issues are raised by the treaty of Nice. Taxation, social security and defence remain firmly in the intergovernmental sphere, and firmly subject to unanimity. There will be a great constitutional step for this country to take if the Government of the day ever recommend that we join the single European currency. That will be a decision not only of economic management but of political and constitutional significance. That is why the former leader of my party, whom we must now learn to call Lord Ashdown, was the first to say that it was an issue of such importance that it ought to be the subject of a referendum, and that we should not join without the endorsement of the people of the United Kingdom. That will be a decision of a quite different degree and different substance from those on the procedural issues—the housekeeping issues, as I have previously described them—that are embraced by the treaty of Nice.

The claim for the need for a referendum was a catch-all—quite legitimately, one might argue, in the context of a general election campaign. It was something behind which all the Conservative candidates could cluster. It was a form of protection and of defence. However, one of those who was a prominent participant in the leadership contest and who is now to seek the verdict of the Conservative membership in the country holds a view of the treaty that is entirely consistent with the view that I have just expressed.

A referendum should not be used as an act of party politics. It should be employed sparingly in circumstances in which there are principled issues of constitutional consequence. There are no such circumstances in this case. I return to a point that I made on Second Reading. Where are the people besieging the House of Commons saying, "You should not be allowed to pass the legislation on the ratification of the treaty of Nice unless you ensure that we. the people, have a referendum on the matter"? As I said before, people have been breaking into Menwith Hill and protesting against national missile defence. Our postbags are filled with arguments about that, about health and about education. The notion that there is an unsatisfied popular demand out there for a referendum on the treaty of Nice is certainly not supported by my experience. Furthermore, I have not yet heard convincing arguments from others who have spoken in this debate or on previous occasions that their own experience mirrors an unsatisfied demand that this legislation should not pass into law unless it contains the provision for a referendum.

Mr. Spring

If such a referendum took place, what does the right hon. and learned Gentleman think the outcome would be? I know what I think it would be and that answers his question.

Mr. Campbell

If there were a referendum on the treaty, it would return a substantial verdict of affirmation—a verdict of yes that supported ratification— because we would have had the opportunity to conduct the argument in an intelligent and civilised way to which people would respond.

I have to tell the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) that, in my judgment, one of the consequences of the indiscriminate use of the referendum in a representative parliamentary democracy is an undermining of the very principle of parliamentary democracy, unless we can point to an issue that is of such fundamental constitutional importance that it requires Parliament to go to the people to seek their endorsement. The treaty justifies neither euphoria nor hysteria. It provides a framework for enlargement, which Members on both sides of the House support.

Mr. Cash

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that it has been made clear as a result of discussions and altercations with Romano Prodi when he was in Ireland that the decision taken by the Irish people has nothing to do with enlargement and that the Nice treaty itself has nothing to do with enlargement? Enlargement could take place under the Amsterdam treaty.

Mr. Campbell

That issue was fully canvassed on Second Reading and during the speech of the Foreign Secretary. Yes, the EU could be enlarged without the Nice treaty, but what sort of enlarged EU would it be? We would create a monster in which every country would be entitled to two Commissioners and the veto would be available to even the smallest country with the smallest population and the smallest gross domestic product.

If we are to have an enlarged Union, we must have a Union whose procedures allow for the effective management of that Union, subject, of course, to qualifications for the protection of countries such as ours and the smaller countries. An enlarged EU could be achieved without the treaty, but I venture to suggest that were there to be such an enlarged EU, the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) would be the first to declare it unmanageable, far too large and having reached a point at which it served no further purpose. Let me conclude—

Mr. Bercow

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Campbell

I must sit down. The hon. Gentleman may succeed in catching your eye, Sir Alan.

This is a framework treaty for a sensible enlargement and I believe that it should be ratified as soon as possible.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

I want to make my own arguments in favour of a referendum on the treaty by drawing mainly on comments made by my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe in his article in The Independent at the beginning of the week. He is absolutely right to say this is an appeal for plain speaking on Europe. No political spin. no media hype, no pejorative prejudice. Just an honest, straight discussion of difficult but momentous issues. That is the context in which we ought to approach the issues raised in the treaty and how it connects to the treaties that preceded it, because momentous consequences follow from it. We do ourselves and the public a great disservice when we suggest that it is a leftovers treaty—a tidying-up exercise of no great import either to the United Kingdom public or the future shape of Europe, the costs of it, and the political consequences that will be experienced by Europe. The British public have a right to be part of that informed debate.

The Minister's article continued: I am up for a robust debate and I respect different views, sincerely held, about Europe's future. But we need an intelligent debate about what is really happening—not a debate trapped in a time-warp caricature of doughty Britons versus fiendish foreigners. Again, I endorse that wholeheartedly. We have to address how we achieve that informed debate and how we take the public with us. This is the important point. When I was elected to Parliament, I understood that that mandate was conditional and that the party that won the majority of seats in the election had a mandate to govern, but that it had to be renewed. The mandate was not eternal; it was not unconditional.

Each time a period of office runs out, a Government have to present themselves to the public in another form of referendum—one on their competence to form a Government who govern in the public's name. The presumption was always that Governments who made a mess by introducing unpopular policies could be thrown out by an electorate who were fed up with them. Throwing out the Government of the day was a channel whereby people could reject the policies of the day that they found so objectionable. The important point about the succession of European treaties that we have been presented with is how many of them have stripped from Governments the ability to offer the electorate any such choice.

There are genuine dangers for the democratic process if we are saying to people, "Why vote when you can replace a Government, but not the policies that they will inflict on you? The same policies, acceptable or otherwise, will be pushed down your throat whoever is in power." The credibility of the House, the institution of Parliament and the democratic basis on which Parliament gets a conditional mandate is seriously undermined as we strip from ourselves the rights of the public to make those choices.

Mr. Bercow

With reference to the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is no great public clamour for a referendum on the Nice treaty because the debate on the subject has thus far been characterised by waffle, verbiage and obfuscation? That is why, there is no great public demand. Does the hon. Gentleman also agree that, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman is so confident of the strength of his arguments and that public opinion is with him, he should be prepared to put his view to the test? If he is not, we can draw our own conclusions.

Mr. Simpson

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to say that the ultimate test of our confidence in the public is to allow them to make choices for themselves. That is precisely what we have not done on a succession of European treaties. It is a perverse form of logic and justification to say, "We never gave the public a choice on Amsterdam and we never gave them a choice on Maastricht, so we had better not give them a choice on Nice either." That is like saying, "We never fed the kids yesterday or the day before, so we may as well not feed them tomorrow." At some point, we must take responsibility for feeding the democratic process. If we do not, we will have to take responsibility for the withering away of that process.

Mr. Campbell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, as he has referred to me if not directly, then at least by implication. Would he care to tell the House on what criteria he would base a decision as to whether to require a referendum in any particular case before the ratification of any treaty relating to our membership of the EU?

Mr. Simpson

The question is one of reversibility and amendability. The public have a right to decide on any decision we make that is irrevocable, or irrevocable unless colossal upheavals throw the institutional arrangements in Europe into crisis.

Parliaments have a right to make decisions within the conditionality of the mandates that they receive. Those mandates are renewable, not disposable. My fear is that Parliament has drifted down a path whereby it is treating temporary authority given to it by the public as though it has the right to dispose of the public's right to change their mind.

8 pm

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)

Although I do not agree with my hon. Friend, I commend him on his thoughtful speech. I agree with him that reversibility and amendability are good criteria for holding a referendum, but I do not see what in the treaty is not reversible, if that were decided in the future. Joining the euro is irreversible and requires a referendum, but can my hon. Friend tell me what in this treaty is not reversible?

Mr. Simpson

I should be delighted to answer that point, because that is the substance of my argument. If the public are to have confidence in Parliament, we must have confidence in them and ensure that they are the deciders rather than the decided for. Two central issues of the treaty have been misunderstood: one relates to an aspect of enlargement and the other to the move to qualified majority voting.

There has been a lack of clarity about the costs of enlargement. Germany made an incredible commitment to meet the costs of unification. Amazing transfers of cash from west to east were made to pay for a unifying, inclusive future in which all German citizens would have a place, a future, a sense of security and identity. I have enormous admiration for what Germany has done, but it has not come without a cost. So far it has cost the German public £150 billion. They have just signed up to an extension of the solidarity taxation to 2020, so have voluntarily levied on themselves a further £100 billion in taxation to pay for inclusion.

The economy of the former East Germany is stronger than those of any of the applicant states that will be part of the enlargement process, apart, perhaps, from the Czech Republic and Poland. Yet the costs of their transformation will not be met by additional resource transfers.

If we want expansion on the current model, we must be honest with ourselves and the public, and acknowledge what the costs will be and where they will paid from.

Mr. Hendrick

I suggest that my hon. Friend is misrepresenting what took place in Germany. At the time, there was an exchange rate of DM1 to OM1, which was totally unrealistic. The experience of German reunification led to the Maastricht convergence criteria. Deficits, interest rates and inflation were used as criteria to be brought to bear before a currency union could take place. Does my hon. Friend agree with me that, our having had that experience and having established the Maastricht convergence criteria, the instability caused by German reunification in no way compares with or relates to the currency union that has taken place in the European Union?

Mr. Simpson

Absolutely not. The issue was not the disparity between the deutschmark and the ostmark, but the physical, practical, structural and huge economic disparity between east and west.

Mr. Hendrick

Convergence does that.

Mr. Simpson

No. Convergence requires the collapse of economies. Demands are being made on applicant states that will result in the collapse of their economies in order to meet the convergence criteria, and they will be left with increased poverty and an increased need for social, financial and structural transfers. I do not want to duck the issue. If that is the price we must pay to build a cohesive European future, it may be worth paying, but we must be honest about it. At the moment, we are having an Alice in Wonderland debate. We are pretending that enlargement can take place and that the eastern European applicant states can be required to collapse their economies. We are not acknowledging that stability will have to be delivered in an expanded EU by huge resource transfers from west to east or we will face huge population movements from places where jobs and wealth have disappeared to places where people presume they are located. We owe it to the public and to ourselves to be clear about the consequences, and allow the public to make a choice.

Mr. Cash

The hon. Gentleman is making an extremely powerful case. Way back during the debates on the Maastricht treaty I said that I could not believe that my own Government were deliberately creating unemployment. Yesterday, the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies) made a powerful speech on the relationship between enhanced co-operation and prospective taxation, which Hans Eichel has said must be one of the necessary ingredients of these arrangements. The plain fact is that the hon. Gentleman is right that there is huge deceit, and the only way to resolve the problem and to make resources available for this fateful European Union—I do not agree with the manner in which it is being developed—is with the consent of the voters, on a properly informed basis.

Mr. Simpson

That is precisely the case that I am trying to make. I am giving examples to show why it is important for the public to have the right to decide these issues. It is critical that we address these problems not in a spirit of isolationism but, perhaps perversely, out of a sense of solidarity.

I was contacted by organisations in Poland that work in conjunction with the Polish farmers union, which represents 3 million Polish farmers. It argues that, so as to meet the convergence criteria, Poland is being asked to accept the imposition of huge reforms to its agricultural system, which will put 2 million of the 3 million farm workers out of work.

Mr. Cash

Where is the money coming from?

Mr. Simpson

That is one of the questions that the Polish farmers union asked me to raise here. It also wanted us to consider whether this model of expansion is genuinely sustainable.

Mr. David

Surely my hon. Friend is not suggesting that we should be in favour of maintaining east European command-style economies with their huge, unpredictable practices.

Mr. Simpson

I am not making that case. There is a positive alternative on offer to Polish agriculture. My hon. Friend may not be a great fan of Polish agriculture, but it feeds itself, has a strong basis of family farming, a huge infrastructure of local markets, food accountability and a biodiversity that does not fit with the demands being made on it by the European Union to take a leap into a future based on industrial agriculture.

Many global environmental movements are forewarning us of the colossal dangers if the demands of industrial agriculture that are being foisted on the European Union and on countries through the World Trade Organisation are a condition of enlargement. What the Polish people were asking me is this: why can we not have a debate about enlargement on different terms? Why can the British people not make a positive decision that is in favour of a European sense of solidarity, rather than a retreat from it?

The general election manifesto on which I understand at least half the Polish parties are campaigning asks us in the existing EU member states to support their claims for a conscious policy … to protect and promote the values of the Polish countryside, in opposition to rapidly spreading globalisation. It wants us to recognise that the way in which to ensure optimum public and environmental health is through promoting a diet based on high quality local foods, and a countryside rich in natural bio-diversity. What in that agenda is so unacceptable to us? Why should we not engage with it? Why can we not offer that to the public as a positive choice when it comes to a model of expansion? At present there is no choice, but a given, defined model that has been foisted on us. I fear that that is the direction in which we are being taken.

There is another fundamental problem that requires a referendum and the public's right to vote. I am talking about the counter side: alongside the physical expansion of EU membership is a clear democratic contraction, not just in the context of qualified majority voting. I do not subscribe for a moment to the argument that QMV is a grand German plot for the domination of Europe. That is a gross insult to the German people's integrity, and their commitment to European stability. My objections, which I consider central to the British public's right to make a decision, are based on the fact that QMV is not really about the weighting of votes in favour of politicians or political parties from different countries. The real, fundamental shift is not from a decision made in the House of Commons to a decision made in the Council of Ministers; it is the decision-making process that will be hijacked by the European Commission.

There is an important background to this, which the House and the country need to understand. There has been a continuing dispute between the Commission and the Council of Ministers about the Commissioners' prerogative to make decisions on everyone's behalf. It goes back to the 1994 Uruguay round, when the Commissioners argued that they alone were competent to negotiate on European matters on our behalf.

At the time our Ministers, and other Ministers, argued that that was not so. They said that trade in services and trade in intellectual property were areas of what was described as mixed competence, rather than Community competence. The significance of that argument was this: in areas of mixed competence, our Ministers are part of direct negotiations on policies that affect our citizens—international negotiations. Many such negotiations have been thrown into turbulent conflict in the World Trade Organisation, in Seattle and beyond. None of us should pretend that those are not some of the big conflict areas with which our society must deal in the future.

We shall be left with this question: when the public are clamouring on our doorsteps or letters pour into our postbags, on how many of those areas will we be able to make any decisions ourselves? How many, under the treaty, will we have signed away, so that we have no competence? Surely the public should have the right to choose which areas of competence to cede.

8.15 pm

I want to illustrate what this means in practical terms, and so explain how it affects issues raised by members of all parties and their constituents. Those will be the issues on which there will be conflict in the future. Even in the short term of this Parliament, the Government have embarked on a robust and interesting debate about the role of the private sector in public services. We have been told that none of the arrangements involved in the GATS—general agreement on trade in services—negotiations would automatically apply here, because we can choose what we will not be a part of. However, as the issue moves into the sphere of Community competence, two things happen.

First, our Ministers have no relevance in the negotiations; they are conducted solely and exclusively by the European Commissioners. The Nice treaty offers the Commissioners a wonderful resolution of something that really cheesed them off following the Uruguay round. They took their case to the European Court of Justice, which ruled that countries had ceded the right to negotiate in the trade in goods but not the right to negotiate in the trade in services, and that the arrangement did not apply to commercial aspects of intellectual property rights.

The Nice treaty has tied things up nicely for the Commissioners. They win the battle for the sole right to negotiate on everyone's trade terms, because we decide to give them that right. The mechanism of qualified majority voting will be much easier to manipulate than an arrangement giving individual countries the right to say no. That is profoundly important to those with an interest in environmental sustainability. In the Montreal convention, we set out the right of countries to apply the precautionary principle—to say no when they did not know. Handing over the negotiating rights for all trade leaves us one step short of being told by the Commissioners that we no longer have any such authority.

The Welsh, who have fought hard for Wales to remain a zone free of genetically modified organisms, may well be told that they have no right to restrict the planting of GM crops there, because that would constitute indirect interference with trade. The patent rights that the biotech companies have acquired are followed by rights to plant, grow and sell. For those with environmental concerns, it is just tough luck. They no longer have authority to make decisions in their own right in areas in which they have ceded decision-making and negotiating rights to the European Commissioners.

If we wanted warning of that, we should have paid attention to the role that Pascal Lamy attempted to play as trade negotiator in Seattle. We were saved by the role played by some of our own Ministers, who flatly stated that they would not reach an agreement with the biotech corporations. Pascal Lamy is on public record as saying, "I will go and negotiate an agreement." Only the fact that he had not the authority to do so stopped the process, and allowed us to make those decisions. We will have to explain to the British public why we no longer have any authority to implement policies on which they feel passionately.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) asked where the postbag was. The postbag will bypass us if we hand over the pass on the right to make responsible decisions relating to our stewardship of those people's environment and the shape of their society. As for services, a remit will be extended to the Commissioners to address rail services, postal services, health services and education services.

We should not kid ourselves that we can have a debate here that presumes that we can make decisions. Perhaps we should remind those in Downing street that the party stands for a strong commitment to public delivery of public services; but even if we do that, Downing street may tell us, "You can say what you like, but the policies are no longer made here. We now have obligations that are determined at European level, rather than prerogatives that can be determined at national parliamentary level."

Provisions on intellectual property rights will extend to the whole domain of our policies in respect of GMOs. On sustainable trade, when we seek to deal with climate change and to impose payback economics—pay back to the planet, not just to shareholders—we are likely to find that that is in breach of the decision-making authority that we have handed over to the European Commissioners, who will conduct the negotiations.

On environmental protection, I have a particular interest in the notion of producer liability. There is a desperate cry for the UK to introduce legislation that will at least define who is liable for genetic contamination of the environment in respect of GM crop trials. Farmers, supermarkets and local communities want to know that. There is huge pressure on us to bring in producer liability legislation.

Mr. Cash

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Simpson

May I finish the point?

Europe is discussing producer liability legislation. People are already saying, "It is an interesting idea, but why don't we leave it and see where the European roundabout takes us?" The reality is simple. The biotech corporations have been working hand in glove with European Commissioners, saying, "We do not want any liability regime that would make us legally responsible for the damage that we do, so spin it round for the decade and then come out with a policy that is anodyne and useless." If we sign up to the measure, we will sign away any ability to say, "No. It is an inadequate resolution of a real environmental threat and the ducking of a legitimate environmental liability."

Mr. Cash

There is a lot of talk about product liability, directives and so forth in the European Union. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. He had not got on to the producer liability directive when I tried to intervene. That is the problem. Everything is being subsumed.

Mr. Simpson

Fundamentally, it comes down to the right of the British public to decide. They may feel that there is a greater good to be had in going down the path along which the Nice treaty takes us one step further. I doubt it. After an informed debate, we would not wish to sign up to that model of an inclusive European future. There are better models. It is just that we have not had the right to address them. We face a fundamental test of our long-term credibility. If we deny the public the right to a say, it takes us one step closer to defining ourselves as of no relevance to the big issues that confront their lives. That is why I do not welcome the measure.

Whatever disagreements we have on policy issues, there is an imperfect virtue about the nature of parliamentary democracy. It gives the public and parties the right to change course, to change positions and to be changed. If we surrender that, we have to accept responsibility for increasing numbers of the public saying that, as an institution, we have less and less relevance in determining the issues that affect their lives, and they will look elsewhere.

There is a danger that the European project has already become hijacked. Ten thousand corporate lobbyists permanently besiege. Brussels to ensure that their policies are the ones that become EU directives. There is an agenda there. The priorities of corporate Europe are directly at odds with the long-term interests of civic Europe. If we do not deliver on-going democratic accountability, the danger is that we will prepare the ground for citizens legitimately to conclude that parliamentary democracy has become a farce or a facade. and that change will have to come through a direct challenge by citizens to corporate greed. There is huge instability in any country's going down that path. If we do not make a stand to defend the rights of citizens to decide, they will decide to do so themselves in other ways.

Mr. Cash

I would like, as it were, to begin at the end of the debate, by taking up the point made by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). He invited us to withdraw our new clauses and to allow him to go ahead with his. They are substantively the same—there is no real difference between the three new clauses—but I asked him whether he had any tangible evidence that that would deliver the type of result that I would, obviously, want. I believe passionately that we should have a referendum on this treaty, as we should on the whole treaty on European Union. Another new clause that I tabled to that effect was not selected, but that was because it was outside the scope of the Bill, not because it did not have any intrinsic merit.

I am not inviting the right hon. Gentleman to give the same answer as before. I merely point out that no useful purpose would be served if the position that some of us have consistently adopted in principle over a long time—that matters that come within the ambit of the treaties should be referred to a referendum—were adopted by a relatively small number of rebels on the Government Benches. In the heady days of Maastricht, the dividing line was narrow enough for us to be able to press matters to some effect. Therefore, although I will be guided by the Front-Bench team, I do not see any reason why we should not press the matter to a Division on our own account.

I welcome the speech made by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead and the thoughtful speech made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson). I do not agree with all his arguments, but I agree emphatically with the underlying idea of the necessity, in principle, to obtain the consent of the electorates. This treaty, like the consolidated treaty on the European Union, is of increasing and vast importance for the daily lives of our constituents.

I have said repeatedly that every time we deal with a line in the treaty, if we implement it in our domestic law we are doing the equivalent of what would otherwise require a Bill which could take as long as six months to consider. We are conducting a monumental exercise.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, South talked about Poland. In my travels with the Select Committee I have been all over central and eastern Europe. I have noticed over the past few years that since negotiations for accession began, those countries have been required to change and consolidate virtually every page of their statute books so that they become consistent with the acquis communautaire. That is the blackmail deal being conducted.

I know from my discussions with Members of Parliament and members of the public in those countries that they are deeply disturbed by the extent to which their elite have driven the legislation through their respective Parliaments. Charts supplied to me through the European Scrutiny Committee and given to me by the prospective member states show that they have complied with certain chapters of the acquis communautaire. It has been a relentless process of attrition. However, the key point is that there has been no consent from the people. Slice by slice, they have had their intrinsic democracy taken away by negotiations conducted on their behalf by their elite. As far as I can make out, that has taken place without any reference to the people or any information about what is going on.

8.30 pm

On Second Reading, I referred to the impact that I thought that would have on the springtime of nations, which we may remember from 1988–89. At that time we were all elated by the way in which, with great courage, those countries disentangled themselves from the Soviet Union. We were all exhilarated by those events. However, 1 fear for those countries, as I do for the United Kingdom, in respect of our democratic principles and the forum of the House of Commons. For the reasons that I have given in the many debates on the Nice treaty in which I have participated, I believe that this House is being reduced day by day—not only by the attitude of the Prime Minister and the Government Whips but by a whole series of forces, including those which require Select Committees to be nominated by the Whips, and the refusal to accept the Liaison Committee report. That is all part of a process, and that is why I am a vigorous and enthusiastic member of the Parliament First group.

On the day we returned after the election I saw the draft of the Parliament First group motion. I said that if I were the Prime Minister, in the aftermath of a landslide victory, what would worry me most would be the fact that hon. Members from both sides of the House—many of them highly respected—were combining to put Parliament back in its proper place. In order to achieve that, given the encroachment of legislation such as this, which is about European government and emanates from the treaties of Nice, Amsterdam and Maastricht, it has become increasingly necessary for parliamentarians to take a stand.

This will he a test for the Leader of the House, to see whether he can deliver anything meaningful. I spoke to him recently, and during an exchange in a debate, he said that he would be prepared to meet some of us to discuss the implications of the need to increase the power of Back Benchers. When we make a stand of that kind, we are standing up for the voters of this country, which is what it is all about. The bottom line on all these European questions is democracy and accountability.

I wrote a pamphlet a few months ago entitled "Associated but not absorbed". It calls for an associated European area, which would mean that if the current member states were not prepared to listen to the arguments for renegotiation of the treaties, the associated countries could gather together and form their own treaty. That would effectively outflank the process of so-called irreversible integration. As with the great battles of the 19th century, such as those over the corn laws and the Reform Act of 1867—as the hon. Member for Nottingham, South seemed to suggest if I read his mind correctly—reversibility can be achieved only by people making it clear that when there is no response in their interest from Governments or elites, it is up to them to ensure that their freedom and democracy is preserved. Only time will tell what the exact mechanism for doing that will be. That process is dangerous. There is a disconnection.

I have heard for very many years about the democratic deficit. However, the continuing process of integration has been accompanied by a refusal to do anything about that democratic deficit, which everyone acknowledges exists. Although the riots in Gothenburg, for example, certainly did not relate exclusively to the Nice treaty, they did occur at a European Union summit and were symbolic of people's determination to have their views heard. I deeply regret the fact that anarchists and others have become involved in all those processes, and I believe profoundly that it is essential that protest should be peaceful, but I also say that Governments create such circumstances, by carrying on as if voters were unimportant or did not matter at all.

A short time ago, as hon. Members may recall, I said that a fateful decision was taken when the Danish referendum was disgracefully rejected by the Danish Government, and John Major's Government agreed to allow another referendum to be held. I strongly objected in the House to that decision. The following week or so, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung published an editorial saying that elections are becoming a form of protest, and that that is very dangerous and must be stopped. Such language shows an attitude of mind that is not only extremely dangerous but has continued ever since.

Those who hold such views do not seem to have discovered that sooner or later, people refuse to put up with those views. They rely greatly on the fact that people do not know what is going on. Does anyone have the foggiest idea of the implications of enhanced co-operation? If so, I defy them to explain them to me.

Yesterday we had a debate on the formulae, philosophy and provisions of enhanced co-operation. Hon. Members can judge for themselves the outcome of that discussion, much of which was between the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies) and me. We discussed the range and depth of enhanced co-operation, the manner in which it is creating gravitational pull, the way in which it is moving towards direct taxation and the fact that it is centred on eight member states, regardless of the Union's enlargement to 27. We also discussed many other matters, although I shall not repeat them as they are set out in the report of that debate. However, I defy anyone who has not become a serious political analyst—or, I am sorry to say, a lawyer—to explain the precise consequences of enhanced co-operation. It has a vast impact.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) implied that he thought that the treaty was unimportant in many respects, by saying that he could not see any constitutional implications in it. He therefore questioned our tabling a new clause providing for a referendum. As I know him to be a man of great distinction and perception, I am astonished that he could not see the constitutional implications of enhanced co-operation. Moreover, enhanced co-operation is only one of the treaty's provisions.

Given the small number of hon. Members attending this debate—there are only two Conservative Back Benchers in the Chamber—

Sir Teddy Taylor

Two very good ones.

Mr. Cash

I shall leave my hon. Friend to say that; I make no claims for myself.

I am trying my best to put the facts on the record, and to some extent I have succeeded. However, no information is going from this House to the public on the subject of enhanced co-operation.

The communication between ourselves and the public depends on the media. I am grateful that some of my comments on defence matters were referred to in the national press this morning, but some columnist, commentator or worthy journalist should be prepared to reduce the complexity of these matters by writing an article for one of the great national newspapers to enable more people to understand what is going on.

We are individual Back Benchers, but journalists have access, through the prints, to up to 3 million people and can warn them of what the treaty contains. The same applies to radio and television. During the debate on the Queen's Speech, I spoke about constitutional implications, including the reform of Parliament. In that speech I referred to the BBC and the broadcasting authorities generally, and suggested that their research departments and commentators might take an interest in the treaty. Perhaps I am a wishful thinker, because I will be surprised if there is any reference to this debate on the radio or television. I hope that I am wrong, and I will continue to try my best.

As for the Irish and Danish referendums, the Irish people were presented, through their referendum commission, with a paper that was delivered to every household, summarising in simple language the implications of the Nice treaty. I will not be told by anybody, no matter how self-important they may seem, that the Irish people did not know what they were doing. They received information and formed the judgment on which their decision was taken.

There were other issues, such as the McCreevy speech—there were also problems involving Mr. McDowall—around the time of the referendum. But there is no doubt that the Irish people made their decision, by a substantial majority, in the light of information made available to them. It is irresponsible for anyone to suggest that they did not know what they were doing.

Mr. David

Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the turnout in the referendum was only 35 per cent.?

Mr. Cash

No doubt the hon. Gentleman will remember the degree of cynicism and apathy generated by the continual driving through of this process by the elite, which was reflected, for example, in our turnout for the European elections of no more than 23 per cent. The failure—by Europe's elites, establishments and Governments—to inform people properly has led to much of the apathy and cynicism that exists, so I do not take the hon. Gentleman's point very seriously.

8.45 pm

I campaigned in the Danish referendum, and I appeared on platforms with French leaders during France's Maastricht treaty referendum. I did so because the matters under discussion, as they applied in those countries, affected Britain. Decisions reached by majority vote in the Council of Ministers, or by Governments at intergovernmental conferences, are part of the constant movement towards political union. They have an impact on us because laws are transferred to this country by section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972.

Britain therefore has an intrinsic interest in what is going on in other countries, and it is essential for us to take an active interest in referendums held elsewhere. However, we must do so with a degree of circumspection, depending on the country involved and whether its Government want us to participate in the referendum process.

Mr. David

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. He did not attach much significance to my earlier intervention, but I hope that he will to this one. Does he accept that Denmark is not having a referendum on the Nice treaty because it does not consider it sufficiently significant?

Mr. Cash

The hon. Gentleman clearly anticipates a riposte from me, and he shall have it: Denmark is not holding a referendum on the Nice treaty because the Danish Government are frightened that they might lose. That is borne out by the history of referendums in that country—a history that I know well.

The Danish people voted no in the first referendum, and then were badly let down by the British Government and others. Another referendum was held, and during that campaign companies blackmailed people by threatening to close factories. People voted yes in the second referendum, but deeply regretted it. I remember being in a café in Copenhagen, and a young woman sitting with her boyfriend next to me started to cry. When I asked her why, she told me that she had voted in favour of the proposal set out in the referendum, and now wished that she had not. People were frightened. The next referendum in Denmark was on the euro, and they voted against it. I therefore base my answer to the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) on facts, not conjecture or speculation.

Referendums should obtain the consent of a country's people—in deciding, for example, who should govern them, and how. They should not be used indiscriminately, but they are appropriate when vast tranches of power are being engineered by the elite. That is what is happening with the Nice treaty, for which no referendum is planned.

The Government stand accused of refusing to give the British people the right to have their say on the Nice treaty. The same thing happened with the Amsterdam treaty, in connection with which I tabled an amendment similar to new clause 37.

Moreover, I organised and ran the Maastricht referendum campaign. I am glad to say that I was supported by Bryan Gould, a member of the Labour party, and by the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey), from the Liberal Democrat party. They were my joint chairmen. We ran the campaign together, and obtained 500,000 signatures to the demand for a referendum from our own Government.

On 11 June 1996 I introduced the Referendum Bill. I was hauled into the Chief Whip's office and given a roasting, which made no impact on me whatever, for daring to introduce a Bill that was supported by no fewer than 95 right hon. and hon. Members, about 98 per cent. of whom were from my party. I pay tribute to several Labour Members, too, and I remember from the Division list that the distinguished and right hon. Member for Llanelli supported the proposal.

I gave my reasons for objecting to our not having a referendum. I do not think it necessary to go into the speech that I made on that occasion, because it dealt with matters that are now history. However, the rather pathetic attempts to haul me over the coals for daring to bring forward that Bill—an action that has proved entirely justified, in the light of further moves towards greater integration, which I predicted at the time—make me think that at least I did the right thing for the right reason.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

How does the hon. Gentleman expect the conversation to go when the Chief Whip in a future Conservative party led by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) wishes to discuss the same matters with him? I would be interested to know whether he has any thoughts about that.

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Michael Lord)

That may be a most interesting question, but I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman did not pursue it.

Mr. Cash

I will take that up one day with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), as I did with the former Conservative Prime Minister, John Major.

In introducing the Referendum Bill I said: A federal Europe involves surrendering the levers of national democratic government to central unelected officials and a remote and unrepresentative European Parliament … A proper referendum is required of those who will be most affected—the voters themselves. The judgment of the people is now required."—[Official Report, 11 June 1996; Vol. 279, c. 118–119.] I said it then and I say it again now. As far as I am concerned, Members who vote for the new clause will be doing the right thing by the people of this country, for the right reason. I just wish that the information in these debates would be made available to the people at large.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

I wish to speak in support of new clause 44 but will vote for new clause 12.

It is important that Labour members preface our remarks on Europe so that people are aware that we are not xenophobic little Englanders. In fact, from the late 1960s and early 1970s, many of us have pursued a policy of a united socialist Europe. I do not suppose that there will be many Institute for Public Policy Research booklets or research pamphlets on that for the time being. During that debate, we learned that if we were to build a socialist Europe—a Europe in the interests of working people—we would need to take people with us, fully engage them all the way through the process and secure their support step by step.

That is why the Irish referendum is a lesson for us. I have some anxieties about how it has been depicted. I know that a number of issues were brought to the fore in that referendum, but there is an element of patronising racism in some of the comments that have been made about that debate. I hope that we can call a halt to that.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) entered into a wonderful alliteration around the Irish debate—surprise in Sligo and so on. To follow that theme, there were doubts in Dublin and worries in Waterford and there was downright chagrin along the Shannon. The Irish people came to a clear view about the overall European project, not necessarily about the treaty of Nice.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the general election was a referendum on the treaty of Nice. There was certainly a commentary about Europe throughout the election, but the detail of the treaty was not a key issue in the pubs and clubs of my constituency, although it may have been in his. He also argued that people were not demonstrating against the treaty, but that does not mean that there is tacit support for it either. There are no people marching in the streets in favour of it.

The key question—one to which I do not yet have the answer—is what triggers a referendum in a country with no written constitution. There was no referendum on Maastricht or Amsterdam, and we do not propose one on Nice. Yet for other political decisions it is almost as if we have taken a referendum diuretic. We have had referendums not only on Wales and Scotland but on a mayor for London. We are promised referendums on regional assemblies. We demand referendums on the reform of councils—whether there should be a mayor and cabinet, a leader and cabinet or a leader and chief executive. A referendum has been called for on parish councils. There was a referendum on the Good Friday agreement. A range of referendums has been established, but not on this issue.

I understand why people say that the criteria for referendums are whether something is reversible or amendable, but without a written constitution, the main criterion has been that a debate has taken place in the House on a matter on which there is a certain level of political sensitivity so that the political will exists to consult the people. Often, to be frank, that has been politicians wanting to consult the people, hear what they want and confirm their prejudices.

The political sensitivity about the treaty of Nice is that although it contains some significant elements—my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) made the most eloquent and detailed speech about the implications of the treaty—people from all parties are concerned that we are embarked on creeping, incremental constitutional change, treaty by treaty. At some stage, we have to confront the need to put the creeping centralisation of the EU to the people. My hon. Friend pointed out some of the key issues in the treaty, and other key issues will arise in subsequent discussions. They are about choice. The treaty of Nice and enlargement raise questions about how those policies will be paid for and what policies the EU will pursue to ensure a balance between centralisation and diversity as the new countries enter the EU.

There should be an open debate about whether we are going for a centralised state or some form of confederacy. At some stage, we have to draw the line. I know that the argument is put before us that, with the intergovernmental conference coming up in 2004, we need to encourage a debate. I agree with that, but we have not said that we will hold a referendum on the future of Europe either before or after the IGC.

At this stage, it would give some of us, and many of those whom we seek to represent, comfort if we made a very explicit statement that we will have a debate on the future of Europe and that, if we do not have a referendum on the treaty of Nice, there will be a referendum on Europe. Some argue that the euro is just a financial matter that does not involve constitutional change, but I disagree: it is about the overall future direction of Europe.

9 pm

One view is that, with the treaty of Nice, we are going one step further towards undermining representative democracy. We used to talk about the military-industrial complex; we now talk about the corporate-bureaucratic complex of the EU. We should open up such a debate, and as we approach the 2004 IGC, we should at least assure people that, after a full and thorough debate, a referendum will take place on the future structure of Europe. That involves not only the euro, but the EU's political direction, its funding, the taxation base, the mechanisms for taxation and, above all, the mechanisms of political and representative democracy.

Sir Teddy Taylor

I hope that this will not he regarded as offensive, but I want to tell the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and his two colleagues that I have a huge regard for what they are doing. They know very well the problems they will have in supporting democracy and referendums, probably against their party's wishes. They will be faced with all kinds of problems. They will get no credit from anyone, and hardly anyone will pat them on the back because, by and large, the general public have not a clue what the treaty of Nice is. They know that what they are doing is absolutely right. Many hon. Members presented with such a choice would simply not bother to do anything because they would have all kinds of troubles if they did. They would not get on to Select Committees or get promoted, and they would probably be undermined in their constituencies.

It is easy to keep quiet and do nothing, and the majority of people take that view, but the right hon. Gentleman and his two colleagues are not going that way; they know that it is vital to stand firm. As someone who has been in trouble and who knows how important the issues are, I have a high regard for them. When the time comes and they face their maker or look back on history, they will know that they have done the right thing for the right reasons. In all sincerity, I have the highest regard for them.

What about a referendum? Opposition parties usually like referendums, but Governments do not, unless they think that they will win them. Basically, there should be a referendum if the power entrusted to us by the people might be given away irreversibly. We as an institution should manage that power and look after it. If people entrust us with money, power or anything else and we decide to give it away irreversibly so that it can never come back, they should be entitled to a referendum. I wish that both the main parties could reach an agreement so that if we might irreversibly hand away the power entrusted to us by the people, the people would be given the right to say yes or no. That should apply throughout the whole EU, but of course it does not.

Although some hon. Members may laugh, as they always do in European debates, they should accept the simple point that with every European treaty that we have passed, including the treaty of Rome and the Single European Act—I have voted against them all—the Government have said that it was different, that it represented a step forward and that it was good. Those then on the Conservative Front Bench told me time and again that the Single European Act did not involve handing over power to majority voting, that it was simply intended to encourage free trade, that it would help Britain and our industries and jobs and that I was trying to frustrate such help. It was obvious from the treaty that, in fact, it would involve handing over masses of democratic power, but we were told not to worry. The general public were not worried at all and, of course, they were blatantly misled.

At the time of Maastricht, our Liberal Democrat friends, and others who are always great enthusiasts for Europe, told us that there was nothing to worry about and that everything was okay. They told me that the treaty had positive aspects that would benefit everyone. People were blatantly misled. The same is happening with the treaty of Nice—we are being told that it is nothing to worry about.

As Labour Members know, receiving one of those ridiculous objective 2 grants is rather like winning the cup final. A colleague spoke about them in the Adjournment debate last night. Some colleagues will probably know that, for reasons that I do not understand, my constituency is the only one in the whole of Essex to get objective 2 money. We applied for grants for only three out of our six wards, but it was decided that five wards should receive funds, so we got more than we asked for. Vast sums will pour into the constituency, and everyone is very happy. When I look around at the unusual projects that such grants are spent on, however, I wonder whether they are a good thing. People in other constituencies are upset and think that the decisions are unfair because there are European rules on unemployment, and my constituency does not have a terribly high unemployment rate. My constituents and those of many Labour Members think that objective 2 is wonderful because money is pouring in to be spent on exciting projects. Our high street will get new lamp posts and trees, which is fantastic.

Hon. Members should ask themselves what will happen to all those grants when, under the Nice treaty. the membership of the EU is extended. How many Labour Members' constituencies are receiving objective 1 or 2 funding? The plain fact is that in 2006 we will start over, and I believe that there will be hardly any objective 1 or 2 funding for the United Kingdom because, inevitably, all that money will go to eastern Europe. I challenge the Government to prove me wrong.

I turn now to the ridiculous common agricultural policy, which everyone knows is the biggest protection racket ever devised. It wastes a vast amount of money. Farmers thought that it was wonderful at first because they got higher prices and guarantees. In the same way, fishermen thought that the EU was wonderful until everything went wrong. What on earth will happen to the CAP when we extend EU membership? Romania and Poland have the potential to grow enough food for the whole of Europe. At present, we spend most of the money from the policy on dumping or destroying food. It will be a nightmare when EU membership is extended, and eastern Europe is covered by the CAP. The Government have said, as did the previous Government, that there can be no extension of membership unless there is fundamental reform of the CAP, but that reform has not happened—indeed, it cannot happen—as hon. Members are well aware.

GM foods have been mentioned. We can do something about that problem. If, for example, children in my constituency grow two heads and we can conclusively prove that GM foods are to blame, we can impose certain restrictions on them for three months subject to the approval of the European Commission. However, the basic freedom that we had has gone.

I could go on for a long time because there are 17 other matters that I could mention, but my basic point is that the treaty of Nice is very significant. Like all the previous treaties, it represents a massive surrender of power. It means that 90 per cent. of the decisions in the European Union will be taken by majority vote. If we are worried about immigration controls and asylum seekers, we must consider what will happen when the restrictions are removed and eastern Europe is included in the European Union.

It may be that all that is for the benefit of mankind, but the people should be told about the treaty. Every time there is a treaty, we are told not to worry because it is not as bad as the last one, and represents a step forward. We must remember that when we hand over the people's power and things go wrong, the people get nasty. They are not worried now because, by and large, they do not have a clue what is in the treaty. When they ask about it they are told not to worry, and only a few people will tell them that it is bad. When democracy goes wrong and people feel that they have been betrayed and sold out, everyone will have a nasty time.

That is why it is right to let the people decide. At least then, if it goes wrong, we can say, "You voted for it." Of course, we might have to say, "You didn't bother to vote for it—only 50 per cent. of you bothered to vote." However, we should at least give them the chance to vote. We must remember that the power is not ours; it belongs to the people, and we are meant to be managing it. If we hand over that power without giving them the chance to decide, we are not only cheating but undermining the whole principle of democracy.

That is why I hope that hon. Members will vote tonight for a referendum. I presume that not many of them will, but if we do not, we will be making a terrible mistake. I say again in all sincerity that I know that Labour Members who vote for a referendum will be doing something unpopular that will get them into trouble, but they will be doing the right thing. True democrats will some day cheer them and say that they were right.

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley)

I shall be brief, as other hon. Members want to speak.

As the Committee knows, I am a new Member. I received a telephone call yesterday to ask whether I would write a short article for The House magazine about my first impressions. I have many first impressions, but those that are relevant to the debate concern scrutiny. In various debates over the past 10 days, we have heard much about the importance of Members of Parliament scrutinising legislation and holding the Government to account. I take the matter seriously, and I believe that the people of Sheffield, Heeley elected me to do that job.

However, with regard to some of the new clauses before us, I find it difficult to take seriously the contention that the Opposition are interested in scrutiny and in holding the Government to account. New clause 37 has the names of six hon. Members against it. New clause 12 has the names of four hon. Members against it. I cannot count 10 Members of the official Opposition in the Chamber.

I also find it difficult to take seriously the calls for a referendum. As has been said, the Conservatives do not have a history of holding referendums on such matters. Why now? We have heard various explanations. We have heard that it is time for the people to have their say, that we should respect the views of the British people, that remorseless political integration is under way and that powers should be returned to Parliament. Opposition Members seem to be saying that they do not want to be in the European Union. If that is what they believe, they should say so. In their current search for a leader, that will cause them some difficulties. People should be honest about what they want and clear about what they are saying.

My constituents receive objective 1 funding, and I do not share the fears of the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor). We are not proud to live in an area that is among the poorest in Europe. We are extremely concerned about that. I hope that objective I money will do what it is intended to do—help to lift the people of my constituency and the surrounding area out of that situation, so that when the money comes to an end, as it is programmed to do, we will not feel the loss.

Sir Teddy Taylor

To resolve the question, why does not the hon. Lady ask the Minister, an able, conscientious and talented person with lots of officials to back him up, a simple question: what happens to Britain's share of objective 2 and objective 1 in the event of Europe expanding to include eastern Europe? There are three possibilities: the money will be cut, it will be increased or it will stay the same. Why not ask the Minister and see what he says?

Ms Munn

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will have heard those comments and that there is no need for me to waste time repeating them. If he wishes to deal with the hon. Gentleman's point in his winding-up speech, I am sure that he will do so. As I was saying, I hope that my constituents will not need such assistance in several years' time.

9.15 pm

Why do the Opposition propose a referendum on the Nice treaty when they are so reluctant to support a referendum on the euro? That reluctance has been made very clear. Some hon. Members suggested that the general election constituted a referendum on keeping the pound. If that is the case, the decision has been taken and the matter is over, although I am sure that that is not exactly what the people believe.

I believe that the treaty will make significant improvements and help enlargement. Constituents of mine who raised the issue during the general election campaign were supportive of enlargement and wanted us to move ahead, but many people do not understand the detail of the treaty. That is for us to talk about and explain, but I support the Government's position, which is that a referendum is unnecessary on this matter.

Dr. Ladyman

Very little time remains, so I shall keep my remarks brief and hope that hon. Members will forgive me if my contribution does not include some of the usual pleasantries. Three very thoughtful speeches were made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), and I hope to deal at least in part with some of the issues that they raised.

Whenever we enter into a treaty, the minimum consequence is that we reduce our national room to manoeuvre, but sometimes we go further and limit our sovereignty. Whether we share or pool it, it will be limited in some way. However, we do not automatically have a referendum whenever that happens because we have a parliamentary system of democracy and take such decisions here in this place. We are the ultimate deciders of such matters. If we get those decisions wrong, we expect to answer for them in an election.

There is a precedent for holding referendums on issues of national importance when certain criteria are met. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington said, we have no written constitution, which means that we have no rule book and can only try to judge the nature of that precedent. In my view, for a referendum on a treaty to be appropriate, that treaty should involve a quantum leap in our constitutional position, cross party lines to the extent that we cannot resolve the matter clearly in a general election, and involve a complicated issue that is difficult to deal with and will become submerged in a general election campaign.

If those are the tests of whether a referendum is necessary, the treaty of Nice does not fulfil them. It does not constitute a quantum leap in our constitutional position. As the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said, matters of tax and defence are still to be decided by unanimity. The treaty does not deal with what would usually be called significant losses of sovereignty.

Although attitudes to the treaty cross party lines, certain parties offered clear choices in the general election. One party proposed a referendum on the treaty, but it was rejected. Another argued that we should leave the Union altogether, but it, too, was rejected. Thus the criterion that I described in relation to party lines has not been met.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South added another set of criteria. He said that a referendum should be held on a measure that is unamendable and irreversible, but I respectfully suggest to him that he did not make such a case in respect of the treaty of Nice. He also argued that the treaty of Nice would have consequences which were sufficiently significant to justify holding a referendum on it. Of course it has consequences, but they are reversible and amendable. We could renegotiate them at the next intergovernmental conference. My hon. Friend did not make a clear case for the consequences being irreversible.

If consequences are the deciding factor in whether to hold a referendum, we must bear it in mind that all our actions have consequences. My constituents often ask me whether I would vote to reintroduce the death penalty. I tell them that if they want someone to do that, they must elect a different person. In the past two elections, they have chosen not to do that. Yet opinion polls tell me that my constituents would like the death penalty to be reintroduced. If they want that, they can vote for someone else, because I shall not support its reintroduction. My decision has consequences, but we do not hold a referendum on the subject; the decision is left to me.

I agree that the Nice treaty has consequences. I believe that they are beneficial; some of my hon. Friends would argue that they are detrimental. However, that is an argument not for a referendum but for voting for or against the treaty in Parliament.

Mr. Frank Field

Does my hon. Friend accept that, in 1975, on the only occasion when we held a referendum, none of his criteria were fulfilled? We held it so that a divisive issue could be settled in the country.

Dr. Ladyman

I agree that that was a factor in deciding to hold a referendum, but I disagree that my criteria were not fulfilled.

Consequences are an insufficient reason for a referendum. If we hold referendums simply because decisions are difficult, we undermine parliamentary democracy. It is strange that Conservative Members, who usually lecture us about the importance of Parliament and the need to ensure that it is supreme again, argue for putting aside our supremacy because they do not like a decision and want a referendum on it.

Peter Hain

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friends the Members for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn), for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson), for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). I am sorry that my hon. Friends the Members for Caerphilly (Mr. David) and for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) were unable to get in, not least because of the long speech of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). However, I shall not make much of that.

The debate was of high quality and some fundamental issues were raised. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead made some important points. One was answered by my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet when he talked about surrendering sovereignty. Membership of the European Union does not mean surrendering sovereignty, which we have kept. We have retained the veto where it matters: for example, over taxation, social security and defence

As my hon. Friend said, we are considering pooling sovereignty. How else can we combat the drugs menace, human trafficking and the environmental catastrophe that faces the world, especially Europe? How else can we tackle the problems of globalisation, and negotiate with the World Trade Organisation and other bodies, unless we do that from a common position of strength?

We pool our sovereignty, or surrender it, through membership of the United Nations Security Council. We thus give up our ability to do as we like about foreign policy. We pool our sovereignty through our membership of NATO. We thus give up our right to do as we like to defend our country. However, we gain in strength and influence by pooling sovereignty.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead said that he believed that enlargement could proceed without the Nice treaty. I suppose that that is theoretically possible. [Hon. MEMBERS: " Ah!"] Wait for it! We have had this argument before. It would be theoretically possible if all 12 states had exhaustive individual accession treaties, but frankly, that is not feasible. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will accept that it is not a serious proposition to construct a new Europe on that basis.

One of the most powerful points that my right hon. Friend made was about the gap between the leaders and the led in Europe, although I am not sure that a referendum is the logical solution. This is a serious problem. The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) was kind enough to address it, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South. I made a speech on the subject yesterday, which is available on the Foreign Office website—www.fco.gov.uk—in its full glory, as opposed to the summary that appeared in The Independent.

A serious problem faces the European Union in terms of the language that is used—the Eurospeak and Eurobabble—and the sense of an elite body talking to itself, meeting behind security cordons and barriers, having been ferried there by limousines. This is a serious issue that we need to address, and Britain is determined to ensure that it is addressed. However, we will not address it by holding a referendum.

If we are seeking to bring the leaders and the led closer together in the European Union, we should do it by constructing a different approach to communications, to policy and to the institutional relationship between the leadership of Europe and its citizens. Similarly, we would not deal with the low electoral turnout in Britain, which is an increasing problem, by holding a referendum on it, because that would not be a sensible way to proceed.

Angus Robertson

The Minister talks about the gap between the leaders and the led. Everyone recognises that a lot of valuable work goes on in the European Parliament. One issue that I have not heard mentioned is the knock-on effect of the reduction in the number of MEPs for the United Kingdom. I asked the Library today whether the Government had at any time clarified what number of MEPs will represent Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, post ratification. There has been no such clarification from the Government. I know that that is a matter of great concern for Northern Irish colleagues, as well as those in Scotland and Wales. Will the Minister clarify how many MEPs Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will have after the ratification of the Nice treaty?

Peter Hain

That matter has still to be addressed. I am being absolutely frank with the hon. Gentleman when I tell him that the reduction from, I think, 87 to 72 MEPs is a long way into the future. We cannot have enlargement on a sensible basis without addressing that matter. I see that the hon. Gentleman is nodding in agreement.

There is a further serious problem that cannot be solved by a referendum. In the Irish referendum, the slogan seemed to be, "If you don't know, vote no." Account needs to be taken of that. The gap between the institutions of Europe and the people of Europe is an issue that must be confronted and resolved.

The argument by the Conservative party that the Nice treaty is so important, and makes so many changes of constitutional significance, that we must hold a referendum on it before we ratify it, seems absolutely wrong. In the majority of member states, the traditional constitutional process for ratifying EU treaties is by parliamentary procedure, just as it is in Britain, just as it was for our own accession treaty when we joined, just as it was for the Amsterdam treaty, and, significantly, just as it was for the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty. Both those measures introduced far more fundamental changes than Nice does, and both were negotiated by the Conservative party, which saw no need to trouble the people with a referendum on either.

It is worth taking a look at some of the constitutional issues in the Maastricht treaty, which the Conservatives agreed. Maastricht established the European Union; it established citizenship of the Union; and it set up the pillar structure, with common foreign and security policy and justice and home affairs joining the European Community. It extended qualified majority voting to 30 substantial new articles. The iron lady might not have been for turning, but today's Conservative party appears to be spinning like a top.

9.30 pm

What was the Conservative party's argument for the sudden change of heart? The right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) told John Humphrys that it had not held a referendum on Maastricht because at that time there was not the custom of holding referendums. That is not a serious argument and I am surprised that he even tried it with John Humphrys. The right hon. Gentleman has also complained that the Government held referendums on all manner of what he implied were trivial issues, such as Scottish and Welsh devolution and the system of government for London. That is the attitude that won the Conservative party precisely no seats in Wales or Scotland in 1997 and caused it to fare little better a few weeks ago.

Those were very important constitutional issues. So too is whether we join the euro, but on that—arguably the defining issue of our generation—the Conservatives would also deny the people the chance to voice their opinion, although they would have a referendum on apparently vital issues in the treaty of Nice, such as whether to extend QMV for the pension arrangements of the registrar of the Court of First Instance, encouraging the EU's institutions to reply to letters from members of the public in a reasonable time frame, and changing the name of the Official Journal of the EC to the Official Journal of the EU, which of course would do nothing more than reflect reality.

The Conservatives have put themselves in an incredible position—opposition for opposition's sake. They oppose a referendum on an important constitutional issue such as the euro, but want to break with established constitutional procedure and hold one on the treaty. However, the hon. Member for West Suffolk has made his case just in time and I congratulate him on that. What has the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), the front-runner in the Conservative leadership election, to say about a referendum on the Nice treaty? He is opposed to one, saying: Our official policy at the general election was that the Conservatives favoured enlarging the union but opposed the treaty of Nice which paves the way for enlargement … We opposed the extension of qualified majority voting to any new subject, however trivial … These policies are difficult to reconcile with Britain's continued membership of the EU … When I am leader, these will not be the official policies of the party. The old agenda, which will disappear in a few weeks, has been put from the Opposition Front Bench tonight.

Notwithstanding the thoughtful comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, who made serious points that need to be taken on board, we must keep our eye on the ball. The Nice treaty is about a huge prize—reuniting Europe and healing the divisions of the second world war and the cold war. It must be endorsed as speedily as possible and ratified, as we intend to do through Parliament, to achieve European unity and to bring prosperity, stability, peace and security to all the other nations that want to join us in the EU.

Those countries are desperate to join, as I discovered when I spoke recently to the Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic, Jan Kavan, with whom I worked in the 1970s and 1980s in the anti-apartheid movement here in Britain. He wants to join the EU and we should not stand in his way—nor in that of our many other friends, such as Cyprus, Malta and Poland. I urge the Committee to reject the new clause, endorse the proposition put by the Government and ensure that the treaty of Nice is ratified.

Mr. Spring

From the time when the Minister was active in the Young Liberals in his youth, he will remember a song called "Let The Sun Shine In". That is exactly what we have attempted with the murky areas of the Nice treaty. This is complicated legislation and the Government have covered themselves in confusion. As we have heard consistently, they did not think out the implications of what they signed up to, and that has been transparently obvious during three days of Committee debate.

The Minister talked about Eurobabble, and for all his honeyed words, Eurobabble is what we have heard from him. There is a terrible danger that the elites of the European Union will acquire an echo of Marie Antoinette. The truth of the matter is that if we go on disconnecting the people of Europe from the institutions of the European Union, it will not survive and prosper.

This is an opportunity to re-engage the people of Britain with the process in the European Union by offering them a referendum. I am extremely disappointed that the Minister has not given even one constructive reason why there should not be a referendum. I have listened carefully to his hon. Friends, and agree substantially with what they have said.

We want to breathe the fresh air of democracy into this process. Unhesitatingly, we will press the new clause to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 129, Noes 377.

Division No. 34] [9.36 pm
Amess, David Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Djanogly, Jonathan
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Dodds, Nigel
Bacon, Richard Duncan, Alan
Barker, Greg Duncan, Peter
Baron, John Evans, Nigel
Beggs, Roy Fabricant, Michael
Bellingham, Henry Field, Rt Hon Frank (Birkenhead)
Bercow, John Field, Mark (Cities of London)
Beresford, Sir Paul Flight, Howard
Blunt, Crispin Flook, Adrian
Boswell, Tim Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Brady, Graham Francois, Mark
Brazier, Julian Gale, Roger
Browning, Mrs Angela Gamier, Edward
Butt, Alistair Gibb, Nick
Butterfill, John Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Cameron, David Goodman, Paul
Campbell, Gregory (E Lond'y) Grayling, Chris
Cash, William Green, Damian (Ashford)
Chope, Christopher Greenway, John
Clappison, James Grieve, Dominic
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hammond, Philip
Collins, Tim Hayes, John
Cran, James Heald, Oliver
Hendry, Charles Robinson, Iris (Strangford)
Hoban, Mark Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Roe, Mrs Marion
Horam, John Ruffley, David
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Sayeed, Jonathan
Hunter, Andrew Selous, Andrew
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Jenkin, Bernard Simmonds, Mark
Johnson, Boris (Henley) Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Leigh, Edward Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Letwin, Oliver Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Liddell-Grainger, Ian Spicer, Sir Michael
Lidington, David Spink, Dr Robert
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Spring, Richard
Loughton Tim Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Luff, Peter Swayne, Desmond
McDonnell, John Swire, Hugo
McIntosh, Miss Anne Syms, Robert
Maclean, Rt Hon David Tapsell, Sir Peter
McLoughlin, Patrick Taylor, John (Solihull)
Malins, Humfrey Taylor, Sir Teddy
Maples, John Tredinnick, David
Mates, Michael Trend, Michael
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
May Mrs Theresa Tyrie, Andrew
Mercer, Patrick Viggers, Peter
Moss, Malcolm Walter, Robert
Murrison, Dr Andrew Waterson, Nigel
Norman, Archie Whittingdale, John
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury) Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Osborne, George (Tatton) Wilkinson, John
Ottaway, Richard Willetts, David
Paice, James Wilshire, David
Paisley, Rev Ian Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Paterson, Owen Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Pickles, Eric Yeo, Tim
Prisk, Mark Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Robathan, Andrew Tellers for the Ayes:
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham) Mr. James Gray and
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry) Mr. John Randall.
Abbott, Ms Diane Bradley, Rt Hon Keith (Withington)
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Ainger, Nick Brake, Tom
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE) Brennan, Kevin
Allan, Richard Brinton, Mrs Helen
Allen, Graham Brooke, Annette
Anderson, Rt Hon Donald (Swansea E) Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Bruce, Malcolm
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Bryant, Chris
Atherton, Ms Candy Burgon, Colin
Atkins, Charlotte Burnham, Andy
Austin, John Burstow, Paul
Baird, Vera Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Baker, Norman Cable, Dr Vincent
Barnes, Harry Caborn, Rt Hon Richard
Barrett, John Cairns, David
Barron, Kevin Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Battle, John Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Bayley, Hugh Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)
Beard, Nigel
Begg, Miss Anne Caplin, Ivor
Beith, Rt Hon A J Carmichael, Alistair
Benn, Hilary Casale, Roger
Bennett, Andrew Caton, Martin
Benton, Joe Cawsey, Ian
Berry, Roger Challen, Colin
Betts, Clive Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Blackman, Liz Chaytor, David
Blears, Ms Hazel Chidgey, David
Blizzard, Bob Clapham, Michael
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Borrow, David
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hancock, Mike
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hanson, David
Clelland, David Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Clwyd, Ann Healey, John
Coffey, Ms Ann Heath, David
Coleman, Iain Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Colman, Tony Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Connarty, Michael Hendrick, Mark
Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston) Hepburn, Stephen
Corston, Jean Hesford, Stephen
Cotter, Brian Heyes, David
Cousins, Jim Hill, Keith
Cox, Tom Hinchliffe, David
Cranston, Ross Hodge, Margaret
Crausby, David Holmes, Paul
Cruddas, Jon Hope, Phil
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Hoyle, Lindsay
Cummings, John Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) Humble, Mrs Joan
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Hurst, Alan
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Hutton, John
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Iddon, Dr Brian
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Illsley, Eric
David, Wayne Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Davidson, Ian Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Dawson, Hilton Jamieson, David
Dean, Mrs Janet Jenkins, Brian
Denham, Rt Hon John Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Dhanda, Parmjit Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Dismore, Andrew Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Dobbin, Jim Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Donohoe, Brian H Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Doughty, Sue Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Dowd, Jim Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Drown, Ms Julia Joyce, Eric
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Edwards, Huw Keetch, Paul
Efford, Clive Kemp, Fraser
Ellman, Mrs Louise Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Ennis, Jeff Khabra, Piara S
Etherington, Bill Kidney, David
Ewing, Annabelle Kilfoyle, Peter
Farrelly, Paul King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Fisher, Mark Kirkwood, Archy
Fitzpatrick, Jim Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna Kumar, Dr Ashok
Flint, Caroline Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Flynn, Paul Lamb, Norman
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Foster, Don (Bath) Laws, David
Foster, Michael (Worcester) Laxton, Bob
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Lazarowicz, Mark
Foulkes, George Lepper, David
Francis, Dr Hywel Leslie, Christopher
Gapes, Mike Levitt, Tom
Gardiner, Barry Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
George, Andrew (St Ives) Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S) Linton, Martin
Gerrard, Neil Lloyd, Tony
Gibson, Dr Ian Love, Andrew
Gidley, Sandra Lucas, Ian
Gilroy, Linda Luke, Iain
Godsiff, Roger Lyons, John
Green, Matthew (Ludlow) McAvoy, Thomas
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McCabe, Stephen
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McCafferty, Chris
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McCartney, Rt Hon Ian
Grogan, John McDonagh, Siobhain
Hain, Peter MacDougall, John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) McFall, John
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona Ruane, Chris
McKechin, Ann Ruddock, Joan
Mackinlay, Andrew Russell, Bob (Colchester)
McNamara, Kevin Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McNulty, Tony Ryan, Joan
Mactaggart, Fiona Salmond, Alex
McWalter, Tony Salter, Martin
McWilliam, John Sanders, Adrian
Mahmood, Khalid Savidge, Malcolm
Mahon, Mrs Alice Sawford, Phil
Mallaber, Judy Sedgemore, Brian
Mann, John Shaw, Jonathan
Marris, Rob Sheridan, Jim
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Shipley, Ms Debra
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Short, Rt Hon Clare
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Simon, Siôn
Martlew, Eric Singh, Marsha
Merron, Gillian Skinner, Dennis
Michael, Rt Hon Alun Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Miliband, David Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Miller, Andrew Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe)
Moffatt, Laura Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Moonie, Dr Lewis Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Moran, Margaret Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Morgan, Julie Soley, Clive
Morley, Elliot Southworth, Helen
Mountford, Kali Spellar, John
Mudie, George Squire, Rachel
Mullin, Chris Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Munn, Ms Meg Steinberg, Gerry
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Stevenson, George
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen) Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Naysmith, Dr Doug Stinchcombe, Paul
Oaten, Mark Stoate, Dr Howard
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
O'Hara, Edward Stringer, Graham
Olner, Bill Stuart, Ms Gisela
Öpik, Lembit Stunell, Andrew
Organ, Diana Sutcliffe, Gerry
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr) Tami, Mark
Owen, Albert Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Palmer, Dr Nick Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Pearson, Ian Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Picking, Anne Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Pickthall, Colin Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Pike, Peter Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Plaskitt, James Thurso, John
Pollard, Kerry Tipping, Paddy
Pond, Chris Todd, Mark
Pope, Greg Tonge, Dr Jenny
Pound, Stephen Touhig, Don
Powell, Sir Raymond Trickett, Jon
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Truswell, Paul
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Prescott, Rt Hon John Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Price, Adam Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Primarolo, Dawn Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Prosser, Gwyn Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Pugh, Dr John Tynan, Bill
Purchase, Ken Vis, Dr Rudi
Purnell, James Walley, Ms Joan
Quin, Rt Hon Joyce Ward, Ms Claire
Quinn, Lawrie Wareing, Robert N
Rammell, Bill Watson, Tom
Rapson, Syd Watts, David
Raynsford, Rt Hon Nick Weir, Michael
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute) White, Brian
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Whitehead, Dr Alan
Rendel, David Wicks, Malcolm
Robertson, Angus (Moray) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Roche, Mrs Barbara Williams, Hywel (Caemarfon)
Ross, Emie Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Roy, Frank Willis, Phil
Wills, Michael Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Winnick, David Wright, David (Telford)
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C) Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Wishart, Pete Wyatt, Derek
Wood, Mike Younger-Ross, Richard
Woolas, Phil Tellers for the Noes:
Worthington, Tony Dan Norris and
Wray, James Mr. John Heppell.

Question accordingly negatived.

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