Politics UK: Culloden

Full Version: The European Union Bill 1992
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Mr Speaker, I beg leave to introduce the following Bill:


I beg that the Bill be printed and read a second time.
Mr. Speaker,

It is my honour and privilege to address this House in debate, for the first time as Foreign Secretary, and speak to the bill presently before Parliament, the European (Union) Act. The bill itself contains three key pieces of Government policy which will chart Britain’s course in the European Economic Community for the foreseeable future. Namely, the Act will accomplish three things: it will ratify the Maastricht Treaty, it will create a referendum lock on any EEC treaties which will alter the British constitution, and it creates a referendum on the adoption of a single, European currency to be held in Britain.

There will no doubt be Hon. and Rt. Hon. Members who, when they saw the order paper for today, did a double take. Was it not only recently that the Government was defeated on a motion to ratify the Maastricht Treaty? Indeed it was, Mr. Speaker; and the Government has heard the criticisms of those who walked through the No lobby that time and we have acted, with all the haste and urgency required in this important matter, to satisfy their concerns. In fact, if the opponents of the previous motion were being sincere in their concerns at that time, then there should be no reason that they will oppose this bill today.

But, lest there be any doubt whatsoever, as to the benefits of the Maastricht Treaty, please allow me to refresh what should be so recently in the memories of my esteemed colleagues here in this House. The Treaty, of which so much discussion has already been had, will benefit the United Kingdom in three specific ways which the Hon. Member for Liverpool West Derby so rightly pointed out had great merit: first, by improving the conditions of economic cooperation between the continent and Britain; second, by improving foreign and security coordination; and third, by improving home affairs and justice coordination. This Government agrees with Shadow Foreign Secretary when she says that we should be “enthused by the idea of such cooperation” and the “extensive focus” on the “democratisation of Europe” is something which is not only appreciated but should be applauded, and when she says that “our membership in the EEC is to be embraced.”

Mr. Speaker, if the Members of this House who previously opposed the Government’s motion to ratify the Maastricht Treaty are to be taken as honourable men and women who presented their arguments against that motion in good faith, then they should rejoice today as this Government has heard their concerns: about a lack of public input on constitution-changing treaties, and about opening the door to the adoption of a European single currency. Through this legislation we have closed those cases in no uncertain terms: the constitution of this nation will not change without a referendum. The currency of this nation will not change without a referendum. Those are the facts, as confirmed by this Act of Parliament, should it pass. Now it is up to the Hon. Members of this House to see to it that it does pass and that the British public shall have their chance to speak on these important matters.

I commend this bill to the House.
Mr Speaker

I beg that the Bill be printed and read a second time.

Second Reading!
Mr Speaker,

I beg to move the following amendments:

Amendment 1
Delete Part 1, Section 1

Amendment 2
In Part 1, Section 2(1), after “veto”, insert “or transfers powers from the United Kingdom to the European Union”

Amendment 3
After Part 1, Section 2(2), insert:
“(3) Any treaty subject to a referendum under this section shall not be ratified unless more than 50% of votes cast in such a referendum are in favour of ratification, and the total number of votes cast is not less than 40% of the number of people eligible to vote in said referendum.”
(Explanatory note: This section applies the same criteria as those used in the 1979 Scottish and Welsh devolution referenda)

Amendment 4
In Part 2, delete all instances of “European Currency Union” and insert “European Currency Unit”.
(Explanatory note: Corrects typographical errors in the name of the ECU)

Amendment 5
In Part 2, delete Sections 2 to 4 and insert:
“Section 2 - Prohibition
The United Kingdom shall not accede to nor adopt the ECU.”

Amendment 6
In Part 2, Section 2(2), delete “1993” and insert “1999”

Amendment 7
After Part 2, Section 2(2), insert:
“(3) The United Kingdom shall not accede to not adopt the ECU unless more than 50% of votes cast in a referendum under this section are in favour of so doing, and the total number of votes cast is not less than 40% of the number of people eligible to vote in said referendum.”
(Explanatory note: This section applies the same criteria as those used in the 1979 Scottish and Welsh devolution referenda)

Amendment 8
In Part 2, Section 3(2), before “the Channel Islands”, insert “the Isle of Man, the Falkland Islands, Saint Helena and”
In Part 3, Section 1, before “and the Channel Islands”, insert “the Isle of Man, the Falkland Islands, Saint Helena”
(Explanatory note: Includes remaining parts of the Sterling Area)

Amendment 9
In Part 2, Section 4(1), delete “join” and insert “replace the Pound Sterling with”

Amendment 10
In Part 3, Section 2, at end insert “except Part 1 Section 1, which shall come into effect only in the event of an affirmative vote in a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty under Part 1, Section 2”

Mr Speaker,

With Amendment 1, I invite the Government not to ask the House to reconsider a decision it has already made. This House had already determined that the present form of the Maastricht Treaty is unacceptable, and this Bill does nothing to change that fact. The Government must obey the will of this House, and if they do not do so, the House must insist upon its existing decision.

Amendment 10 permits an alternative approach. As the Government now accepts the suitability of referenda as a means of resolving constitutional questions, my amendment will apply that approach to Maastricht as well, rather than having this policy arbitrarily begin after Maastricht. My amendment halts ratification of the treaty unless and until a Part 1, Section 2 referendum is successful. Amendment 2 clarifies the scope of scenarios that will trigger such a referendum in future cases.

Amendments 3 and 7 bring the rules for the referenda called for in this Bill into line with the rules in the most recent referenda in our country, those for Scottish and Welsh devolution. This will require not only a simple majority in favour of any motion, but also a minimum turnout threshold, in order to ensure that our constitution cannot be altered in this way without the enthusiastic endorsement of the British people.

Amendment 5 is to provide the House with a opportunity to make its voice heard clearly, that this country will not abandon the Pound. If this House fails to do so, amendment 9 clarifies the wording of the referendum question. The British electorate is in no doubt that adoption of the Ecu means losing the Pound. Amendment 6 allows the Government broader scope in the calling of any such referendum. There is no need to rush matters of such generational significance.

Amendments 4 and 8 make technical changes to the Bill. Amendment 4 corrects a critical typographical error in the Bill. Amendment 8 pays due regard to the other Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories that, like Gibraltar and the Channel Islands, issue their own currency at parity with Sterling.
Mr Speaker,

I beg the leave of the House to withdraw Amendment 9, in lieu of a forthcoming Government amendment.
Mr. Speaker,

I beg your leave to address one of the points raised by my Hon. Friend the member for [Wherever because signatures don't work for Tories]. In particular, I would like to address his argument in favor of amendment one once again as I believe I had addressed it thoroughly enough in my opening remarks but that is apparently not so. As I have already said, and my Hon. Friend may wish to write this down for future reference, the motion which was defeated received such a vote, according to the arguments of its opponents, not necessarily due to an opposition to the current Maastricht Treaty, the benefits of which I have already discussed at length, but because it did not come with sufficient assurances that this was not the beginning of a slippery slope toward a European federalism. The Government has addressed those concerns in the present Act and, we believe, that, those assurances being properly enshrined in law, the passage of this bill will be achievable.
Mr Speaker,

It is not for my Rt Hon friend or the Government to say why this House made the decision it did.

I can certainly say on my own behalf that my vote was very much cast to express dissatisfaction with the Maastricht Treaty itself. Those deficiancies are not, and indeed could not be, addressed in this Bill.

I have sought, with the powers I have, to improve this Bill. The Government must likewise use their powers and return to Brussels to improve the Treaty, as this House has requested.

(((Carpenter is MP for Havant)))
Mr. Speaker,

Unlike the Government, I don't wish to abuse the House by subjecting it to an identical arguments which I gave on this very issue not several weeks ago, nor will I repeat the continued speeches that have been made in both debates on this subject. Over the past 5 years, we have witnessed the contempt that this Government has for this House. I'm sorry to say, Mr. Speaker, that this contempt seems to only be growing now that the Government is attempting to ram through a treaty that was soundly rejected by this House mere weeks ago. Whether it be making important policy announcements to the press rather than this House, whether circumventing established precedent by bringing a substantially same matter back to the house twice in a session for its consideration, whether it be by failing to answer questions put to ministers in a direct and timely manner--this Government has continually demonstrated that it believes itself unaccountable to this hallowed House.

The Prime Minister has made much ado about the need to put this matter to the people--and then rejects putting this treaty to the people. We are months away from a General Election, and rather than leave this matter for the newly elected Parliament with a mandate from the people to decide this important question after the current Parliament has rejected it, he has brought this bill back to the House with merely cosmetic changes and has handed out Ministerial posts to critics in order to attempt to obtain the votes needed for passage.

Mr. Speaker, I do not know what the result of this division will be, but I can tell the House that the British people are watching--and no efforts by the Government or this Prime Minister can keep the British people from having the ultimate say in the next General Election shortly to come. The Prime Minister can justify his actions all he wishes, but the British people will not be fooled by his honeyed words and note well his actions on Europe.

I have not been in this House as long as many of the Honourable Members of this chamber, but it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth that we can not do better. The British people deserve better. The Prime Minister can do all he can here to circumvent the will that this House clearly stated--he can try to deny the British people a vote on ratifying this treaty--but we, the British people, will have the ultimate say--and the next Government must treat this Parliament and the British people with greater respect. I intend to make sure it does.
John Major

Mr Speaker,

In honouring the Agreement made between the Government and the House I hereby move to amend the Bill as follows:

I move that Part 2 Section 4 be amended to read as follows:

Quote:1. The Question for the Referendum shall be as follows:
"Which should be the currency of the United Kingdom?"

2. The responses shall be: "Sterling" and "European Currency Unit"

3. The Secretary of State may, by Order in Council, amend Part 2, Section 4(2) only in so far as it is necessary to reflect the official name of the European Currency Unit should it be changed.

Mr Speaker on behalf of the Government I accept this amendment as friendly and would like to further accept the Honourable Member for Havant's fourth and eighth amendments as friendly, I beg that the Bill be updated to reflect these changes.

Dylan Macmillan

Mr Speaker I welcome the legislation that my Right Honourable Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has presented today, it is the work of countless hours of negotiation and marks the culmination of two years' debate around the subject of Europe. Mr Speaker whether it's in discussions with the House and backbenchers, or with Europe, the Government are committed to listening and leading to ensure the best deal for the British people, which is what we have achieved here today. We listened when the House rejected the Maastricht Treaty, we accepted that the House called for tougher protections of our national sovereignty, and we ensured that these protections were legislated for to protect and enforce them themselves. I have confidence that now the theatrics of the Right Honourable Member for Buckingham have been resolved and that he has had his five minutes' of attention we will be able to pass this legislation and fulfil the singular aim of this Government, putting the British people first.

I'm not going to regale the House, Mr Speaker, with the many assets of the Maastricht Treaty for they are many and they have been heard before. Indeed Mr Speaker even the Shadow Foreign Secretary herself had nothing to say about what was in the Treaty, in Labour's desperate scramble to avoid looking like they were blocking for the sake of blocking they could only speak about what was not in the Treaty, except on matters of the European Currency Unit where they first declared that it should not be put to a referendum before backtracking to avoid an even greater rebellion than the 12 individuals who lost their whip only to find it mysteriously returned to their hand moments later. But Mr Speaker we need not deliberate such things because we have had those deliberations and we have all been placed on the record, I wish to speak today about why this legislation was sent to the House of Commons and what improves upon an already very strong treaty.

Mr Speaker this legislation is good legislation. It builds upon the already impressive safeguards we have built into the Maastricht Treaty, safeguards Labour said it would never take out until it needed to to pay for their never-ending shopping list of demands from Europe, to provide an even more secure lock for the British people and the British Parliament to protect our sovereignty. Let us take Part 1, Section 2, of this legislation Mr Speaker. A referendum lock was not my preferred measure Mr Speaker but the House spoke and the House spoke loud so we have provided for the referendum lock in this very legislation. If a European Treaty seeks to remove or reduce the United Kingdom's veto power or adversely affect the United Kingdom's sovereignty it will be subject to a referendum of the British people. The simple reason that the Maastricht Treaty does not receive such a treatment Mr Speaker is because it does not fulfil either requirement of this referendum lock. The British veto is protected in full, not a single power is moved to the majority voting system favoured in some quarters in Europe. This is the first treaty in the history of the EEC, that didn't feature an Accession, to fulfil this statement. And far from adversely affecting the sovereignty of the United Kingdom it enhances that sovereignty with even tougher rules on when the European Council and the European Parliament are called into action, in short Mr Speaker if there is legislation it must be approved by both the elected European Parliament and the elected Governments of the Union.

The European Affairs Select Committee meanwhile Mr Speaker gives the House of Commons an unprecedented role in the decisions of the Council of Europe. Now while it may have been easy to say that every decision of the Council should pass through this Chamber before it is able to be passed off by a Minister at the European Level such a move would have served little purpose beyond stretching the resources of the House. So to honour the decision of the House, that Parliament should continue to be sovereign and that Ministers should serve the House as well as the people this constitutional compromise was constructed. The Select Committee shall have the power to call any pending Council business to the floor of the Commons it so chooses by majority vote, once that business is on the floor of the Commons it is subjected to a binding motion whereupon the Government must undertake every reasonable effort to abide by the expressed will of the House or make a statement in this Chamber explaining why they were unable to do it. This is unprecedented Mr Speaker, it once again reaffirms two core principles of the British constitution, that the Executive is subservient to the Commons and that Parliament is sovereign over the United Kingdom. I welcome both this measure and the Referendum Lock I outlined before and I urge the House to accept both measures and the broader Bill.

Finally Mr Speaker I will address Part Two of this Bill by saying that it is the stated will of the Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Parties to have a referendum on our future relationship with the European Currency Unit. The legislation as written ensures that the Government cannot kick this issue into the long grass and cannot allow it to fester for a decade or more, the country demands certainty, either we are in or we are out. I welcome the work of the Government and my Honourable Friend the member for Havant in finding a compromise wording for the question that can pass the Commons. I urge both sides of the House to unite around the referendum that we have promised the British people and to deliver on their words. There is, I should point out to the House, provision within the legislation to allow the broader Sterling Area to join the referendum should they so wish to do so, I thank my Honourable Friend again for his clerical amendment to further this cause.
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