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Mr. Speaker,

I beg to move this opposition day motion,


Quote:That this House believes there should be a referendum on the government's proposed Maastricht Treaty and that any changes it proposes are approved by the British public before they are implemented. 
As Shadow Leader of the House

Mr. Speaker,

I beg to move that this bill motion be read and printed a second time as an Opposition Day Motion.
What Bill?
ORDER! Debate is now open.
Mr Speaker,

It would be difficult to find a more fervent pro-European in this house than myself. The Liberal Party, and now the Liberal Democrats, have always been champions of internationalism. This is part of that fine, historic, liberal tradition, which goes back generations, with free trade and friendship between nations being an often - too often - lonely rallying cause for us, in this House. That is why the signing of the Maastricht Treaty is for me, something that gives enormous pride. Our nation is leaping and bounding into the world, trying to play a constructive role, and fighting to do the right thing. The economic benefits will be enormous, and it will give hundreds of thousands of people, especially young people, a chance that those in my generation and those above us did not have - to work, travel, love, and to do so free from bureaucracy, across the continent.

It may then surprise some to hear that I am standing here today not to speak against this motion, but in fact, because I fully intend to back it. I want a single currency; I want us to remain signatories to Maastricht; I want Britain to lead Europe and the world. But I want the people of this country to be where the buck stops, and I want a democratic, fair, broad, wide-ranging public debate on the matter. Liberalism is about listening to people. When our local Councillors claim to "work hard all year round" and listen to their communities, they mean it. Just as we want proportional representation to open up our democracy, and regular Swiss-style popular initiative votes, I want this referendum. And I want to fight hard for Europe, and to make Britain a world leader not just due to our leadership here, but due to the fact that we are a model for democracy. 

This Parliament is a very very very silly place, Mr Speaker. People don't talk here like usual people do, like the people we represent do. Democracy shouldn't have to be like this, or like the usual punch and judy show. Forcing politicians out of Westminster and to every corner of the country to make their case, one way or another, on Europe, is a fine democratic process, and one that I hope becomes a reality. It's time we all listened a little bit more, and lectured a little bit less. I love Europe - and I want to persuade people to love it too.
Mr. Speaker,

I thank the Right Honourable Gentleman for his speech, and echo his sentiment. This motion does not exist to divide pro Europeans and those more sceptical of the project - but to unite them. To unite them in the belief that we can make our case to the British public and the view of the British people, after that reasoned debate, would win out as it did in the initial EEC referendum. That is what I want to see for our country, and I am glad the Leader of the Liberal Democrats is joining me in that cause.
Mr Speaker I rise disappointed for this debate on whether the House should carry out its constitutional duty or abscond with a pay check and relinquish our responsibility. That is the dichotomy at the centre of this discussion.

This noble institution, the House of Commons, is elected by the people so that we may take decisions on their behalf. The House of Commons ratifies all treaties, it was the case when we joined the United Nations, it was the case at the close of the Second World War, it is always the case. Why do we ratify treaty Mr Speaker? In part it is to prevent the worst excesses of executive power, if the executive is able to sign treaties on a whim with no oversight then heaven knows how much damage could be caused by a sufficiently determined ideologically driven Cabinet, but equally Mr Speaker Parliament ratifies treaties because we are elected to do so. When our constituents elect us they do so knowing that they do so for a maximum of a five year term, they know that we will face issues which are not covered by the manifesto. The 1979 Conservative manifesto did not contain a provision for war with Argentina, the 1987 manifesto did not contain provision for war with Iraq, the 1945 Labour manifesto did not include provision for the 1949 Parliament Act. None of these actions required a referendum because the Parliaments of the time recognised that as MPs we have a duty to use our best judgement on an issue rather than throwing it back to the people.

Mr Speaker we all know why this motion is before the House, it is a life saving motion, the life it is saving however is not the life of any member of the British public but the life of the Leader of the Opposition. Mr Speaker we all know that the Leader of the Opposition is an isolationist, he abhors NATO, he wants us out of the EEC, like the hard left with him on the frontbenches and behind him on the back he would see Britain turn away from our leading role in World and European affairs so that he can play class politics and return the clock to a time before time. However his own party do not back him on this matter, whilst the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party despise the EEC his own party only narrowly avoided electing an avowed Europhile in the form of the Right Honourable Member for Easington. His predecessor was decidedly less hostile to Europe and indeed supported the produced his own conversion upon the Road to Damascus, the former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party is equally pro Europe indeed the Labour manifesto of 1987 supported working with our European allies. Mr Speaker this is the problem facing the Leader of the Opposition, he wants to go one way in the glory-less traditions of the hard left, his party want to go the other, hence the sudden commitment to a referendum.

Mr Speaker this is not some ideologically consistent and coherent viewpoint as espoused by the Liberal Democrats, whom I disagree with profusely on the matter of a referendum but at least have a clear chain of logic, this is the politics of opportunism and nationalist populism. This referendum has no constitutional precedent. The 1975 referendum was about taking us in, or more specifically I suppose keeping us in, the European Project. The Maastricht Treaty does not take us into Europe, it does not cede vast quantities of power as has been suggested, it keeps us in Europe. The Government's position is far more coherent and consistent, the referendum is reserved for the matter of joining a new organisation, the Eurozone or in other words the club of countries who would have the Euro as their currency. Pointing at a change in the name and the reorganisation of systems and declaring that a referendum simply must be had is as daft as declaring that we should have had a referendum regarding Spain's accession treaty. The effect it had on diluting our voting power in the European Council was more consequential to our national sovereignty than the revelation that not a single power has been transitioned from Unanimity to Qualified Majority Voting. I do not recall Labour calling for a referendum on whether the Government should ratify Spain's Accession Treaty, nor do I recall Labour petitioning for a referendum on the Iraq War, another major policy of this Government that did not appear in the manifesto, nor did Labour request a referendum for our membership of the ERM. Mr Speaker if it is Labour's policy that every legislative item that ever passes through this Chamber and could cede any degree of sovereignty from this House to another body or that did not appear in a party's manifesto should be subject to a referendum then we would need to construct permanent polling stations, because every 3 months the people of this nation would need to be called upon to vote.

Mr Speaker I urge every member of this House to vote against this Motion, I will speak on my own motion about the merits of the Maastricht Treaty and why this House should ratify it, but this motion deserves to fail simply because it is an exercise in political convenience and life-support of a flailing leader in a Cold War-esque standoff against his own backbenches and predecessors. Centuries of constitutional law and precedent accepting that we are elected to govern by our constituents and should stand by the convictions we were voted in for stand in the balance as a result of this action. Vote against this referendum and let's have a proper debate about the merits of Maastricht rather than a phoney debate about the power structures that exist within the Labour Party.
Mr Speaker,

I am no great fan of referenda. I am a great believer in the sovereignty of this House. Parliament has the power to make or unmake any law it wishes. It derives this power from the monarch and from the electorate. Like my Rt Hon Friend, I subscribe to Burke's trustee model of representation. Members are elected not simply to pass on the views of their electors, as a messenger, but to apply their own judgement. Nonetheless, Mr Speaker, I believe a referendum is necessary in this case.

My Rt Hon Friend puts forward a selection of cases which he believes act as counterexamples to the necessity for a public vote: the Falklands War, Spanish accession to the EEC, the Parliament Acts. However, there are a number of ways in which I do not find these examples convincing.

First, on the matter of war. Wars are, of their nature, critically sensitive to timing. They often develop quickly as a result of the situation on the ground, and require immediate action to prevent loss of life or to defend British interests. One cannot be expected to have the foresight to include such a matter in a manifesto, and the necessity for prompt action precludes the possibility of a referendum. Indeed, the necessity for prompt action may preclude the possibility of the government of the day consulting with this House, and quite rightly that is a power which the Government maintains. The Foreign Secretary may recall that this very point was a matter of some discussion earlier in this Parliament. One may debate the extent to which the Maastricht Treaty was unforeseen, but it is certainly not the case that it is a matter of urgency. A constitutional change of this import must receive the fullest scrutiny by this House, by the Other Place, and by the public at large. It is right that the necessary time is taken, and this time provides ample opportunity for a referendum. If one is to argue, Mr Speaker, that to delay consideration is to risk falling behind in some manner, then I implore the House to remember that the pressure tactic of the limited time offer is the hallmark of the confidence trickster and the rogue trader.

Second, on the existence of precedent on European matters. My Rt Hon Friend cites Spanish accession to the EEC as a example where no referendum was held. There is, however, the obvious contrasting example of the 1975 referendum. The question, therefore, is in determining which is the stronger precedent. My Rt Hon Friend said in his contribution that “the 1975 referendum was about [...] keeping us in the European Project. The Maastricht Treaty […] keeps us in Europe.” This, I believe, hits the nail on the head. The 1975 referendum and the Maastricht Treaty concern the nature of Britain's membership of the EEC in a way that Spanish accession does not. 1975 is the far more applicable precedent here.

Third, on the existence of precedent on constitutional matters. As much as my Rt Hon Friend and I may not like it, Mr Speaker, the role of referenda in our constitution has changed since 1945. Not least, there is an especially clear precedent when it concerns the transfer of sovereignty away from This Place, namely the 1979 referenda on devolution. In those cases, the proposal was to take powers from This Place and transfer them to subnational entities. In the case of Maastricht, the proposal is to take powers from This Place and transfer them to supranational entities.

Mr Speaker, the Government has no mandate for this treaty, no argument that it requires urgent action, and no justification to reject the precedents of the referenda of 1975 and 1979. I will be voting in support of the motion this evening, and I encourage my Hon and Rt Hon Friends to do likewise.
Mr Speaker I ask my Honourable Friend if he can name one power being taken from this country, just one. The fact of the matter is that this treaty protects British and Parliamentary sovereignty a number of ways. In the first instance as I have said before in other debates and the press not a single power will be subject to a change from unanimity to majority voting. If the British Government, or Parliament if led by motion, do not approve of a legislative item before the European Council we can veto it. As I have said before this is the first treaty that this is the case of, even the example I pulled of the Spanish Accession Treaty weakened the British hand at the European Council by virtue of reducing our proportion of the voting power, this treaty protects it in its entirety. I also draw my Honourable Friend's attention to the matter of the European Parliament where our British MEPs will have the power to legislate on any competence, they will have to be fully and bindingly consulted by the Commission ensuring that more European decisions are accountable to the people in ever greater numbers than before. To put it another way Mr Speaker if either our elected MEPs or our elected government, or our Parliament via motion of this House object to our direction within Europe then it shall be stopped by veto. Our sovereignty secured.

Now that may sound hypothetical to many members of this place so let me explain why this is so important. If the British veto is exercised on a matter then that means that there is no new European Law on the matter, which means that the existing law applies. However if there is no existing European Law on the matter, say it is a new power the EU wish to legislate on, then the use of the British veto would ensure that the British national law stands. Equally should the European Parliament wish to apply the breaks they will be free to use those same powers as a collective, accountable to the peoples of Europe. Mr Speaker I urge my Honourable Friend to reconsider his position on this matter to avoid causing irreparable damage to our nation's constitution.
Mr. Speaker,

I rise today to discuss an issue that is at its core a question of democracy and a question of sovereignty. I need not remind my colleagues that the United Kingdom is a democracy under the sovereign grace of Her Majesty, and as such we ought to take these two principles very seriously.

So, it is with these values in mind that I rise to debate the merits of a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty. From the perspective of democracy, it is clear to me that while I am eager to earn our Party five more years in government, we are fast approaching a general election. In the past five years, we have seen solid, commonsense conservative leadership for Britain under the 1987 Manifesto that we pledged ourselves to under Lady Thatcher.

Now, as the Rt. Hon. Foreign Minister has already made clear: there was no pledge to bind the United Kingdom to an ever-closer union that could see us lose the pound sterling as our currency. There was no promise to enter into this treaty. And there was no overwhelming popular mandate to pursue the treaty in its current form. While I admit this government has made the most of Maastricht, it is still an unconscionable transfer from the people's representatives in Parliament to European bureaucrats on the continent.

So, here we are, nearly five years after the last election - an election where this treaty was barely a twinkle in the eye of the Rt. Hon. Member for Crosby. The British people never gave their consent to such a treaty, and indeed I stand opposed to such a treaty that would open the door to a single-currency in place of our precious pound. A sound and stable currency gets to the heart of sovereignty, whether we can have independent monetary policy or not.

I believe that the proper solution is not to hastily ratify a treaty just to appear as though we are "playing nice" with Europe. Instead, we should have a national discussion about the ideal role the United Kingdom should play in Europe. I will always stand for democracy and sovereignty, and for these reasons, I support the calls for a referendum and will oppose any motion to ratify the Maastricht treaty without such a referendum being called.
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