Having a referendum on the EU treaty is central to restoring trust in politics, insisted John Redwood last night in the Commons. Being the first to intervene in the debate on the Lisbon Treaty, Mr Redwood demanded of the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, that he give the country a say on such a reckless surrendering of powers, just as his party had promised to do in the last election.
John Redwoods four interventions and speech, taken from Hansard, follow.
<strong>Mr. Redwood: </strong>Why will the Secretary of State not give us a referendum, given that his party promised one and that all the powers that we worried would be transferred under the constitution are now being needlessly and recklessly given away in this document?
David Miliband: </strong>For the same reason that the right hon. Gentleman voted against a referendum on the Maastricht treaty in 1992??namely, that we are a parliamentary democracy and this is an amending treaty.
<strong>Mr. Redwood: </strong>Does my right hon. Friend further remember that during the 2005 election, when some of us said that we needed to debate this huge transfer of powers because it was so important, the Labour party said that there was no need for that debate in the election, because there would be a referendum later? That is why this is such a cheat.
<strong>Mr. Hague: </strong>My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point, because the case for the referendum rests above all on the need for the House and the Government to honour commitments solemnly given. How many times have each of us in the House toured schools and colleges saying to young people that they should take an interest in politics, that their vote makes a difference, and that what is said at election time really counts? What are we to say to them in future??that the fact that they elected an entire House of Commons committed to a referendum was of no account, that the Government regarded that commitment as a technicality to be escaped from rather than a promise to be kept, and that the promises made at election time do not really matter at all?
<strong>Mr. Redwood:</strong> Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether his party is going to rat on its promise of a referendum by abstaining or by voting against a referendum? The people should know, and I hope that they turf out all the Liberal MPs who have misled them on this issue.
<strong>Mr. Davey:</strong> We are proposing a referendum??on Britains membership of the European Union. I will deal with the question of the referendum in detail towards the end of my remarks, when I will argue that the Conservatives position is the one that is less in keeping with their manifesto promise.
The case made by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague)??that the treaty is unnecessary and somehow threatens the sovereignty of the United Kingdom??is frankly absurd. An EU of 27 member states, and growing, cannot operate on the same basis as one that only just served the needs of an EU of 15 states, so arguments for trimming the bureaucracy and making the institutions less cumbersome should be self-evident.
<strong>Mr. Redwood: </strong>Given that the devolved Governments of Northern Ireland and of Scotland wish to have this referendum, cannot they use their powers and devolved money to hold referendums at least in those two parts of the United Kingdom in order to show up the Government and give England a real cause for anger?
<strong>Rev. Ian Paisley: </strong>I wish I could answer yes to that, but I cannot because there are some money limitations and we do not have the authority so far??but we are discussing that matter at the moment. If Northern Ireland wants to express a view on this, I feel that it should be entitled to do so within this United Kingdom. Even if it is only a consultative thing, it does not matter, as the people will be given the opportunity to express their views. I think that Scotland may like to do the same, but I would not dare to speak for Scotland, even though my mother was a Scot from Morningside in Edinburgh.
<strong>Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con):</strong> If the motion is passed, it will be a bad day for trust in British politics and for those of us who want self-government and democracy in our country strengthened. Ministers insult the intelligence of not only the British people but Members of Parliament. It is obvious to anyone who reads the document that it is largely the old constitution. It is obvious to anyone outside the House that a Member who was elected in 2005 on a promise to hold a referendum on the proposals should vote tonight to do that.
I find it heroic to the point of being bizarre that many Labour and Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament, who were elected in 2005 on small majorities, want to be with the Government in tearing up their promise to the electors to grant them a referendum. It is especially bizarre given that the Conservative party is so much higher in the polls than it was in 2005 and their parties are lower. It is bizarre, given that local content in elections is increasing rather than decreasing. It is odd, given that most Members of Parliament, when interviewed separately, agree with me that they need to do everything possible to build trust and confidence with electors because their party is so unpopular, that many should wish tonight to take action that implies that they intend to snub their electors and make it more likely that the 1,000, 2,000 or 3,000 electors whose support they need to retain will go another way in an election.
Ministers have forgotten, if they ever knew, that only one in five of all voters voted for the Government in 2005. They have forgotten that the Labour party polled even fewer votes in England than the Conservative party did in 2005, a year in which the Conservative party polled very badly. Ministers have forgotten that twice as many people decided not to vote at all in the 2005 general election as voted for the Government, because many of them had no trust in politics already. So how on earth can Ministers argue the indefensible tonight and tell their Back Benchers that it is for the good of their cause that they must snub the electors, tear up their promise and destroy what little trust remains in the Government by saying that there must be no referendum?
Looking at the situation from a party political point of view, my party welcomes the Governments position, because it makes it more likely that we will win those seats. However, as a democrat and as someone who believes that trust in politics desperately needs to be restored, I am unhappy to see both the Lib Dems and Labour in such a strange mode.
As someone who believes that we have already lost too many powers to govern ourselves in a democratic way through Parliament and this Chamber, I am worried to see 60 vetoes on major policy areas being tossed away by the draft proposal, and to see Ministers now accepting that foreign policy and criminal justice will become part of the EU proper in a way that, under the European Court of Justice, will gradually reduce and limit powers. I am also worried to see Ministers pretending that they have protected their so-called red lines, when they have retreated at every conceivable turn.
There was an easy way of preserving our right to self-government in crucial areas such as tax and benefits, foreign affairs and criminal justice, and that was to keep the veto. It did not require great powers of oratory or persuasion, or the building of great coalitions. All that Ministers had to do on our behalf was to veto giving away the veto. It was terribly simple??they had the power, and they willingly and negligently decided to give it away. As a result, if the treaty goes through, our country cannot be sure that we will remain in charge of our own affairs even in those vital areas of foreign policy, criminal justice, and taxation and benefits or that we will be able do what the electorate wish us to do, by keeping our election promises.
The surrender of those powers will be another way in which trust in our politics will be undermined. Already people do not trust politicians in the House, because in so many cases we are unable to do what we say we will, as European laws and regulations prevent us. That will now happen on a much bigger waterfront if those powers are truly surrendered and the Bill goes through.
<strong>Daniel Kawczynski:</strong> Will my right hon. Friend give way?
<strong>Mr. Redwood:</strong> I will not, because other hon. Members wish to speak.
I urge the House tonight not to surrender those powers but to strike a blow to restore trust in politics, and to show the public that we are prepared to stand up to an over-mighty Executive, who do damage to us but give in at every conceivable opportunity in Europe. That is what is destroying politics. We need to start restoring trust.