Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I, like my right hon. and hon. Friends, welcome the two aims of this legislation. The first, to hold a referendum on any future transfer of power, is vital to try to secure some democratic legitimacy for what might happen next. The second, to assert that this House and Parliament in general is sovereign, even over European law, is excellent, but I hope that Ministers will take away from this debate the great sense of unease among many colleagues, who feel that the Bill does not deliver what Ministers say it intends to.
As my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) just said, we face a large transfer of powers in all sorts of areas at the moment-in criminal justice, in City and business regulation, in the External Action Service and, soon, in economic governance. Any one of those areas would deserve a referendum, but the whole lot together would make a good package for testing out the Government’s new enthusiasm for democracy and the debating skills of the Opposition, who say that that is exactly what the British public want. What is stopping them, other than fear and the belief that, perhaps, the British public would not vote for such measures after all?
I am also worried about the assertion of the parliamentary sovereignty clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) has probed and tested it, and there are legal dangers on the route that we are now taking. Sovereignty is something that we have for a period if we are prepared to use it, but it is also possible to let it slip away or to lose it, and we cannot make this Parliament sovereign by a single clause in a piece of legislation. It means nothing. This Parliament will be sovereign again only if it wishes to be; this Parliament will be sovereign again only if it has some political will; this Parliament will be sovereign again only on the day it says to the European Union, “We disagree with you on this. You will not give us what we want by negotiation, so we are going to legislate for ourselves.” Ministers should not pretend that this Bill has resolved the problem.
Let us take the issue of fish. I have heard Ministers, from all parties that have been in government, say to the House that they, like me, thoroughly disagree with the discard policy, think that it is wrong and intend to negotiate a better answer. No better answer has been negotiated. We gave the European Union 20 years’ warning. Why do we not simply legislate now to take ourselves out of the common fisheries policy and show that this Parliament is sovereign and works in the interests of the British people and a great British industry.
Mr Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West) (Lab/Co-op): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr Redwood: I do not have time, otherwise I would be very happy to.
Mr Davidson: You have the support of Labour’s Back Benchers!
Mr Redwood: That’s great; I am very glad that I have the support, from a sedentary position, of Labour’s Back Benchers.
If this Parliament is never prepared to legislate against the views and wishes of the European Union, people will rightly conclude that the European Union is now sovereign. I mentioned in earlier debates on this legislation that the Crown remained sovereign for a long time in our country, and that Parliament whittled its powers away. There is no precise date on which people all agree that the Crown ceased to be sovereign and that Parliament replaced it, but the situation illustrates that, if we make too many concessions, make too many mistakes and grant too many powers on lease, one day we will not be able to get those powers back. The Crown discovered that it had given away too many powers and lost too many battles, and perhaps power finally resolved to Parliament on the day when they murdered-or killed-the King. That was a fairly definitive act, but it took place after a long series of battles and struggles when power had been ebbing away from the monarchy-and the monarchy was invited back.
I want no such violence in resolving the issue with the European Union, but I do want some political strength and some political substance. Surely, the European Union now does so many things that rile the British people that we should take matters into our own hands.
As my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench will always want to be diplomatic and to negotiate, I give them this final thought in the few minutes that I am allowed. The Germans, for their own reasons, think that they need a treaty change to accommodate the bail-out activities and the huge increase in economic governance powers that they intend to take over the other member states of euroland. They need our signature on that, even though we are not a member state of euroland.
I do not believe for one moment that we will be exempted from many of the requirements for information and common policy formation and negotiated solutions, even if we are opted out for the time being from the power of the fine. We will be dragged into the situation. I wish the Government would not only say, “We have no intention of being dragged into it and seek clearer language,” but to confirm that, say, “As proof of good faith, we want economic powers back.” The latest language from the Government suggests that we are going to keep control over the main elements of our taxation system, not our taxation system as a whole-a red line that the previous Government always said that they had attempted to preserve. We can see the drift in economic powers and economic governance.
The British Government must stand up for British interests. They will have no better chance than the new treaty that is about to be negotiated-so please, Government, use it, don’t lose it.