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What does Gisela know?

Gisela Stuart MP was on the inner group of MPs who devised the original EU constitution. The Lisbon Treaty is virtually identical. To her credit, Gisela is absolutely determined that the British people will have a chance to vote on whether they will support the deep political integration with the EU that will remove British direction and choice from almost every sphere of our life and replace it with EU control and directives.

Bear in mind that Gisela is a Labour MP. She is a British subject who was born a German. In her recent speech in the House of Commons she makes clear her concerns about the Treaty, which must be ratified by the House, and her dismay that her party will not put the Treaty to a vote of the people as they had promised (along with all the other parties) in their election manifesto.

We ask other British MPs to show the courage, cool thinking, and steadfastness that Gisela has shown in defying her party. Her speech is reprinted from Hansard. It begins with a comment from Kelvin Hopkins, MP. It concludes with one from Michael Connarty, MP, that is appalling in its contempt for the British people.

When you finish you will have a very clear idea of what Gisela knows.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): Just to be serious for a brief moment, my hon. Friend was right to say that we want a choice. Does she not think that we, as parliamentarians, could propose some serious practical alternatives for Europe - not for this Europe, but for a much better Europe?

Ms Stuart: Indeed. Let me return to the treaty. I ask the House to bear with me for a few moments, because one problem with most of these debates is that we do not pick up one issue and think it through logically to its conclusion. We tend to switch from institutions to policies and to make one case by using the other argument.

I want to remind everybody of the difference between EFTA, the European Free Trade Association, and the EEC, the European Economic Community. EFTA was a free trading area - something for which I think the Conservatives still hanker. The EEC, as it then was, introduced the freedom of movement of labour, which was very important, because the minute that people are moved between countries, the mechanisms are created that will eventually lead to deeper political integration.

The original institutions of the then EEC - the legal mechanisms of directives, the European Court of Justice, which had a mandate for achieving deeper political integration, judicial interventions or qualified majority voting, which came in later - have led to an EU with a range of tools, all of which were designed in one way or another to further political integration. The argument about the use of QMV, for example, is always, “We cannot hold up progress by allowing Malta to stop us.” I am afraid that if we are to have a union of nation states, there will be issues on which one member can say no. The minute we remove that right, we become federal states. If that is what people want, that is fine. I am one of those few people who are utterly agnostic about that because, having spent half my life in a federal state, I do not mind what people want, I just think that they need to know what they are getting, and it is no good pretending otherwise.

The UK likes QMV occasionally, but I want to draw attention to something very different, because not only was the movement of labour significant, but there was another tool - the internal market. Although the rest of Europe, by and large, always played the internal market in aid of deeper political integration and was little concerned with whether it was fulfilled or not, Britain always liked the internal market as an end in itself rather than a tool. We were therefore much more focused on that notion, but those are the type of tools that the Germans put on the negotiating table that cause us a problem.

The next problem is the time span during which things happen. The working time directive began to be debated in the early 1990s, but did not start to cause us political problems in this country until 18 years later when we realised that allowing the training of junior doctors to comply with the directive meant that many of our increased number of doctors were used up. As for the voters, they could no longer hold anybody responsible because they had all gone from office. People said, “The pass has been sold.”

At this point, I want to consider something that is currently on the table. When I became a Health Minister in 1999, one of the first things that I had to do was to go to Europe - I was the foreigner on the team, so they said, “She can do abroad.” There was a Health Ministers’ lunch, at which we all got together. A junior official came up and said, “There’s a case which you may want to raise over lunch. It does not really bother anybody apart from us, but the Dutch are sympathetic to us.” The case was called Kohll v. Decker and it related to a Luxembourg national who went to Germany for dental treatment, and it was asked whether that was part of the internal market.

I remember that the position taken at that lunch was quite eccentric. Only the Dutch Health Minister, who had been around for a long time, realised that there might be a problem, but the case was seen as a peculiarly British obsession. At that stage, we were waiting for another court ruling on the costs related to that case. To argue that, three or four court rulings down the road, we would have a problem with running the national health service, because we were the only country whose health system was completely funded by taxation and based on residency, with no controls - unlike other countries - was seen as the product of an eccentric lawyer’s imagination running wild. It was argued that I did not have to worry because health was not an EU competence. Health is now becoming an EU competence, albeit only on the public health side.

This is not a debate on the EU health directive or the court cases, but we had a succession of court cases that ended with a British case in 2006, where the ECJ pushed it to the limit and applied the internal market as a mechanism to allow people to travel from one country to another and claim health expenses without prior authorisation. We reached the point where Ministers were saying, “Thus far and no further. We now want a political input.”

That political input is now in a draft EU directive on health, to be published, I understand, on 19 December - politically, an extremely active date. I know exactly what will happen. We will get the directive and will be told not to be paranoid, as it is all perfectly all right. An early-day motion has been tabled that states that the logical conclusion of that directive is that it will undermine the way in which we run the NHS. What is so sad is that almost the only mechanism open to Members to raise that issue is an early-day motion. If we are honest, we all know the political significance of early-day motions. We might as well spray graffiti outside Big Ben - it would probably have more effect, because at least the cameras would catch it.

If we pass the treaty, whatever it is called, we will create a situation in which, step by step, over the past 30 years - through legislation, court intervention or QMV - we will have completely recalibrated the presumption of who is in charge of legislation. This House is no longer in charge of all our legislation, so we must now find the areas in which we remain supreme. It can be argued that even matters to do with defence and foreign affairs can be circumvented. Over the decades, and step by step, the presumption as to where legislative power lies has moved away from this place. The problem with health legislation, for instance, is even worse, because that is something that we have devolved to Scotland and Wales. The result is that this House has become even less relevant.

The British people may well be entirely content with that, but it is something that they need to think about. We need to explain what has happened, and that is why this debate is so important.

Three things need to happen when the treaty is considered. First, given that the passerelle clause in its present state is not sufficient, the Government must make a clear commitment to bring in primary legislation, and not just to allow the House to have a vote, before there is any further erosion of our legislative power as a result of QMV. Secondly, the political parties must stop playing silly games about matters such as the new health directive - which incidentally looks suspiciously like the Tory policy on patients’ rights - and be more open about what they believe.

Thirdly, and most fundamentally, all three main political parties promised in their election manifestos that the treaty was so significant that the British people needed to be asked their opinion. If Labour, as the governing party, is so confident that the treaty represents a good deal for Britain, we should have the courage to ask the people about it, as well as subjecting it to 20-odd days debate in this House.

Michael Connarty: Does my hon. Friend accept that the call for a referendum is to a certain extent emotional and simplistic? She will have read most of the documents on the reform treaty, although she may not have seen the final draft, and I am sure that she has read with interest the reports from the European Scrutiny Committee. Does she agree that any referendum would not be on the reform treaty but would refer to populist and emotional matters such as straight bananas and immigrants stealing our jobs? Does she really want to reduce such an important matter to a travesty like that?

Ms Stuart: I agree that there are dangers associated with referendums. Some countries have banned them, for very good reasons, but two points are worth making. First, in mature democracies, referendums are part of the democratic process. Secondly, when people in Wales and Scotland voted in referendums in the way that we wanted, I did not hear anyone on this side of the House say, “They voted on devolution but they did not know what it was about.” The Labour party has used referendums more than any other, and I must repeat that we promised one on the treaty in our election manifesto. Therefore, there must have been a time when we thought that holding one was the right thing to do.

As I said at the very start of my speech, our relationship with the EU is a constitutional matter. Opinions about it do not fall comfortably along party lines, so I do not entirely agree that it is an issue that can be decided as part of a general election. The fact that the previous Conservative Government did not offer a referendum on Maastricht - in fairness, they never said that they would - only strengthens the case that I am making.

Thirty years have passed since 1975 when, as I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), the Labour Government under Harold Wilson gave the country a referendum on European Community membership. Given what I said earlier about the shift in the presumption about where power lies and the changes in how this place deals with European affairs, I think that it is appropriate that we ask the people of this country for their opinion.

(Thanks to Anne Palmer and Idris Francis for forwarding the speech.)