CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

FOREIGN AFFAIRS – LISBON TREATY REFERENDUM – 5 March 2008

Dr Julian Lewis: Of course, the consistency of my right hon. and learned Friend's [Kenneth Clarke's] position is that because he believes that a referendum is inappropriate in this case, he is going to vote with the Government. The logic of the hon. Gentleman's [Edward Davey's] position is that he should be voting with the Government, too, because he does not believe that a referendum is appropriate. Is not the real reason why he does not have enough of the courage of his convictions to vote with the Government the knowledge that some of his own Liberal Democrat colleagues are reluctant not to vote for a referendum, because they know that they would be breaking their promises at the last general election?

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[Stephen Byers: My right hon. Friend [Sir Gerald Kaufman] makes the point about what was said in the manifesto very well. It contained a clear and specific reference not to any European treaty but to the new constitutional treaty. The House and the British public need to be aware of that.]

Dr Lewis: Let us focus closely on that specific point. I am happy to concede that it is clear that the Lisbon treaty and the previous constitutional treaty are two different documents. If he is arguing on the narrow point that a manifesto commitment to a referendum on document A does not bind the Labour party to a referendum on document B – and if he is stopping at that – he has a logically consistent case, but why did the British people think that he was giving that commitment? Did they think that he was giving that commitment on the individual document or on its substance? If the contents of document B are the same as those of document A, the British people are entitled to think that he is breaking his promise if he does not give them a referendum.

[Mr Byers: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's concession, but the manifesto and our promise to the British people were absolutely clear. The manifesto specifically mentions a definitive treaty – the new constitutional treaty – and not any old treaty. I accept the criticism that we may not have adequately explained the distinctions between the two to the British public. All of us who have campaigned politically must bear that responsibility, and perhaps we need to do more about it.]

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Dr Lewis: Does the hon. Gentleman [Ian Davidson] accept that there is a long tradition of Back Benchers being allowed to disagree with Front-Bench policy, and to stand in an election on a manifesto without signing up to every part of it? The Government, however, are going back on a commitment that they put in their own manifesto. Furthermore, is he not surprised that there appear to be two classes of Lib Dem Front Bencher? There are those in the Lib Dems' so-called inner shadow Cabinet, who apparently have to resign from their positions if they want to keep their promise to have a referendum, but other Front-Bench Lib Dem spokesmen of a more junior variety are apparently being allowed to keep their positions even if they vote for a referendum.