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Mrs. Browning: I agree with a lot of what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I do not understand why it would be necessary for independent nation states to give up their sovereignty within the European Union to achieve a common foreign policy instead of doing so on the basis of agreement. That arrangement has worked within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation for many years. Why should states give up sovereignty, and why should we hand over power from this House?

Mr. Soley: This is a matter of pooled sovereignty, but, to answer to the hon. Lady, Richard Holbrooke, the United States mediator in the Balkans simply said, "The problem with Europe is that I do not know who to phone." It was impossible to get agreement within Europe about what to do, which is why a special envoy is important. We may not have been able to intervene with military force in former Yugoslavia because we did not have the necessary degree of agreement, but it is possible to intervene more diplomatically in areas such as Russia and the middle east without using military force.

We may decide to develop that potential. My view is that that is now inevitable, partly because of decisions taken by the previous Government to move Britain further into Europe. Whether we like that reality or not, we must face up to this issue: beyond the borders of the relatively small group of stable and democratic European countries, there is an unstable circumference towards which we must have a policy. We cannot go on ignoring that issue. I am sorry that it has not been addressed a little more in the Liberal motion, because we must take it much more seriously.

8.44 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Like the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley), I wish to deal with the second part of the motion--the character of the European Union.

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Mr. Edward Davey: The right hon. and learned Gentleman does not want to discuss the euro.

Mr. Hogg: No, I do not particularly want to talk about the euro. I want to discuss what I think is more important--the essential character of the European Union.

Having participated in many debates within and regarding the European Union, I have reached the clear conclusion that, as it is currently constituted, the European Union is a profoundly undemocratic and unaccountable institution. I draw upon as much experience in that matter as anyone currently in the House. I have attendedvery many European Union Councils, including the Telecommunications Council, the Research and Development Council, the Industry Council, the Foreign Affairs Council and, most latterly, the Agriculture Council. I have also attended many ad hoc councils. Some general conclusions can be drawn from that experience; my most marked conclusion is that it is an extremely undemocratic process.

To illustrate that, I shall take the example of the Agriculture Council because that is the one that I attended most recently. The Agriculture Council's decisions impact substantially on Europe as a whole because of the budgetary implications. They also directly affect the interests of our constituents. The decisions that come out of the Agriculture Council--or any council, for that matter--are neither democratic nor accountable in the sense that this House understands those terms. Policy proposals are made by the Commission. They are often made late, a day or two before the hearing of the Council, without much external examination or inquiry. They are presented to Ministers, many of whom have only a slight understanding of the technical issues involved. The issues are discussed late at night and are the subject of fudge, brokered agreements and private deals. There is little accountability on the part of either the Ministers involved or the Commission for the decisions that are taken. That process is profoundly unsatisfactory and wrong.

What is true of the Councils is also true, to an extent, of the other EU institutions, whether the Commission or the Court. The Commission instigates legislation, but, if we were honest about it, we would recognise that there is no transparency about the process as a result of which it makes its decisions. There is secrecy in its deliberations and about its appointments, and almost no control over its activities.

I regret to say that the same is true of the European Court--and I speak as a lawyer. The court is in the business of driving forward the interpretation of treaties well beyond the point that is reasonable, and certainly well beyond the point ever contemplated by the treaty makers. Therefore, as representatives of an elected body and members of a democratic country, we must recognise that what we have created, and the body to which we give ever-increasing powers, is profoundly undemocratic and does not have the characteristics that we would expect of nations seeking to join the European Union.

That is a bleak summary, but it is not far from the truth.

Mr. Davey: I share many of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's concerns about lack of democracy and accountability in the European Union. What measures did

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his Government propose while he was in office to improve democracy and accountability in the European Union?

Mr. Hogg: I do not want to be diverted because this is a serious but short debate, and I want to focus on the major issues. I want to express the consequences of what I have tried to explain to the House.

We must ask ourselves, as representatives of a democratic body, either what can we do or what is likely to happen. We flatter ourselves if we ask ourselves what can we do, because, I regret to say, our ability to shape the future is remarkably slight. That being so, it is more pertinent to ask ourselves what is likely to happen. To start with, in an ideal world, two things could happen. I must say that I believe that neither will. One is that member states will be able to recover some of the powers that they have ceded to the European Union, and the other is that we shall be able to create effective democratic controls which satisfy the representatives of member states.

I do not believe that it is possible to recover that which has been given to the European Union. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) in her place. She will remember fisheries policy. That is but an illustration, and not direct in point. The fisheries regime is a disaster for British fishermen, but it is, in effect, impossible to undo. We created that structure and we are living with the consequences.

Mr. Bercow: I entirely agree with what my right hon. and learned Friend has just said. Does he agree that the protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality in the treaty of Amsterdam confirm the truth of what he is saying and make absolutely clear that the doctrines of the occupied field and of the acquis communautaire are unchallengeable?

Mr. Hogg: Yes, that is completely right. The concept of acquis communautaire is very important in this context.

The other question that I posed, to which I would like to respond, is whether it is possible effectively to create more genuine democratic controls in the EU. I am speaking only of the present; things may change and evolve. Let us be candid about what we are debating. Effective democratic controls can be created only if an effective Parliament, with powers that are analogous to member states' powers in their domestic assemblies, is created. I do not believe that that is possible at this moment for this reason: for there to be an effective Parliament, there must be an effective concept of statehood. There must be an identity of interest sufficient for people in the United Kingdom to accept the imposition of policies on which representatives of other member states vote, which they may see to be injurious to our interests. After all, it is difficult enough in the UK for the people of Scotland to accept the decisions of the United Kingdom Parliament, given that it can often be said that it represents the partial interests of England.

Mr. Davey: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hogg: Not quite yet.

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That being so, how much greater will it be to ask the peoples of the United Kingdom to accept the decisions, say, of the representatives of Greece, Iberian countries and Italy? I do not say that pejoratively; I am simply describing political reality. The conclusion is that, in the foreseeable future, we shall not have a concept of statehood--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not mean any discourtesy, but he has a habit of turning his back on the Chair.

Mr. Hogg: I apologise; I was turning my back on you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that you will forgive me. I was addressing my hon. Friends. The rebuke is accepted, and I am very glad that you have raised the point.

The point that I was making, if I may address you directly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is that I do not think that, in the foreseeable future, there will be a concept of statehood, an identity of interest, that will enable us to create and put in place an effective set of democratic controls.

Mr. Davey: I have been following the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument very closely. He makes an important point on whether we need a concept of statehood before we can move ahead with greater democracy in the EU. Will he reflect on the concept of statehood in the minds of those who drafted the federalist papers in the United States of America in the 18th century? Does he believe that they had a concept of statehood before they developed an agreement to work together for the economic and social benefit of their peoples?

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