Previous SectionIndexHome Page

9.9 pm

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds): I shall focus my remarks on a narrow aspect of the treaty of Nice--the declaratory effect of the charter of fundamental rights of the European Union. I raise the matter because it is at the heart of the debate that the House should be having--a debate about the primacy of the House and the prospect of powers being siphoned off to unelected judges in the European Court of Justice in a way that is undemocratic and unaccountable.

What most concerns me is the Government's lack of clarity on the charter of fundamental rights. They say that it has no binding legal effect of any kind. I am not inclined to believe Ministers who, before the election, said that they were in love with the pound, and in October 1997 decided that they were in principle in favour of abolishing the pound. I am not disposed to listen to Ministers who told us one thing two weeks ago about NATO's view on the rapid reaction force, whereas two weeks down the road, the heroic efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) have exposed the duplicity and muddle of Ministers with regard to the Euro army, for that is what

11 Dec 2000 : Column 439

it is. Nor am I disposed to believe a Prime Minister who vows that he does not believe in any kind of superstate, but speaks of his desire for Europe to be a superpower.

On the declaratory effect of the charter of fundamental rights, we have only to examine the relevant law. The charter will not have direct effect such that the European Court of Justice can alter existing directives and EU laws, but it will be binding to the extent that the court can interpret existing laws. It is clear to eminent jurists among the Opposition and on the Government side in another place that by an interpretation of existing law, the European Court of Justice can, in effect, create new rights.

When we consider the application of the charter as set out in article 51(1) of the latest draft, it is clear that the charter addresses the powers of the institutions and bodies of the Union with due regard to the principle of subsidiarity. Those of us who have bothered to look at the effect of the protocol on subsidiarity adopted as part of the Amsterdam treaty know full well that subsidiarity is an utterly meaningless, empty and hollow concept in respect of preserving the powers of nation states and allowing nation states to do what they can do best, in order to avoid decision-making by EU supranational bodies.

Let us examine some examples of the effect that the adoption of the charter in its declaratory mode will have on the subjects of this country. In the working time directive, for example, there are two derogations. The directive can be amended by individuals agreeing to work more than the maximum number of hours, and there are exclusions from the directive.

Those derogations are at present lawful in this country. It is clear that under the terms of article 31 of the charter of fundamental rights, it would be up to a British Government to justify those exceptions to the European Court of Justice. If the judges in the ECJ were not persuaded, they could strike them down.

It is worrying that articles 34 and 35 of the charter, which relate to social security and health, give blanket rights of an unspecified nature for universal social security and health provision. In Euro-jargon, article 34(3) talks about the minimum level of social security and housing benefit needed

Jurists who know a bit about the subject are asking whether that would affect the ability of Her Majesty's Government to have special provisions for benefits for asylum seekers. At the moment, voucher systems are in place, but would they fall foul of a European Court of Justice determination? What about workfare and the Government's ability to say that benefits are dependent on certain onerous conditions, including the desire and ability to work in exchange for benefits.

Those are clear examples of ways in which the interpretation of the articles by the European Court of Justice could, in both effect and practice, limit the ability of this sovereign House and the Government to make the law in this country. Those are only two examples of existing provisions, but what about laws and regulations that are not yet in place? I shall turn to the most topical subject for many in the House--laws and regulations on reproduction, human embryology and stem cell research.

11 Dec 2000 : Column 440

Article 3(1) of the charter is headed "Integrity of the person" and makes clear references to what can be done in relation to

and in relation to

Those are delicate, sensitive areas that throw up complicated scientific and ethical issues. In my judgment, they have nothing at all to do with the EU and should not be the subject of EU competence or, in another sense, interference. They should, pre-eminently, be a matter for member states of the EU to determine in their own sovereign Parliaments and courts. Frankly, I am appalled at the prospect that the charter may be used further down the road in the ways that I have described on health, social security provision and human embryology research. Beyond peradventure, those are all matters for sovereign, independent legislatures of the kind that we have in this country.

The lack of the clarity of the Government's position on the charter at Nice gives me more concern than anything in the Nice treaty. I urge members of the Government to explain in words of one syllable why the declaratory statement made at the end of last week at Nice will not have the effects that I have described and will not have binding effect on the courts or the legislature of this country.

9.18 pm

Mr. Fabricant: Like the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), I wish to apologise for not being here for the whole evening, partly because I have been entertaining a guest from Austria, Mr. Rudolph Kampel. I make that point because I do not want the Foreign Secretary to think that any of my remarks are Euro-phobic in any way--heaven forbid.

Today, the Prime Minister said that the idea of an independent standing army is nonsense. He also said that the idea of military planning being undertaken independently by the European Union without co-operation with NATO is nonsense. Finally, he boasted that we had secured our objectives in Europe during the past few days. He did so with particular regard to co-operation with NATO.

The Prime Minister quoted from the presidential report in an interesting manner, as he included some statements and excluded others. It is worth repeating an important phrase that appears close to the end of the report's annexe on the standing arrangements for consultation and co-operation between the EU and NATO. The Prime Minister chose not to read it out. The annexe states:

Should we be surprised that Bill Cohen showed alarm and felt that the rapid reaction force would act independently of NATO?

The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), who spoke briefly, for which I am grateful, posed an interesting question. He asked why other countries would wish to join the European Union if it was so bad. I think that he cited Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and some other Visegrad countries. The reason why they are so keen to join and why we have our doubts is that Britain and

11 Dec 2000 : Column 441

Germany mainly pay for the European Union. Of course, the countries that want to join will mainly benefit from the European Union.

For that reason, hon. Members have every right to be alarmed that the common agricultural policy was not discussed. It is by far the biggest drain on European Union funds. Let us be clear: if the European Union is to expand, it cannot survive with the existing common agricultural policy. No country, not even a European Union superstate, can afford the CAP if the eastern European countries are absorbed. I believe that the European Union should absorb those countries. Indeed, it was the policy of the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), to broaden rather than deepen the European Union. Those fundamental changes must be made.

In the few minutes that remain, I should like to deal with two issues that concern my constituency. In the most Gracious Speech, the Queen said:

Such conduct has been called yob culture, and I do not believe that any hon. Member would object to dealing with that.

Peter Gammon, president of the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales, said:

That is all well and good, but, as Ministers know, a member of the Association of Chief Police Officers added:

Spin is not enough; there must be substance. For that, there must be enough police officers on the ground for proper enforcement. PC David Stockport, secretary of the North Yorkshire branch of the Police Federation, said:

He was referring to the cut in police officer numbers. He went on to say:

I contacted the chief constable of Staffordshire, Mr. John Giffard, who gave me some interesting figures.

I do not wish to suggest that my constituents in Lichfield are yobbish, but we are blessed with a wide variety of public houses, and on Friday and Saturday nights, things get a little boisterous. As a consequence, police will have to be available to enforce the yob culture legislation, if it is enacted before Parliament is dissolved.

How many police officers do we have in Lichfield on a Friday or Saturday night? Just three or four policemen, backed up, if we are lucky, by maybe four or five special constables. What about the large metropolitan area of Stoke-on-Trent? There is one sergeant, maybe four police constables and 10 special constables, although, apparently, 20 or 30 are available if they are required to deal with a special event or riot. Of course, police officers can be drafted in from other areas in an emergency.

11 Dec 2000 : Column 442

Under this Government, there has been a huge cut in the number of police officers. In Staffordshire, there was a drop of 68.1 men in one year alone, and in the west midlands, more than 126 officers have been lost. In the three years since the Government came to power, Staffordshire has lost 250 police officers and civilians, and gained, from the Government's extra funding, a mere 90. That is a net loss of 160 police officers from Staffordshire's small force.

It is worth contrasting the present situation with the record of the Conservative party. If I do not do that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you can bet your bottom dollar that those on the Government Front Bench will, so I will get my word in first. Under the Conservative Government between March 1979 and 1997, the force's total strength increased by 15,400, from 109,653 to 125,051, an increase of 14 per cent. Under Labour, between March 1997 and September 1999, the total force's strength fell by 2,001 from 125,051 to 123,050, a decrease of 1.6 per cent. Once again, a great deal of spin is involved--we hear about legislation to deal with yobbish culture--but, sadly, there is no delivery. Without police officers on the ground, we will not witness law enforcement in this country.

The Government were also elected on a promise of better health care. In Lichfield, Victoria hospital is under threat because of the abolition of fundholding practices. Despite the fact that 15,149 Lichfieldians signed a petition to save the hospital and its services, there is every reason to believe that the maternity unit in the hospital will be disbanded, that the dialysis unit in the hospital will be closed and that the minor injuries unit in the hospital will be disbanded, if not the hospital itself.

A very expensive, and what is called an informal, consultation document has been produced. The health authority said that the document's findings were not what it wished to hear, namely, that people wanted to keep the maternity unit in Lichfield. Surprise, surprise--the local health authority is now being urged by the Department of Health to produce yet another consultation document, which may take three, four or five months to complete. That is purely a cynical act--the authority wants to delay the closure of the maternity and dialysis units and of other services in Lichfield until after the general election.

That is happening across the land, not just in Lichfield. Actions taken by the Government show yet again that they are all spin, no substance and no delivery. Until the Government are prepared to put their money where their mouth is, to provide more police officers, more nurses and doctors and to fight our corner in Europe, they will continue to fail the people of this country.

Next Section

IndexHome Page