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The plain fact is that we already have a European flag, passport and anthem, and we now have the brave new world represented by the call for European political parties. As if all that were not enough, a proposed amendment to the Schleicher report requires assent to the so-called charter of fundamental rights as a criterion for funding.
To obtain consent for funding under the proposals, including those in the Schleicher report, it would be necessary to express agreement with the charter of fundamental rightswhich, as we all know, we are not even allowed to debate. That is a very unfair arrangement: we are not allowed to stipulate the basis on which we would be prevented, under the proposals in the report, from receiving funding that would enable us to exist as a political party. That would rule out the Tory party at a stroke.
Mr. Bercow: I always applaud my hon. Friend's careful study of the minutiae of these matters, but does he not agree, on a broader level, that the very notion of pan-European political parties is transparently absurd, given that they have no demos to represent? Does he not agree that they would only cease to be absurd and become meaningful if there were among the peoples of Europe a common identity, a common purpose and a common willingness to make equal sacrifices to achieve that purpose? As none of those conditions exists, what is the point of such parties?
The proposal raises some important questions. As I have said, the British Conservative party clearly does not qualify under the arrangements proposed in the regulations. [Interruption.] Would the Minister be kind enough to intervene? Perhaps he will be able to help me as I come to my peroration. He does not want to. He wants to deal with the point during his winding-up speech.
I have to confess that I had something of a tiff withis he Lord Patten, Sir Christopher Patten or Mr. Christopher Patten? I cannot remember. At the time, I had a few words of disagreement with him upstairs over the question of the European People's party and our application to join itit lasted about an hour and a half.
Mr. Cash: It is absolutely relevant and I say that with great respect, Mrs. Heal. The European People's party is in fact a group in the European Parliament. It is absolutely relevant to the question of where the money will go. I think that that is a fair point. It is bang slap wallop within the arrangements that are stipulated by the regulations.
That was some time ago. We have heard from the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman that we are rather loosely connected with that strange body, the EPP. It would be strange if we were fully connected with it. After all it is exclusively federal. I am glad to get that reassurance from my hon. Friend.
This is a matter of considerable importance to the Conservative party for many reasons. If we ask the question in Conservative party terms, "What is a political party?" we go back to the great dictum of Edmund Burke, the greatest exponent of the philosophy of the Conservative party and a person of whom we should all be inordinately proud. He said that a political party is a body of menof course now he would say men and womenwho are joined together in the national interest and on a particular principle on which they are all agreed.
That raises an important question. There is no doubt that the present proposal is not in the national interest. It is in the European interest. That is the big difference. The definition of a political party is a body of men and women who are all agreed on a particular principle. That raises a fundamental question about who governs. There are big issues here.
It was Disraeli, one of our greatest Prime Ministers, who said that the Tory party is a national party or it is nothing. He did not say nationalistic and his remarks referred to the democratic nation state. I wish that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) were here. I would like him to hear some of the debate because I know that he is in favour of the Nice treaty; he is in favour of all these arrangements.
Mr. David: May I correct a misapprehension that was suggested earlier with regard to the sitting of the European Scrutiny Committee this morning? The reason why the Committee decided not to discuss this subject was that we knew full well that this debate was taking place this afternoon; it was as simple as that.
Every hon. Member would surely agree that in the European Union there is a huge democratic deficit. There are many ways in which we can reduce that deficit, and one of the key ways is by ensuring that far more scrutiny and attention are given to European issuesand, indeed, to the House. We also need to think about how all the European Union institutions function and relate to each other. A debate is about to begin on governance in the European Union and how we define subsidiarity in determining where power can and should lie in the EU.
It is important that we consider how the European Parliament develops as an institution. One of the positive things about the Nice treaty is that it gives extra, albeit modest, powers to the European Parliament. We need to ensure that the European Parliament, along with the member states, can monitor the European Commission effectively and hold it to account.
That could incrementally reduce the democratic deficit in the EU, but it is important to recognise that there is another way to do that: ensuring that there is sufficient debate, discussion and policy formulation among political parties at European level. That is vital. Only when we encourage debate at European level will we have proper
Hon. Members have referred to a number of political parties. I am proud to be a member of the party of European Socialists as well as of the Labour party. The pan-European parties have come together naturally, voluntarily and out of choice. People have decided that it is necessary for them to come together to advance a political perspective.
It is up to the Conservative party whether it wants to be part of that process, but it should not try to impede the democracy and development of others simply because it does not want to be part of it. That is its choice. Equally, it is our choice. It is undemocratic of people to try to undermine what they do not agree with.