Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order.

Jim Knight: Congestion is certainly the biggest issue for my constituents in Weymouth, but, if hon. Members on the Conservative Front Bench were listening carefully, they would have heard me say that the biggest single issue facing my constituents in the rural part of my constituency is the lack of affordable housing.

A Joseph Rowntree Foundation report published in May last year showed that Purbeck had the biggest affordable housing problem outside London and the area was the fifth worst of any authority in the country in terms of the gap between average wages—those in Dorset are the same as those in County Durham—and

1 Dec 2003 : Column 305

average house prices, which are rising all the time. That is in part due to the effect of the right to buy council homes, which was introduced by the last Conservative Government. I dread to think what would be the effect on that rural part of my constituency of a right to buy for housing association tenants, which would drain the area of all the remaining affordable houses to rent, so I welcome the modernisation of the right to buy proposed in the housing Bill to protect the availability of affordable housing.

The other welcome part of that measure returns me to fire safety. Houses in multiple occupation can present a huge risk and if you were to talk to Members from the varying seaside constituencies represented in the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would find that there is a much higher prevalence of fires and fatalities in HMOs in seaside towns, which have many such houses. I talked earlier about the potential of sprinklers, but we cannot tackle the problem of HMOs until we introduce a licensing and registration system for them. I welcome the measure that will make that possible.

I very much welcome the Gracious Speech. I was elected to alleviate the problems in my constituency of South Dorset. At present, they are first and foremost the lack of affordable housing, traffic congestion and access to public transport. I am confident that the Queen's Speech will considerably help to address those concerns.

6.36 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): It is a pleasure, as always, to follow the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight). If he will forgive me, I shall call him my hon. Friend, because that is what he is. I also represent a seaside constituency. Although he represents a beautiful area, it is not quite so beautiful as the one that I represent. He spoke with sincerity and knowledge, and on this occasion I agree with much that he said, although I am quite surprised to say that.

The hon. Gentleman did not say, however, that the Government's programme fails to tackle the issue of consulting the people on their proposed constitutional changes. I am surprised at that, because his constituents in South Dorset are keen to be consulted on the matter as they fundamentally disagree with what the Government intend to do. The Government claim, entirely disingenuously, that the draft European Union constitution is simply a tidying-up exercise. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let me examine just one aspect of the effects of this invasive EU proposal. The criminal justice system has developed in Britain over many centuries; for instance, our freedoms were introduced by Henry II and they provided the basis for common law. The barons, through the Magna Carta sealed at Runnymede, ensured that King John and all future monarchs developed and respected fundamental protections for citizens. Those protections are, to some extent, enjoyed today. The William and Mary Bill of Rights set out rights for citizens and the responsibilities of Parliament and the monarchy—in short, it defined the state and its relationship with citizens.

The reforming Parliaments between the two great fires that punctuate the history of this Palace led the world in the development of justice and freedom, human rights, good governance and sound civil society. We

1 Dec 2003 : Column 306

should be proud of our history and we should teach it, although we do not. Those Parliaments developed and improved our laws, the protection of our citizens and the relationship between citizens and the state as well as that between citizens themselves. That is defined nowhere more than in our system of criminal law, which the Government propose to cast aside without so much as a by your leave.

Indeed, although it may not be politically correct to say so, our ancient system of laws and rights formed the moral bedrock from which Britain sprang to rescue Europe from absolute tyranny in two world wars, when Germany marched and France collapsed. Are we now to stand by, say nothing and let the Prime Minister hand over control of these very laws and values to those European states?

Chapter IV, section IV of the draft EU constitution states:

That last, catch-all phrase is breathtaking in its potential invasiveness. It would allow the unelected and unaccountable Council to override our Parliament on any significant matter of criminal law, and without the consent of the people or of this Parliament.

The draft states that the Council can at any time add to the list of areas that could be brought under its control without the means for Britain to resist that, whatever the British people's views, needs or interests. Thus, even the definition of criminal offences and sanctions would be removed from our sovereign control. The draft's impact on criminal justice is just one small area of influence of the proposed EU constitution.

The Prime Minister would be stretching his now severely diminished credibility if he continued to stand by the claim that the proposal is just a "tidying-up exercise." The great British public have seen through the Prime Minister's moribund policy and will no longer accept his double-talk on Europe.The European framework law is ill-defined in the extreme; I suspect that that is no accident. However, it is clear that it would change our laws and would remove our sovereign control over such matters; these are not simply small changes at the margins or in any sense minimal changes. It would impose so-called minimum rules that we would have to accept and abide by, like them or not, suitable for Britain or not. These new laws would be entirely unavoidable and would force important and fundamental changes on our criminal law, possibly very much against the wishes and interests of the British people.

In effect, the proposal would remove our sovereignty, nothing less. Moreover, it does not take an expert to see that this is an instrument designed for that very purpose. It is designed to transfer our sovereignty on criminal justice and much else from our Parliament to expensive, corrupt, wasteful and out-of-control Brussels bureaucrats. It would do much more than allow the entirely undemocratic and unaccountable bureaucrats to remove our sovereignty. [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for

1 Dec 2003 : Column 307

Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) laughs. Has he consulted his constituents about this matter? I have certainly consulted mine.

The proposal would force a new European central legislative body to develop new European laws to be enacted upon us; by definition, undermining our sovereignty. Control of criminal law is one of the key defining fundamentals of any nation state. Without it, there can be no nation state and no sovereignty. It becomes clear that the reason for the clause in the proposed EU constitution—like many of the others in the so-called tidying-up draft—is to create a new state of Europe and to destroy our current sovereign state, Britain.

That legislative move is not necessarily advocated for the purposes of efficiency; nor has the British public sought the move; nor would it necessarily improve the way in which the EU countries work together in fighting crime, or in any other area. It is simply yet another federalising tool. The Prime Minister knows that, and seeks to prevent the British people from seeing it until it is too late. The same analysis applies to the draft EU constitution's impact on areas such as foreign policy, the economy, defence, the militarisation of Europe, challenging NATO and, now, control of the asylum procedures.

It is not simply a tidying-up exercise. It has fundamental consequences for our nation state and for the people of Britain. Even if it were a good thing, which it most certainly is not, the proposal would deepen the democratic deficit for our people. It should not be for those who govern to change unilaterally and fundamentally the way the people are governed. That is the purpose of the constitution. It is the fundamental right of the people themselves to decide democratically their own constitutional arrangements. For the Prime Minister to seek to take the decision without allowing a referendum to hear the voice of the people and in direct defiance of the firmly expressed views of the people on Europe is arrogance and folly of historic dimensions. He will be remembered for that.

Jim Knight: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who I suppose I should call my hon. Friend. Did he feel the same about Margaret Thatcher when she signed up to the Single European Act, or about John Major when he agreed to the Maastricht treaty, both of which were fundamental in respect of giving away sovereignty to Europe? Did he vote for or against those proposals?

Next Section

IndexHome Page