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I had the opportunity in the past year to speak in, I think, three debates on European matters, including a specific debate on the constitution. I do not want to reiterate what is on the record because I am aware that others wish to speak, but I want to pick up a theme that I ran with last year that is now more pertinent, given the situation with the constitution.
I said that, in the history of what was the Common Market and now the European Union, successive Governments of both parties have painted a picture of the objectives of being part of the EU. In doing so, I did not suggest that they sought to mislead the House or the people of this country, but focused on what they omitted to say, particularly when treaties were introduced in the
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House. They led people to believe that we could sign up for treaty after treaty while controlling those things that naturally worried us about them and that the end game would not be where we now are, which is a treaty and a constitution that have all the hallmarks of the final stages of creating a nation state.
When people such as myself and others, especially on the Conservative Benches, have put it to the Government of the day that political leaders in other EU states have clearly stated their objectives of closer political union and greater control of many more areas by the Commission and the EU, we have been derided. I do not mean that there has been disagreement, but that there has been active name calling by Ministers and Labour Members. The word "xenophobia" has been bandied about openly in the Chamber when we have quoted Mr. Chirac and others. The Minister for Europe says no, but his predecessor is on the record as saying just that.
Mr. Hendrick: The hon. Lady accuses us of talking about xenophobia, but she should recall the comments of the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who described the Germans as "wretched".
Angela Browning: I am not that interested in the Germans. I am interested in the British people. The Germans have had their say; the British people have not. For clarity, the Minister whom I was referring to was the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), who not only called people such as myself xenophobic, but repeated the allegation when questioned on it.
If leaders of any party or country mislead the people about the stage that we have reached with the European project, the consequences will be more serious than anything we have seen for three generations. That sounds dramatic, but if we cannot tell people the truth, and if political leaders bypass the voice of the people when they have a chance to make their contribution, as in a referendum, by referring the question back in a modified way and going around the circuit until they get what they want, not only is democracy denied, with all the implications that that has, but the European Union project, in whatever form one happens to view it, will be derailed completely in such a chaotic fashion that the consequences will ripple out.
I am not someone who ever says the word "out", however frequently I have been pressedas I have by people such as UK Independence party supportersbut we are at a watershed, or a crossroads, in Europe, especially with the no votes from France and the Netherlands. We have to decide, and we have to be open and honest about, what sort of Europe we want. We will not all want the same sort of Europe. That is inevitable, but when people suddenly wake up to what has been done and what is being proposed in their name, they do not like it or want it. If their view is not listened to, the repercussions will be huge.
Today, I shall not attempt to put my views to the HouseI suspect that many of my colleagues, including those on the Front Bench, are only too well aware of them. To encapsulate them, I would seek constructive and friendly negotiations with our EU partners to secure bilateral agreements on matters of mutual agreement and concern. I would also seek free trade, unfettered by the harmonisation rules that cause many of the problems in this place with regulation.
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I see hon. Members shaking their heads, so let me explain. Some say that Parliament should be better able to scrutinise European regulation. I am not talking about the big set piecesthe treaties that the whole House deals withbut the subsidiary legislation that is dealt with in Committee every week when the Commons is sitting. Despite the fact that we have the European Scrutiny Committee and other Committees that examine each piece of so-called regulation, not one regulation has ever been overturned by the House expressing its views. That is because the decision on a regulation is made by qualified majority voting in Brussels, and the regulation is signed up to by representatives of the British Government. Sometimeswe do not vote on all of themthe regulation is considered by a Committee of the House, but because the Committees are structured to reflect the balance in Parliament, the votes in Committee are weighted on the side of the Government, who have already signed up to the regulation, so the regulation is passed and enacted in UK law. That is the system.
Angela Browning: I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman before I finish my point. As an Agriculture Minister for three years in the 1990s, when dealing with European regulations, I tried desperately hard to do what I thought was in the British interest, but I was thwarted on every one. Ultimately, the unelected Commission told mea British Minister, democratically elected and accountable to Parliament"Sorry, but if you don't do what we say, we will fine you and your Government." We had no power and that has not changedit remains the case today. It is simplistic of any hon. Member to suggest that merely changing the process of scrutinising European regulation will make a ha'p'orth of difference in reducing or improving the implementation in the UK of regulation from Brussels.
Mr. Hendrick: The hon. Lady is generous to give way, given that some of her hon. Friends wish to speak. May I remind her of one point that she has not mentioned? On many such issues, the European Parliament now has a power of co-decision with the Council of Ministers and issues cannot be resolved without agreement between the two. The European Parliament is directly elected by the people.
Angela Browning: I do not buy that argument. Those of us who are democratically elected to this House are answerable to the people who elect us. Our parliamentary system is such that we should be answerable: we should not send responsibility to another group of people, whether they are elected or not. I take very seriously my duty to the people I represent. I believe that I should be accountable to them and that Ministers should be accountable to me. The EU goes against everything for which the democratic process stands.
To return to my argument about accountability, honesty and saying what direction we should take, I have no problem with people on either side of the House who have for many years expressed a view of what they want from Europe and where it is going that is different from mine. That is part of the democratic debate, which I enjoy both inside and outside the House. However, it
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is no longer acceptable for any Government or Minister to attempt to deny the objectives and purpose of our relationship with, and membership of, the European Union. We have reached the position where another treaty and more of the same are not acceptable.
The people of France and of the Netherlands have spoken. I make no difference between their right to express their views and the right of the people of Spain, who have also had a referendum, to express an entirely different view. That is democracy as we understand it. I am concerned not about the people of France, the Netherlands or Spain, but about the rights of the British people, and especially the rights of my constituents. The idea that, in smoke-filled rooms, Ministers and members of councils in private meetings can cobble together some alternative because they know that they will not get the issue past the people in any other way is no longer an option.
I hope that the Minister will accept from mea self-proclaimed Euroscepticthat I understand that he comes from a different point of view and a different philosophy, but I demand of him and of the Government honesty and clarity, and the right for the British people to express their view. If it is the case that this constitution is dead, stuffed or any of the other descriptions we have heard today, we should give the British people a vote on what our future relationship with the EU will be from here on.
The idea that we go on without the British people having the right to express a view is wrong. Whatever that view is, it should be recognised. I have not been impressed by the way in which the Government held a referendum in the north-east on the regional assembly. They carried on as if nothing had happened. That is not my idea of a democratic assembly. If the people say no, different action is required. There is a need for a different policy. That is what I call honesty.
I was impressed and encouraged by my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow, whose maiden speech built in some poetry. I am a great one for finishing off what I say with some poetry or a quotation. Cicero said:
"A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gate is less formidable, for he is known and he carries his banners openly. But the traitor moves among those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself."
Honesty, integrity and openness with the House and with the British people are essential from now on with this issue. If that is not the position, the situation does not bode well either for the people of this country or for the people of Europe.
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