Therefore, we have a difficulty, and I want to talk today about the relationship between those who govern and those who are governed, because that lies at the heart of the problems that we have in respect of all the debates about the European Union. There is an implied consent, and when that implied consent no longer exists, two things happen: first, people withdraw into the private sphere, which means that they no longer go out and vote; and, secondly, they no longer care, and when they no longer care they get to the second stagethey openly revolt. In the EU, the implied consent is being withdrawn. One reason for that is that implied consent usually exists only because those who are being governed know that, every so often, they can kick out those who govern them, and that cleansing process reinvigorates the implied consent. But at the European level that simply never happens.
The European elections are like a phantom pregnancy. They go through all the stages and get bigger and bigger, but in the end they do not deliver anything. That is because we do not vote for a Government and we fight those elections on national labels. What does it mean to vote for the Conservatives, when they then sit with the European Peoples party? Well, even they do not know about that.
Kelvin Hopkins: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend about people becoming alienated when they are ignored. Does she agree that citizens sense of being ignoredwhen they need jobs and their welfare state is under threat, and so forthis a factor in the rise of the extreme right in parts of Germany and elsewhere in Europe, and that that presents a very dangerous possibility for the future of Europe?
But I want to look at our own house, before we criticise the rest of Europe. There are two options. We can either draw more of the decision making up into
Brussels, which clearly has not worked, or we can draw it down to member states, which is what I think we need to do. In that regard, we should start at home. Let me give an example of what I mean. Early in October, I turned the radio on and tuned into the Today programme, hoping to have my daily rant at John Humphrys. Our Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was talking about age discrimination legislation. I thought that it was very good legislation, and that I would have enjoyed, and have felt proud as a Labour MP, and campaigning and saying, This is what we have done.
But what happened? That is the first I had heard of that legislation, so I sent an e-mail to the Library, asking whether the House of Commons had ever debated that it. The Library wrote back saying that the legislation was statutory instrument 2006/2408. It could find no debates on it in the Commons, but there was a debate in the Lords, on 30 March. Of course, the Lords cannot amend statutory instruments. I read the relevant Lords Hansard and discovered that they did indeed debate itfrom 4.22 to 4.54 pm, which is a grand total of 32 minutes. I did a little more reading, and I was given the website link for the relevant research paper. This morning, I asked for a hard copy of it. It has not been printed yet.
Since 1997, there have been nine attempts to introduce anti-age discrimination legislationvia ten-minute Bills and amendments to existing legislation, for example so this issue has exercised the House. That is good, but I would have liked to know about it. There is another reason the House should debate such legislation at length. When Ministers stand at the Dispatch Box and explain their understanding of such legislation, courts then refer to such statements in interpreting that legislation.
There was another element of that Today programme that really upset me. When the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was asked whether the new anti-age discrimination legislation would be incompatible with certain UK legislation, he said that it had yet to be tested in the courts. I do not have a problem with legislation being tested in the courts, but we need to give courts guidance on how we regard it. When such legislation affects all our constituentsindeed, this legislation will have ramifications that we have not even dreamt of yetwe need to be much more realistic about how we deal with and debate it in this House.
I have three suggestions. First, we should have a proper Europe Minister. By that I mean a Minister who is in the Cabinet, who has regular [Interruption.] The current Minister for Europe is a perfect candidate and I would propose him for that role. Indeed, I want to enhance his role. In addition to being in the Cabinet, he should have regular question sessions at the Dispatch Box as the Minister for Europe, during which he explains all the decisions taken at European level that impact on domestic legislation, and how matters will be co-ordinated across Whitehall. That role is currently fulfilled by our permanent representative in Brussels, but I would like it to be fulfilled by someone of Cabinet rank who is regularly answerable to this House. Indeed, in terms of its political significance, that role is almost one for the Deputy Prime Minister.
Mr. Davidson: Is there not a great danger in describing the post of which my hon. Friend approves as the Minister for Europe? Just as the Minister with responsibility for European agriculture matters ends up representing agriculture in government, so the Minister for Europe ought to be called the Minister for Britain. The mechanism ought not to be simply a transmission belt.
Ms Stuart: I am sure that, whatever the title of the position, the House would soon knock whoever holds it into shape. I would also move that role out of the Foreign Office, because this is a domestic issue.
My second suggestion is that MEPs should debate with Members of Parliament issues on which they have a vote; for example, rapporteurs should debate significant legislation with MPs. We should not go to Brusselsthey should come here. A debate in this House on the service directive would have been extremely helpful, and I, for one, would love to see more of Mr. Andrew Duff, so that he can explain the Liberals position in this Chamber. For once, that would flush out the hypocrisy of the Liberals, who are the most fierce integrationists in Brussels, but who say that they want to withdraw from the fisheries policy when they fight general elections. We would have a bit of fun, particularly when we heard what the European Peoples party had to say.
Thirdly, whatever the nature of the debate on the future of Europe, we must at some stage openly acknowledge that there is a big divide between countries that are members of the single currency and those that are not. The latter will require far deeper political integration to create an effective single currencythere is absolutely no way round that. If we go on pretending that that is not the situation, we will not even begin to have an honest debate.
It is great to have a debate on the citizens agenda, but we need to start to examine the failures of this House to bring it closer to its people and to have a bit more openness about problems that are staring us in the face while we go on pretending that they do not exist.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con):
We have been debating something that does not exist, as there is no citizens agenda in Europe. The publicthe votersof Europe have always been treated as political adolescents to be patronised and then ignored by the political class who drive the project forward. Europes political elitethey are often very candid about this, at least on the continentsee themselves as having a vanguard role in building an integrated, centralised Europe around which the public must coalesce. If we add to that the fact that all multinational bureaucracies have an instinct to expand and never to reform themselves, we have a recipe for what we do indeed havea remote, centralised, often corrupt and certainly wasteful form of government from which the public feel completely alienated. There is now a lot of evidence for that, including a succession of no votes, not only on the European constitution but in Sweden and Denmark and an initial no vote in Ireland on the Nice treaty. Moreover, the turnout in European parliamentary elections has, on average, fallen in every
single election since 1979, despite the fact that the Parliament has more and more power. The stronger it gets, the fewer people vote for it.
I think that what I have said so far is uncontroversial. It has been a general theme of this debate that something needs to be done to re-engage the public; so it is that we have in the documents before the House something called plan D. I do not know what happened to plans A, B and C, but perhaps I had something to with the latter, along with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart). She and I had the honour of representing this House in the Convention on the Future of Europe, which was an attempt to tackle these issues of alienation. We were instructed to simplify the treaties and to create a Europe closer to its citizens. Of course, that instruction was ignored; instead, the Convention wrote itself a constitution, which was all about giving more powers to the very European Union institutions that had created the problem in the first place. Put simply, the constitution failed. However, although it was turned down by the voters of France and Holland, the Prime Minister, bizarrely, not only signed but still supports it. Presumably, therefore, the Governments formal position is that that discredited document should be brought into effect in its entirety.
Mr. Cash: I very much endorse my right hon. Friends comments and those of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mr. Stuart). I should point out that next week we vote on changing the Standing Orders that deal with questions of how the House handles this business. Is it not extremely important that we emphasise in that debate, by amendments or otherwise, the supremacy of this Parliament over the European Communities Act 1972 to allow ourselves to veto legislation when we know that it will do a great deal of harm to the people of this country and the people of Europe?
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I agree with my hon. Friend. The House has a crucial contribution to make to openness and transparency. A notable feature of the wonderful plan D is that it advances the proposition that people should be better informed about decisions that are made on their behalf but does not tackle the problem of the vast number of committees in Europe that are submerged from public view. When Lord Kinnock was vice-president of the Commission, he told an Austrian newspaper three years ago that
the citizens do not know that there is a secret governing system in Europe... We have more than 300 formations in which officials from the member states meet and pass decisions. That is the largest source of bureaucracy and the black hole in European democracy.
However, plan D tackles none of that. The submerged part of the iceberg will therefore remain hidden from public view and parliamentary scrutiny. Let me give the House another relevant example. I am interested in trade reform and fulfilling all the promises that we made last year in the public debate and lobbies about making poverty history. We need to reform our trade procedures, tariffs and quota systems for the
benefit of not only those whom we represent but the poorest people in the poorest countries.
I naturally turned to the European Union debate on the subject because it takes the lead on trade policy. It transpires that most of the decisions originate in a committee called the article 133 committee. I asked to see the minutes of the discussions on those crucial subjects in the first half of the year. On 15 occasions, I was told that I could not access the minutes. They were blockedindeed, censoredby something called the general secretariat. The one set of minutes that I obtained was of a meeting that officials from this country attended on 17 February. The decisions and the discussions are interesting, but, in 16 places, the word, deleted appears. In other words, the especially interesting part of the discussion has simply been erased from the record. As an elected person, trying to do my best for my constituents in delivering the agenda on trade reform, I not only have no influence on the discussions but cannot find out what is being discussed. However, none of that is the subject of plan D. The much-heralded initiative on openness and transparency does not tackle the issue.
Mark Lazarowicz: It is easy to make points about the number of committees. I daresay that, if one added up all the UK Government committees or those of any other member state, one would probably find that there were more than those at European level. However, I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman wants to withdraw from the British state in the way in which he apparently wants to withdraw from the European Union. Would not he do better to turn his attention to devising constructive reform rather than advocating withdrawal from the European Union?
The Government are guilty of secrecy in the House. I serve on the European Scrutiny Committee, along with the distinguished new Chairman, who contributed earlier. Our deliberations take place in private. The public are not allowed even into those. In the previous Parliament, we passed a motion to open up the Committee to public scrutiny so that the press and the public can see what we do on their behalf. That sat in the in-tray of the then Leader of the House and he did nothing to change Standing Orders. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) is rightnot only the European Union but the British Government have a conspiracy against the public. That makes any initiative about openness and transparency a sham.
The documents also refer to the allied question of over-regulation and discuss the need to reduce the burdens and intrusions suffered by businesses and the public. I have counted last years directives, regulations and binding decisions, of which there are 2,900. That adds to the acquis communautaire in the European Union, which already runs to more than 100,000 pages. The European Scrutiny Committee grapples with the issue as best it can, but we cannot stop those regulations, and, increasingly, the Government cannot
stop them, too, because more and more of them are decided by majority voting. Again, the analysis is correct, but the policy is lacking.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Jenny Willott) referred to one of the specifics in plan D, the entitlement card. Who will pay for the entitlement card? What will be on it? Will it include a chip containing all 100,000 pages of the acquis communautaire to let us know what we are entitled to in the European Union? Is that really the way to close the gap between the public and the politicians in Europe? It has also been suggested that a corps of European good will ambassadors will go around telling us about plan D. Have they arrived here yetI have not met them? Who will pay for them? I am willing to meet them, because I am a man of good will.
There is a serious problem, and it cannot be solved by reviving a discredited European constitution. If we are to create a peoples Europe rather than a politicians Europe, if we want a democratic Europe rather than a bureaucratic state and if we want an open Europe rather than a closed shop, we need the fundamental, thoroughgoing reform of the entire way in which the European Union is structured, financed and run. Such a project is entirely lacking in the documents, and it was not even attempted in the Convention on the Future of Europe. In a notably weak contribution this afternoon, the Minister gave no hint of any Government ambition in that direction. It will therefore fall to this party, when in government, to take forward that task not only on behalf of the people of this country, but on behalf of the people of Europe, who are struggling to create a different Europe that yearns to be free.
I did not altogether agree with the contribution by the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). If we are to engage the citizens of Europe within the European Union, we need a clear, understandable way of making decisions. The existing European Union decision-making process is confused. Power lies in the Council of Ministers, but Ministers tend to say, It was not us, guv. It was those nasty Commissioners in Brussels who made the decision. Citizens do not know who to blame when incorrect decisions are taken and who to get at when the decision-making process is taking place. The existing arrangements for decision making are inadequate for a European Union of 27 member states. Somehow or other, the process must be improved and made not only more transparent, but more efficient.
Key issues for the citizens of Europe include the Hague agenda, which concerns migration, terrorism and crime. The Conservative party has said that it wants nothing to do with that agenda, but the citizens of Europe know that it matters and that there must be a European solution. The Hague agenda has been launched, but it is now in the quagmire because the decision-making process in the European Union cannot take it much further. We need to do something to enable decisions to be made. I accept that the
different legal systems and legal traditions mean that that is not easy to do, but the European Union needs to deliver that agenda.
On energy policy, individual European Union states are making bilateral deals to ensure their energy supplies for the future. Yet the citizens of Europe know that there ought to be a European Union-wide energy policy to ensure that all the peoples of the Union have adequate and affordable energy supplies.
In relation to the development of a single market, I was struck this week by the tension between a national state approach and a European approach. The European civil aviation industry is dominated by Airbus, an international consortium. As a result of the decision by BAE Systems to sell its 20 per cent. stake to the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, however, it is now dominated by the French and Germans. From a company point of view, I have no doubt that the aerospace industry in Broughton and Bristol would flourish in a European single market, because it would be competitive with anywhere else in Europe. Airbus, however, is influenced by national considerations from the French and German Governments. That is a key tension. Unless we tackle those sorts of issues, the European Union will not be in a position to compete with the US or the emerging economies of China and India. If we do not recognise that industries need to be European Union-wide to benefit from the single market, we will come out on the wrong side of the globalisation argument.