There are a few more fantasies around. The Foreign Secretary said that national Parliaments would benefit from the treaty. That is completely untrue. National Parliaments suffer from the transfer of powers to the EU that I have described. The scrutiny powers will go.
When the High Representative is conducting foreign policy on our behalf, how can the House or its Select Committees scrutinise that foreign policy? Our powers are going, and that calls into question our very democracy. What will be the point of having elections, when the people elected to the House do not control matters such as criminal justice, asylum policy or immigration policy?
The Why vote? question becomes virtually unanswerable. The Government are anxious to get people to vote. The Mayor of London thinks that we should all have lottery tickets instead of ballot papers to try and persuade everybody to vote. People will lose interest, not just in the House, but in general elections themselves if the issues that they are being called on to decide are decided, after a general election, not in the House but in another jurisdiction, in the European Union, over which they have only the most vestigial control.
There is a pretence that our loss of powers is somehow offset by new abilities to question EU measures on grounds of subsidiarity. That is an illusion. We can already object to measures on grounds of subsidiarityour Select Committees do thatand the European Commission can go on ignoring our objections, as they will be able to do under the new treaty. It is a total sham to suppose that the House has its powers strengthened in any way.
The only remaining fig leaf is the red lines, on which the Government are increasingly trying to rely. They are supposed to salvage some powers of self-government, but the European Scrutiny Committee reports show how very flimsy these are. I shall not go into the details to show how the red lines are vulnerable. Those are available in the reports, and hon. Members should read them.
I shall make the general point that if and when the treaty is ratified and takes effect, lined up against the Government on the question will be most other member states, the European Commission and the European Parliament, all of which strongly disapprove of the red lines. They do not like them, they will try and undermine them, they will try and erode their legal powers, and they will have an allythe European Court of Justice. That court will be the arbiter and there is no appeal against it. The European Court is protective of European Union power.
That was illustrated recently in an interesting case about a man called Tillack, who was a journalist working for Stern magazine. He reported on European Union corruptionnot a difficult thing to do, given how widespread it is. Great offence was taken by OLAF, which, unbelievably, is the anti-fraud office reporting to the European Commission. It resented the work done by the journalist, so it reported him to the Belgian police and asked them to raid his home and office in order to try to get at his sources. That was done and they took away his papers and his computer, which they refused to give back. Eventually, the European convention on human rights was invoked and the Strasbourg Court found for the journalist, compensated him financially and awarded him costs.
What is significant is that the European Court of Justice, which looked into the matter earlier, did absolutely nothing to support the rights of the journalist. It found against him because it has a vocation to support the
powers and privileges of the EU. That is reinforced by the new treaty. Again, I am staggered that the Government did not mind about that. Article 9 of the new treaty says:
The institutions shall practise mutual sincere co-operation,
and it lists the institutions. They include the European Council, the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Court of Justice. So, in future, when another Member State or the Commission tries to undermine our red lines, we will be up against a Court that is enjoined by treaty law to practise sincere mutual co-operation with an institution that is trying to undermine our powers. It is not an independent body in that sense and the Government never raised any objections.
The whole process of so-called reform started in December 2001 with the Laeken declaration when Heads of Government meeting at Laeken realised that the game was up for the old Europe. People were rejecting it in referendums, turnout in European Parliament elections was declining and there was a general feeling of malaise. So it instructed Europe to democratise and it set up the Convention on the Future of Europe with a mission to simplify and bring Europe closer to its citizensthat was the phrase used.
I have mentioned how I and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston had the honour to represent the House in those negotiations, and they failed. They produced a constitution that was turned down. I predicted that and it came as no surprise to me. But we have now resurrected the same legal powers and given the outcome another name, and it deserves to be rejected again. The instructions given to the process in the Laeken declaration were not just ignored, they were contradicted. We have not simplified, we have made matters more complicated. We have not made Europe democratic, we have made it less democratic. We have not brought it closer to the citizens, we have taken decisions further from the citizens. More powers are taken away from the citizens and their national Parliaments and are to be decided further away in the EU over more areas of policy.
The only way to resolve this is by referendum. With respect to some of the remarks madeindeed by the Chairman of my Committeethis is not simply a policy matter. I am against government by referendum. I am glad that I do not live in Switzerland. I would spend my time going down to the polling station to vote on everything and I do not believe in that. We have a representative democracy. So policy matters are fought out in Parliament. But the rules of that Parliament, and the framework in which this process takes place, must be set not by politicians but by the people. We are talking here about the rules of the game; about the powers of that Parliament. It is about who takes the decisions. Who are those people accountable to? Are they elected? Can they be removed? These are constitutional matters. They cannot be decided by Parliaments but by the people in a referendum.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab):
Several hon. Members have already referred to the fact that debates on these issues get a bit samey and that we have been rehearsing some of the same arguments for years. It is
beginning to feel a little like an episode of Dads Army, and we have some of the same characters. We certainly have hon. Members who say, Were doomed, Captain Mainwaring, were doomed! One of them, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson), is sitting beside me today, because he cannot climb up to the seats at the back. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who has just left the Chamber, is also in that category.
The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) qualifies as Jonesey, who always said, They dont like it up em! Wilson, of course, never wanted to upset anyone, always tried to be nice to everybody and could never make a decisionhe, obviously, is represented by the Liberal Democrats. Then there was the flash Essex bloke who was always trying to sell an argument in a bit of a dodgy way; he is represented by the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), from whom we shall hear later.
We also have our own Pike, the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), from whom I am sure we are about to hear. Most importantly, we should note the fact that for the first time Captain Mainwaring, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), is not here.
Mr. Austin Mitchell: My hon. Friend is using television images. The image for the 20 days of futility next year will be Im an MP, get me out of here! There will be commentary from Ant and Dec, who will say, Weve just eaten another load of eurotuckerand vomited!
Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend, who I think has family in the television industry, has just applied to be on Im a celebrity, get me out of here! Although he has a bit of the Christopher Biggins about him, I am not sure he would win.
Chris Bryant: In actual fact, the warden was always trying to make sure that Captain Mainwaring did not get his way. Perhaps I am the verger, rather than the wardenbut I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention.
Having started well in this debate, I move on to the elections in the Russian Federation. They show some very disturbing trends in Russian politics. As all the observers who have commented closely on Russia in recent years have pointed out, although the elections
might have reflected the views of the Russian people, they were in no sense fair and free. Throughout the election period, 80 per cent. of the airtime on television and radio was devoted to the Government line. Every single independent television and radio station has been closed down by the Government, always for spurious reasons.
Journalists, particularly those critical of the regime, have been murdered in large numbers. One can imagine the row that there would be if a single journalist critical of the Government in this country had been murdered. The fact that there have been many such murders in Russia, without a single person having been brought to justice, is a sign of the repression of the media there. There is not only direct but indirect repressionthere is an air of bullying around the Russian media. Free elections cannot take place without free media; they cannot be held without a pluralist media environment, and that does not exist in Russia at the moment.
Political parties in Russia have also been repressed. One of the requirements that Putin introduced was that a new party had to have 50,000 members before it could be started. The Liberal Democrats may not get 50,000 people voting in their elections this week, so they should look at what is happening in Russia and be fearful.
On top of that, the Government introduced a new law that increased the threshold that parties had to cross in order to gain seats in the lower house of the Duma from 5 to 7 per cent., thereby again limiting the power of smaller parties to be represented there. Non-governmental organisations have been repressed, including independent organisations such as Amnesty International, the British Council and others that were not founded originally in Russia by Russians, as well as Russian organisations themselves. That is very dangerous for civil society in Russia.
One interesting aspect that has not been much commented on is the fact that if a party secures a certain percentage of the vote in the election, it is forced afterwards to pay for the airtime that it had during the pre-election period. For instance, the Democratic Party of Russia secured only 0.13 per cent. of the vote in the elections and yet will now have to pay $6.1 million. As it is a very small party, that will almost certainly make it go bust in the next few weeks. Likewise, the Russian Social Justice party got 0.22 per cent. of the vote and will now have to pay $8.2 million.
For British interests, perhaps one of the most worrying factors of the elections was that Andrei Lugovoi was elected on the Liberal Democratic party listnot this countrys Liberal Democrat party but the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. That gives him yet further immunity from prosecution, which makes it even more difficult for the British Government to secure justice for the family of Alexander Litvinenko. It seems entirely possible that he will now be made Deputy Speaker in the Russian Duma. That would be a gross insult not only to that family living in this country but to justice in this country.
The results showed that the United Russia partyMr. Putins partysecured 64.3 per cent. of the vote. On top of that, the Liberal Democratic party, which is allied to the Kremlin, got 8.14 per cent. of the vote and A Just Russia, another Kremlin-aligned party, secured 7.74 per cent. of the vote. How do we know that those
parties are aligned with the Kremlin? We know because they have already declared that they will support whoever Mr. Putin supports to be president in next years presidential elections. In other words, more than 80 per cent. of the vote and more than 80 per cent. of the seats for the 450-seat Duma have basically gone to one conglomerated partythe presidential party. That is worrying.
On a subsidiary point, if the Russian Federation can get away with having only 450 Members of Parliament, perhaps we, as a much smaller country, should begin to consider whether 650 Members of Parliament is too many and we should reduce our numberscertainly the number of Members in the second Chamber. [ Interruption. ] I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South-West would like that to be abolished.
In the past couple of days, we have heard yet more worrying news. Having said last year that he would not anoint anybody as his successor but would leave it to the people of Russia and his party to decide who the candidate should be, Mr. Putin has decided that Dmitry Medvedev should be the candidate, thereby almost certainly securing the election for him. On top of that, we heard today that Mr. Medvedev has anointed Mr. Putin as the new Prime Minister. That example of Kremlin musical chairs is nothing other than despotic, and we should be worried about it. It might be that all this does not matter, but I believe that it does.
Daniel Kawczynski: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is very worrying how our ambassador in Moscow is being treated in being hounded repeatedly by the Nashi group, which is linked to Mr. Putins United Russia party?
Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The British Council has also been severely harassed over the past year, including by visits to its offices, making it impossible for it to secure new leases, and a whole series of things affecting even the teaching of the English language in Russia. That is to be deplored.
All this also matters for the people of Russia for the simple reason that every piece of work done on human rights there shows the growing use of torture throughout elements of the criminal justice system. Amnesty Internationals report last year made it clear that torture was endemic throughout the whole of Russia, despite the fact that the Russian Federations constitution prohibits its use. It is also clear that there is a culture of violence in the police service and the security services, which means that many new entrants to those services have to go through acts of humiliation that inculcate yet further the process of violence.
The freedom of association and the freedom of peaceful assembly have both been undermined this year by changes in the law brought in by President Putin. It is disturbing to see that some of the techniques that we thought had disappeared with the Soviet regime are now coming back.
David Wright (Telford) (Lab):
Has my hon. Friend noted that Russia has started to deploy aircraft over the North sea again? That has resulted in the RAF having to fly missions to intercept them, which is a worrying
trend. He mentioned the tactics of the former Soviet Union; is it not time that Russia came clean about why it is doing that?
Chris Bryant: As ever, my hon. Friend makes an important and telling point. Indeed, I am particularly worried about Russias suspension of its membership of the treaty on conventional armed forces in Europe, which was the cornerstone of the end of the cold war. It is absolutely vital that Russia returns to that.
I believe that the Russian Federation is now using, on a fairly systematic basis, enforced psychiatric treatment as a means of repression, much as the Soviet Union did. Indeed, sometimes it is using the very scientists who did it in the past. For instance, last year, Nikolai Skachkov, who protested against police brutality and official corruption in the Omsk region of Siberia, was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation because investigators said they suspected he was sufferingthis is a direct quotefrom an acute sense of justice. He subsequently spent six months in a closed psychiatric facility with a diagnosis of paranoia. An independent evaluation that was subsequently undertakennot by the state psychiatric servicesconcluded that he was completely and utterly healthy. Indeed, I would suggest that an acute sense of justice is a sign of sanity, not insanity.
In addition, there has been a significant rise in the number of racist and xenophobic attacks in the Russian Federation, and threatening attitudes have been adopted by the Government towards neighbouring countries, most notably Ukraine, Georgia and Estonia. I believe, and I worry, that Russia under President Putinhowever he rearranges the chairs in which all the various members of his inner Cabinet are sittingis steadily, inexorably, ineluctably and quite determinedly becoming a totalitarian state, and we shall regret it if we do not say so clearly.
Having made those remarks about Russia, I would like to move on to issues relating to the European Union and how they impact on British policy. There are two countervailing pressures in European politics at the moment. On the one hand, there is a push towards greater segregation, and I am conscious of that as a Welsh Member of Parliament. There are those in Wales who want to see further moves to greater devolution, or indeed, separation, and that is true of some people in Scotland. It is also seen in many parts of Europe. Sometimes there is a strong local, regional or national urge for segregation and separation, which can be accompanied by quite aggressive forms of xenophobia. We have seen that in many countries in Europe in recent years. Sometimes there are specific attacks on migrants or, more indirectly, on the whole concept of inward migration.
Sometimes there are two specific ideological accompaniments to that belief in further segregation. One is a kind of Manichaeism, dividing the world into good and evilwe being the good, they being the evil. The other is a wholly partisan understanding of history. In a casual way, that sometimes plays itself out when it comes to voting in the Eurovision song contest, where people feel able to vote only for the countries whose views most closely resemble their view of the world.