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5 Feb 2008 : Column 893
9.45 pm

There have been two great movements. There has been a great movement over many decades to ensure that we reach the point where all adults have the precious advantage of the vote, so that they can choose those elected representatives and decide whether to remove them when they fail to do their jobs in the imagined way. The other great movement was to ensure that the powers were in this Chamber and in Parliament as a whole, so that here the laws could be chosen, here they could be amended, and here they could be struck down. What the Government are asking us to do tonight is suspend that right, in perpetuity perhaps, and certainly for a very long time—there is no fixed time for this treaty—so that in future such decisions may in many areas be made by unelected people in a European court. They may, as far as the British people are concerned, in future be made by unelected people sitting in Council chambers, often meeting in private and reaching decisions in private.

Ms Hewitt: I am following the right hon. Gentleman’s points with great care, but I am puzzled that he seems to ignore the fact that, ever since this country joined what was then the Common Market all those years ago, there has been primacy of European Union law as decided by the collective institutions of the EU and as interpreted by the European Court. The point he is making is simply an argument for the United Kingdom to withdraw from the EU. That is a perfectly respectable point of view, although I profoundly disagree with it. Is that what he is asking this House to decide, and is that the official policy of the Opposition?

Mr. Redwood: The right hon. Lady is a little cleverer than that: she knows that that is not the official position of the Opposition party, and nor is it the case that I happen to be making at present. Her history is wrong, of course: we did not give all those powers away at the beginning when we joined something called the Common Market in common parlance, or the European Economic Community as set out in the original treaty. That was not the deal offered to the British people when they last had a vote on this issue in 1975. It so happens that I voted “no”. I have always since accepted the verdict of the British people. I am sure that they voted for a common market, and that is what I would like them to have. They voted for co-operation and collaboration while our country retained its veto. What I dislike about the deal under discussion—the clauses before us tonight highlight this—is that our veto has been given away needlessly, when the Government had the veto to veto surrendering the veto; the Government just had to say “no”, and they would not have had so many law-making powers brought in by the back door by this treaty and this proposed legislation.

I, like my party, say that this deal is many steps too far—it gives away far too much of the power rightly accumulated by Parliament over the centuries to do good for the British people and to respond to their will and their wishes. The right hon. Lady has in a previous intervention in our debates today come up with a clever argument. She says that the magic of this particular block of work is that at last the EU will have to submit itself to the human rights Court and the human rights
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convention that many states in Europe have signed. What she omits, however, to tell the House in that very partial interpretation is that that in no way detracts from the power of the European Court of Justice to keep on advancing its power at the expense of the British people and their elected representatives in this Parliament assembled.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The logic of the argument we have heard from the Labour Benches is as follows: as we have given some power away already, we might as well give the rest of the power away. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is the Government’s position?

Mr. Redwood: That is clearly the Government’s position. They have shown total surrender in the negotiations over the treaty as a whole. The Government have told us again tonight that they wish the large number of principles and rights set out in the document before us to be adopted as part of our law code. Worse still, they will accept not one but two European Courts standing in judgment over us. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), I am more worried about the European Court of Justice, because it has a long tradition of furthering a federal agenda. In case after case that Court is determining that there should be more power for law-making and decision in the European Union and less in the member states.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): Is that not why this House and the British people should approach this treaty with the greatest scepticism? They will recall the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1986, which I voted against. Our right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Thatcher was assured that employment and the social contract would be outside the ECJ’s remit, but the ECJ took that area into its own power. Therefore, we should resist any Government attempt to hoodwink the British people into thinking that we should accept these assurances.

Mr. Redwood: That is exactly right. The facts are stark. This Government have surrendered 10 times more vetoes than previous Governments. Some of us had reservations about surrendering some of those other vetoes, but they were at least surrendered in furtherance of the Common Market, for which people had voted in a referendum. That was why Baroness Thatcher decided to make those modest surrenders of power in the 1980s. Since then, this Government have given away massive rights, duties and powers that have nothing to do with the Common Market for which the British people voted.

Mike Gapes: Surely the right hon. Gentleman cannot believe that the modest changes in this treaty or in the Amsterdam and Nice treaties are comparable with the massive expansion of European competence in Baroness Thatcher’s Single European Act?

Mr. Redwood: I suggest that the hon. Gentleman tries reading the different treaties. The Single European Act was, as its name describes, about market measures to try to promote a common market. I believe that a common market is created by having buyers and sellers and does not need nearly as much law as the European Union
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subsequently developed. The SEA was a very narrow area of work compared with a common foreign policy, a common army, a common defence policy, a common criminal justice policy, a common immigration policy, a president of Europe and a much-expanded Parliament, all of which have come under this Government’s watch.

At each point, the Government have claimed that they were not giving any real power away, that we would not notice the difference, that they had protected our interest and that the famous red lines were in place. We have heard all that nonsense, but we can see from the huge amount of work embedded in this revised treaty that massive powers were surrendered at Nice and Amsterdam, and that such a surrender is being proposed tonight in this crucial area of fundamental human rights.

We have been told by some Opposition and Labour Members that we do not value human rights or the very good principles embodied in parts of this text—but of course we value those things. We fight, and our predecessors fought, for those rights for the British people just as surely as the Labour party has often done in the past. We believe that those rights are best expressed in British law, in the English language and in a way that is answerable to the British people. We believe they have to stay like that, so that the British people can, through their elected representatives, change, amend and improve them as circumstances and time require.

This treaty is an inflexible, unaccountable and thoroughly undemocratic way of legislating. We are being asked to embody at one point in the long evolution of our national and European history, a set of principles that might make sense to some people now, but which are going to be extremely difficult to change. It will be impossible to change them in a democratic way in this Parliament, because the agreement of so many of other member states will be needed, as will a treaty amendment. As we can see, such an amendment is a complicated and difficult process.

We must amend these clauses and retain these powers that the Government wish to give away. We must restore the position that this Parliament makes these crucial decisions, so that we answer to our electors. We should live or die as politicians by how well we do and by whether we answer to our electors in the correct way.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) and I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) on introducing the debate and speaking so knowledgeably on the topic. As I have five minutes to speak, I hope that they will forgive me for concentrating on amendments Nos. 217, 228 and 229.

Amendment No. 217 would strike the charter of fundamental rights out of the treaty. I remind Labour Members that that would be in accordance with the Government’s policy until a few years ago. Tony Blair told the House after the Nice treaty was agreed:

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The Government have now given up on that fight, and that was a mistake. As the European Scrutiny Committee has explained in its reports, the Government’s vaunted protocol would not stop the charter coming in through the back door as the European Court of Justice applies it to cases that come before it from other EU member states, with judgments that then become binding precedents for the whole EU, the United Kingdom included.

The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), in his glory days as the Minister for Europe, famously said that

the charter—

He failed to foresee that the Government’s policy would evolve into the complete opposite of that position.

Indeed, history teaches us that the more vehemently Ministers state their position, the likelier it is that the Government are about to undertake a U-turn. For example, the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), as the Government’s lead negotiator on the EU constitution, asserted that

of the charter into the constitution—

When he said that, it should have been a sign that in time the Government were set to do exactly that.

Paragraph 1 of new article 6 of the treaty would give the charter full legal force as it would have

The rights listed in the charter cover everything from asylum to data protection to the right not to be tried twice for the same offence. Much of it, as a general statement of the kind of rights people ought to enjoy, is motherhood and apple pie. However, there is a world of legal difference between a general statement of political goals and a legally binding text. As I have said, the European Court of Justice would apply the charter to cases that come before it, and that would allow it a far wider degree of discretion in its judgments, in effect leading to yet more judge-made law. That is why the Government rightly spent so long opposing giving the charter legal force, and that is why those who are federally inclined see the charter as so important.

Talking of the federally inclined, I turn to the subject of the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrat MEP Andrew Duff, with whose views I strongly disagree but whose expertise on these matters I respect, has said that the charter

As Mr. Duff is the Liberal Democrat spokesman on constitutional affairs in the European Parliament, we must presume that that comment represents the official position of the Liberal Democrats. I am pleased, therefore, to put that on the record tonight.

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The Government pray in aid their protocol, but as I said earlier, the European Scrutiny Committee has said that it is doubtful that the protocol will in the end stop EU judges enforcing the charter on cases that come to it from Britain. Amendment No. 228 is intended to remedy that failure by limiting the charter’s application, in other words to stop it coming in through the back door. If the opportunity arises, I wish to divide the House on that amendment.

For years, the Government opposed the suggestion that the charter should have any legal force. Then they admitted that it would have legal force, but Tony Blair assured us that we would have an opt-out. Then, under pressure, the Government admitted that they did not have an opt-out, only a clarification. Now, incredibly, Ministers are claiming that they never actually asked for an opt-out at all. The Government are, frankly, all over the place on this issue, yet the liberties of the British people are at stake. They should be honest with the people and with the House, and should not seek to press this matter. If they do, we will gladly vote against them.

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): I am delighted to have the opportunity to respond to this evening’s debate, albeit relatively briefly. I think that we have had a fascinating debate earlier this afternoon and on the amendments before us now.

10 pm

We have had the chance to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett), and I will seek to find the key to unlock the hidden door a little later in my comments. We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt), who have been assiduous in their attendance and intervention in our proceedings on each and every day on which we have considered the Bill.

We also heard from, among others, the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), with whom I am enjoying our daily—or nightly—debates. He made a good case in arguing for his amendments in his own terms, but what was missing from his comments was any discussion of what a Conservative Government would do. Once again, he has remained silent on the social chapter. He had the opportunity to put his views on the record, but he chose not to do so. His silence on withdrawal from the social chapter speaks volumes. Of course, he could intervene now to put the record straight. The hon. Gentleman also refused to say whether, in the event of a Conservative victory, a Conservative Government would seek to renegotiate the treaty and remove the charter from it—

Mr. Francois rose—

Mr. Murphy: I happily give way to the hon. Gentleman; I look forward to hearing what he has to say on the social chapter as well.

Mr. Francois: Very briefly, the Minister has been repeatedly asked by his own Back Benchers this evening to give answers on social policy, so will he satisfy them by providing an answer?

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Mr. Murphy: Simply refusing to respond to such points is not an approach that will get us through the rest of Committee proceedings.

We also heard a wide-ranging and passionate speech by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who spoke from his great experience on Europe gained over many decades. He also referred to the experience of 1848, and spoke passionately about the Soviet era. Let me gently say to him that he has always reminded me of a Conservative version of Leon Trotsky, a man of whom it was often said that he was so far-sighted in his predictions that none of them had yet come true. On Europe, that is indeed the case— [Interruption.] I happily give way.

Mr. Cash: There is also a very famous poet by the name of T. S. Eliot who said:

That is also the problem of the Minister.

Mr. Murphy: I would not wish to test your patience too much, Sir Alan, but it is absolutely certain that the hon. Gentleman will not be and would not be allowed to be airbrushed out of history in the way that others have in the past.

On amendment No. 84, the Government are clearly committed to the protection of human rights both in the EU and by the EU, but what is proposed would undermine that commitment. Removing the charter of fundamental rights from the scope of the Bill would not undermine the rights and principles as they already exist as a result of the European Court of Human Rights, the EU treaties, European Court of Justice case law or the traditions common to all member states. The principle that fundamental rights form part of Community law and apply to states when implementing that law is long established and reflects ECJ case law dating from 1970.

References to fundamental rights in the treaties are not new. The first reference to fundamental rights appeared in the preamble to the Single European Act, which the former Chancellor, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), previously described as the single greatest transfer of sovereignty in this nation’s history. That Single European Act provided that member states would

The Maastricht treaty included the first explicit reference to fundamental rights in the text of the treaties. That reference became article 6(2) of the treaty on European Union.

Removing the charter from the scope of the Bill would prevent UK citizens from using the charter as an accessible record of the rights that they enjoy as EU citizens, and which the citizens of all other member states would enjoy. The rights and principles in the charter are not new; it records rights, rather than creates them.

Mr. Redwood: The Minister is now getting to something interesting. Is he not ashamed that there is so little time because of the ridiculous guillotine motion? Many Members cannot tease out these important points and have a proper debate on them. Will he give us more time?

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