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Orders of the Day

European Union (Amendment) Bill

Further considered in Committee.

[7th Allotted Day]

(Any selected amendments to clause 2 relating to the effectiveness of the EU institutions and EU decision making)

[Sylvia Heal in the Chair.]

Clause 2

Addition to list of treaties

8.11 pm

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 82, page 1, line 12, after ‘excluding’, insert—

‘(i) Article 1, paragraph 5, inserted Article 3a TEU relating to relations between the Union and Member States; and

(ii) ’.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sylvia Heal): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 83, page 1, line 12, after ‘excluding’, insert—

‘(i) Article 1, paragraph 6, inserted Article 3b TEU relating to the competences of the European Union; and

(ii) ’.

No. 277, page 1, line 12, after ‘excluding’, insert—

‘(i) Article 2, paragraph 27(c) adding a new sentence to Article 16 TEC (TFEU) on a new legal base for the European Union to establish the basic principles and conditions of service of general economic interest; and

(ii) ’.

No. 121, page 1, line 12, after ‘excluding’, insert—

‘(i) Article 2, paragraph 12, new Title and new Articles 2A to 2E TEC (TFEU) relating to categories and areas of European Union competence; and

(ii) ’.

No. 222, page 1, line 12, after ‘excluding’, insert—

‘(i) Article 2, paragraph 12, new Article 2B TEC (TFEU), paragraph 1(d), relating to the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy; and

(ii) ’.

No. 124, page 1, line 12, after ‘excluding’, insert—

‘(i) Article 2, paragraph 17, inserted Article 5a TEC (TFEU) relating to matters to be taken into account in defining and implementing European Union policies and activities; and

(ii) ’.

No. 131, page 1, line 12, after ‘excluding’, insert—

‘(i) Article 2, paragraphs 46 to 49, amendments to Articles 32, 36 and 37 TEC (TFEU) relating to agriculture and fisheries; and

(ii) ’.

No. 225, page 1, line 12, after ‘excluding’ insert—

‘(i) Article 2, paragraph 49(c) 3, amendment to Article 37 TEC (TFEU) relating to the adoption of measures on fixing prices, levies, aid and quantitative limitations and on the fixing and allocation of fishing opportunities; and

(ii) ’.

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No. 38, page 1, line 12, after ‘excluding’, insert—

‘(i) Article 2, paragraph 150, inserted Article 176D TEC (TFEU), relating to administrative co-operation; and

(ii) ’.

No. 186, page 1, line 12, after ‘excluding’, insert—

‘(i) Article 2, paragraph 289, replacement Article 308 TEC (TFEU) relating to action within the framework of policies defined in the Treaties where the Treaties have not provided the necessary powers; and

(ii) ’.

No. 192, page 1, line 12, after ‘excluding’, insert—

‘(i) the Protocol on the Application of the Principles of Subsidiarity and Proportionality; and

(ii) ’.

No. 31, page 1, line 13, after second ‘to,’ insert—

‘(i) the categories and areas of EU competence; and

(ii) ’.

Mr. Cash: I am glad to have the opportunity to start the debate. It has already been covered to some extent by our discussions on the general principles. We now have the opportunity to consider the specific questions through amendments. Of course, that is what we should really have been doing all afternoon, but that battle has now been conceded as far as the Government are concerned.

The meeting in Laeken in December 2001 said, among many other things, that the question at issue was:

The reality is that these arrangements are extending competence, despite what we heard from the Deputy Leader of the House in her winding-up speech, when she seemed to be suggesting that the treaty was simply a repetition of existing competences. That is not the case. I accuse the Government of a form of appeasement in relation to such questions. Despite their objections to those arrangements, which were expressed in the Convention and on a number of occasions, they have allowed the European Union to go ahead after all.

In reference to the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), I suggested in an intervention on my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) that we needed a list of the provisions. I asked the Minister to give me a list of those matters where the European Union was being given new powers and to demonstrate the extent to which areas were left to our national Parliament and our voters. That is the key question. Of course, he could not answer it; he gave me a few examples, such as defence and foreign policy. However, in terms of the range of matters that are being taken over by the European Union under the treaty and the accumulated functions that have been generated by the secret negotiations, we in this Parliament are increasingly like the smile on the face of the Cheshire cat. Bit by bit, we are vanishing into a vacuum that is being enlarged by the EU.

The EU is centralising, and I believe that the effect of that, curiously and ironically, will be increased tensions in the EU. That is exactly the opposite of what it is seeking to achieve. It will claim that it is trying to introduce greater harmonisation, greater peace and greater stability as a result of the consolidating functions. I
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firmly believe that what is happening will generate more tension and less harmony as the member states jostle, through the general elections in their respective countries, to try to maintain the respect of their voters and their electorate, who will demand things that they cannot be given.

8.15 pm

The one thing that the treaty does by centralising and by increasing the exclusive and shared competences is diminish the room within which the respective national Parliaments can legislate. The voters will come up against their Parliament’s inability to respond to their wishes—the Parliaments will simply have to turn around and say, “We cannot legislate in this field because it has been handed over to the European Union, which, as we know, is remote, bureaucratic and undemocratic.” When that happens, the tensions in the member states will tend to increase.

With the potential for problems with running the economy, an increasing possibility of higher unemployment, the failure of the Lisbon agenda and the difficulties of matching people’s aspirations—which is inconsistent with the Laeken declaration’s words about being closer to the citizen—a vacuum is being created. No one seems to realise that in the pursuit of those abstract ideologies, the seeds of the destruction of the EU are being sown. The people will not stand for it when things go wrong.

Another problem is that because the acquis is set in concrete and cannot really be amended except through a formula such as that which I shall develop tomorrow in relation to new clauses 8 and 9, which I understand have been selected, there is no way in which the powers can be repatriated unless individual member states are prepared to take unilateral action and to get it right after proper negotiation. I do not believe in unilateral action without discussion or negotiation.

The parliamentary channel is the only place where these matters are being discussed. I know that as I speak what I am saying is going out live on the parliamentary channel.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): You’re sending them all to bed.

Mr. Cash: The hon. Gentleman says that they can all go to bed; if they wish to do so, let them.

It would not be a bad idea if those watching the parliamentary channel—as they listen, if not to me, then to others—were to express their views to the authorities, the media and the national newspapers, which are not covering what is going on in the House as it legislates, through the Government’s iniquity, to deprive the people of this country of the right to express their views in general elections. That is what is happening, and it is extremely dangerous to our democracy.

Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that when we hear this talk about being closer to citizens and about citizenship, it does not refer to the citizens of the nation state? The treaty compounds the ever-rolling forward programme of giving democratic legitimacy to the citizens’ representation through the EU Parliament, thereby bypassing more of their representation through their national Parliaments.

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Mr. Cash: I completely agree, and I strongly suggest that viewers of the parliamentary channel write to the BBC to ask that these debates be covered a bit more comprehensively. Similar letters should be sent to the national media, as people are able to hear what is being said tonight only if they tune in to the parliamentary channel. That is how I would get around the block that has been placed on our ability to be heard outside the House by the Government’s handling of our timetabling and procedures.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): May I offer the hon. Gentleman a practical example of how limited our national veto has become? He may think my example is trivial, although it is not trivial to me. I am referring to genetically modified organisms. The views expressed by this House, and by this Government, about whether to accept GMOs are becoming increasingly irrelevant, as all such decisions are taken in Europe. For many people, that is a total negation of their right to object to the introduction of GMOs. It is a perfect example of what he is talking about.

Mr. Cash: It certainly is. In fact, the breadth and depth of Europe’s intrusion into the process of decision making that should take place in this House mean that the right to decide about ever more vital matters is being removed from voters. That is the message: whatever people think and do, they will be able to make no real difference to the decisions taken in Europe.

Moreover, I hope that no one will say in response that everything will be all right because the democratic deficit has been catered for in the Council of Ministers. The use of qualified majority voting and the removal of this House’s legislative power through shared or exclusive competences mean that the people are being deprived of their right to be consulted in a meaningful way at general elections.

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cash: I shall certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman, as he was at one time a member of the European Scrutiny Committee with me.

Mr. Hendrick: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he agree that democratic legitimacy is improving and increasing? Directly elected Members of the European Parliament now have more say about what happens in the EU, as more matters become subject to co-decision. Also, we should accept the principle of subsidiarity. We have common interests in many matters, such as the environment or the single market, both of which apply across Europe. Surely it makes sense to reach common decisions about them.

Mr. Cash: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is merely repeating the theory of subsidiarity. I attended a school very near Preston, where we were taught about subsidiarity as a theological concept. There is a hierarchy in religious matters that cannot be challenged, but the political environment is completely different. In secular matters, the accountability of the central authority
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should always be challenged. Nothing is ever set in concrete—unlike the acquis communautaire, which is the basis of the European legal system. Its supporters believe that it cannot be challenged, although I believe that this Parliament can reverse any decision, and that it must continue to do so.

The democratic deficit is not filled by generalisations such as those that the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) has put forward on behalf of the European Parliament. The system does not work like that, as the European Parliament does not have the necessary power. Moreover, it is implicit in the arrangements that we are discussing this evening that it will not be given that power. As a result, the treaty proposals are neither fish nor fowl, but a hybrid that cannot work. On the one hand, the treaty, by neutering MPs in this House, will take away direct parliamentary representation from the people of this country. On the other hand, however, the European Parliament will not be given the powers that it needs to make up for the loss.

Mr. Hendrick: Will the hon. Gentleman give way again?

Mr. Cash: I will give way once more, as the hon. Gentleman is the only Labour Member who seems to be taking an interest in what I am saying.

Mr. Hendrick: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way a second time. He is talking about co-decisions, but the European Parliament has powers in many areas. That number will grow once the treaty is ratified, with the result that the Council and the Commission will not be able to get proposals through without the support of the directly elected European Parliament. The hon. Gentleman says that the European Parliament has no power, but it was a consultative body in 1979. It is a co-legislative body now, and that is a tremendous step forward in democratic terms.

Mr. Cash: The problem is that it is all part of the process of greater integration, with more centralisation and less democracy. The European Parliament is involved in certain areas of co-decision, but that only serves to lock down and contain member states’ national Parliaments. We are in the ridiculous situation of being invited to congratulate the EU on allowing national Parliaments to be involved. General elections take place on a national basis, but the process of making laws is being handed over to the undemocratic procedure that I have set out.

That is the system in which we are effectively imprisoned. I believe that we should have the guts to make sure that we remedy the problem but, in the absence of a “get out of jail” card such as I propose in new clauses 8 and 9, which we will debate tomorrow, we will not be able to repatriate effectively the powers that have been taken from us.

I do not want to go into detail now, as there will be ample opportunity tomorrow, but the real question has to do with how we can ensure that this Chamber is maintained as the centre of gravity of power in our legislative process. The danger is that that power will be exerted by external agencies such as the European Commission, or that it will be expressed through regulation that does not require legislation in this
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House. Another possibility is that legislative power in Europe will be expressed through directives, which means that we will be left to implement the legislation that is passed in our own fashion.

As I said in an intervention earlier on my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, the word “competence” is a euphemism for power. Power is about authority, and governance. I used the word “appeasement” earlier in respect of the Government’s policy, and it applies exactly to what they are doing. They have given in to the systems and fashions of the European Commission and the eurocracy in a way that is nothing short of appeasement.

The Government did not have to give in. I remember the former Prime Minister saying, “Let battle be joined!” I think that I had a little to do with his granting of a first referendum, as I had pointed out the constitutional nature of the repeal process that was taking place. The ESC has said that this treaty is substantially the same as the previous constitutional proposals, but the Government have given in at the first whiff of grapeshot and decided that we will not have a referendum on it.

There has been all sorts of farcical business from the Liberal Democrats today. I was here and I watched it all. They are pumping out press releases all over the media, but they are just absurd. They want a referendum in order to say yes—I have never heard such rubbish in all my life! They want a referendum because they are totally committed to the integration process.

Mr. Drew: Just say no!

Mr. Cash: The hon. Gentleman says, “Just say no!” However, if I were to follow Baroness Thatcher, I would say, “No, no, no!” That is the point, and the Liberal Democrats have achieved nothing this afternoon other than to make themselves look ridiculous.

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