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The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) made a number of interesting remarks at the beginning of his contribution. He talked about the Cheshire cat and appeasement, and reminded me of some of the bonkers e-mails that I have received from people claiming that what we are discussing is all a popish or German plot to rebuild the holy Roman empire. He
also reminded me of the Carry On films, in which Kenneth Williams exclaimed, Infamy! Infamy! Theyve all got it in for me!
That seems to be the basis of what the hon. Gentleman, given what he has said, clearly believes is now the mainstream, united position of his party. That was confirmed by the interesting intervention from the former leader of his party, my constituency neighbour the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith). He pointed out that he and the hon. Gentleman were on the same side, fighting against the iniquities of the Maastricht treaty.
Despite the position that the hon. Gentleman has put forward, the reality is that the Lisbon treaty contains provisions that make the European Union more democratically accountable and more effective. He is a Europhobe, so I understand why he does not want the EU to be more effective; that is the consistent position of all those who oppose the EU and want it to fail. If it succeeds, support for it will grow, and if it fails, presumably things will be consistent with what he wantsultimately, a withdrawal from the European Union. That is the real agenda that is increasingly being publicly exposed by this debate.
Mr. Hendrick: Is it not the case that the amendments are predicated on the supposed illegitimacy of the European Parliament? In fact, it has a great deal of legitimacy; it was John Major who said who and what he felt was illegitimate.
Mike Gapes: I was coming on to the role of democratic institutions. It is important that we recognise that the European Assembly, as was, has evolved since the late 1970s into not a Parliament in a full sense, but a Parliament with more powers than it had 30 years ago. We can raise questions about the legitimacy of that Parliament as long as the turnout at its elections is as low as it is. However, we will be on dangerous territory if we start arguing that too strongly, given that the turnout in our own general elections is as low as the high-50s in percentage terms, as opposed to the 75 or 80 per cent. of 30 or 40 years ago, and that turnout for our local government elections is as low as 25 or 30 per cent. That argument is not strong overall.
There are important changes in the Lisbon treaty. They are modest and incremental but enhance democratic practice. For example, the treaty will ensure that all European legislation is subject to a level of parliamentary scrutiny that exists in no other international organisation. NATO has a parliamentary assembly, of which I have been a member, but it is just an interesting talking shop. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe has a parliamentary assembly; again, that is a talking shop, although it is not as interesting as the NATO one.
Mr. Duncan Smith: If my near neighbour does not mind my saying so, his are pointless comparisons. The institutions that he mentions do not have a body of law that exists alongside them. Please, let us stay on the real subject, which is the European Union looked at for itselfnot in comparison with NATO, for Gods sake.
In the United Nations system, there is, of course, no democratic parliamentary body of a
global form. We have the parliamentary network for the World Bank. We have various parliamentary bodies, but they are not real parliaments. The European Parliament is a parliament that has real, and increasing, powers.
Under the terms of the Lisbon treaty, European legislation will be submitted for a process of dual approval, in equal terms, by the Council, which represents the member states and is composed of Ministers from the democratically elected Governments, who are accountable to their national Parliaments, and by the directly elected Members of the European Parliament, who come from the different political groupings and different countries. It is a dual process of accountability to directly elected Members of the European Parliament and to indirectly appointed Ministers who are indirectly accountable to their national Parliaments. The dilemma for those of us in national Parliaments has always been the inability to get to grips with the accountability of our Ministers when they have gone from our national Parliament to a supernatural bodyI mean supranational [ Interruption. ] It would be if the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green had his way; of course, those who live on other planets do believe the same thing.
There is a need for much greater accountability, and in many ways we are still grappling with that in our own Parliament. When the Foreign Affairs Committee or the European Scrutiny Committee considers these issues, we are frustrated about how Ministers can be properly accountable to this House in our scrutiny of European legislation and in respect of dealing with these matters when they go to meetings of the Council of Ministers. The situation is not satisfactory at present. The current arrangements do not work well, and we must find ways to improve them.
The directly elected European Parliament also has an important role. The prior scrutiny of national Parliaments must be reinforced by a change whereby we receive all European legislative proposals directly, in good time, so that we are able to discuss them with Ministers prior to the adoption of common European positions within the EU Council and not, as at the moment, in a rather inadequate way.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is making another powerful speech in favour of centralisation of the European superstate. Just to make sure that I understand, may I ask whether is he saying that, because the European Parliament is being strengthened, it is all right to take more powers from the national Parliaments?
Mike Gapes: That is the complete opposite of what I am saying. At the moment, power rests with the Commission or the inadequately accountable Council of Ministers. The real question that we have as parliamentarians is how we can make the Commission and the Council of Ministers more accountable to Parliaments in the 27 member states and in the common European Parliament. It is not about centralisation or taking powers away from Parliaments; if anything, it is about taking power away from unelected bureaucrats and civil servants.
I appreciate the point that the hon. Gentleman is expressing, but I do not know how he can
take it seriously given the experience that he has had as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and that members of the European Scrutiny Committee have had, in trying to scrutinise the negotiations that led up to the treaty as regards our Government and those who were drawing up the constitutional provisions. What does that experience tell us about the real attitude in Europe towards scrutiny by national Parliaments?
Mike Gapes: What it tells us is that last year the German presidency took through a procedure for bringing the draft mandate before the intergovernmental conference, which, as the Foreign Affairs Committee said, was not sufficiently accountable to national Parliaments or to the European Parliament. That process was inadequate; it was not sufficiently transparent, and we said so in our report. That does not in any way negate my point, which concerns the need then, now and in the future for greater parliamentary accountability. The problem with Conservative Members position is that they want greater parliamentary accountability in theory, but in practice they would remove one of the legs of that process: accountability of the European Parliament.
Mr. Hendrick: I would like to add to what my hon. Friend is saying. Directly elected Parliaments, whether we are talking about the House of Commons or the European Parliament, contain the representatives of the people who are closest to the people. In the European Union there is currently a move towards intergovernmentalism, away from powers residing with the Members of Parliament; it applies to Ministers, whether in the Council of Ministers or exercising their rights with commissioners to prevent them from having that power.
Mike Gapes: We also have to deal with what is happening in the Council of Ministers, as my hon. Friend says. First, there is a modest proposal for meeting in public, which will not make a great deal of difference in practice, but it will nevertheless allow national Parliaments and members of the public in all 27 member states to see how Governments work within the Council meetings.
Secondly, and more importantly, there is the change to qualified majority voting, which will mean a switch to a double-majority system of states and populations. A majority under that system will require a minimum of 55 per cent. of states, representing 65 per cent. of the population of the European Union. That system is much fairer and more beneficial to the United Kingdom. It means that Britains share of votes will increase from 8.5 per cent. to 12 per cent., but presumably Conservative Members, when they vote against this treaty, will be against that, too. They are voting against an increased share of votes for our country, which seems a perverse logic, but then again, coming from the modern Conservative party, that does not surprise me.
Angela Browning: What about the legal personality? Through qualified majority voting, we can be bound to international treaties that will not even come in front of this Parliament. Where is the accountability in that?
The current situation with regard to international treaties is that the Government sign the treaty, and after the event, Parliament is informed that the Government have signed the treaty. We do not have
the system that some Scandinavian countries, such as Denmark, have, where Parliament is involved in that process at an earlier stage. I am not sure what the hon. Lady is arguing. Is she happy with the current situation and just wishes to
Mike Gapes: We are debating the Lisbon treaty, yes, but it has already been signed. If the hon. Lady is saying that the current situation is not satisfactory, I agree. It would be great if the Foreign Affairs Committee and other Select Committees were able to conduct prior scrutiny of international treaties, instead of there being a one-and-a-half-hour debate on a statutory instrument, or some other mechanism under which prior scrutiny does not happen. There are important proposals in the treaty that should be adopted and supported.
The annual budgetary procedure will require the Council and the European Parliament to approve all European Union expenditure, which changes the current arrangement, whereby agricultural spending, which has historically accounted for the majority of European Union spending, is ring-fenced and separate. Previously, there was the own resources spending addition and inadequacy in the European Communitys dealing with the agricultural spend, but at last, for the first time, we have proper parliamentary accountability for that, which is important.
The Commission is and has been far more powerful than it will be. A new system of supervision by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers will enable either institution to block decisions on delegated legislation to which they object. The treaty gives the European Parliament and the Council the right to revoke the delegation of powers. Again, it restricts the Commissions powers.
The President of the Commission will be elected on a proposal from the European Council but by the European Parliament, taking into account elections to it. That clearly means greater accountability in the choice of President, whoever that person may be.
As we know from our previous debates on the foreign policy aspects of the treaty, the high representative for foreign and security policy will be accountable to member states through the Council and, as a member of the Commission, subject to questioning and scrutiny in the European Parliament. Again, that means more accountability and scrutiny than currently exist.
How do we assess the overall consequences of the proposals? I referred at the beginning to two aspects: more democracy and greater effectiveness. The European Union will become more effective by adopting the Lisbon treaty. I accept that things that Governments, meeting in Council, decide through qualified majority voting will increase. However, in an organisation of 27, including some very small countries, one has to have a mechanism whereby decisions can be made so that the organisation is effective. If we do not do that, Luxembourg could, for
example, stop moves to examine specific financial issues in the EU single market. Tobacco producers in Greece could lobby effectively to stop reform of the common agricultural policy. Some countries could prevent measures to increase co-operation on climate change, general environmental policy or energy policy simply because of some small national interest [Interruption.] I refer to a small national interest that would be contrary to the interests of the larger states, including ours. [Interruption.]
Mike Gapes: If the amendment is accepted, the European Union could not act collectively and countries with populations of 60 million, such as the United Kingdom, France and Italy, or 80 million, such as Germany, could not work together to gain the support of the European Union, which could not move forward on economic issues.
There are safeguards for the foreign policy aspects of the treaty, which have been tackled elsewhere. They are dealt with on an entirely intergovernmental basis. Nevertheless, on the questions of the single market, energy, the environment, dealing with the big global challenges that we in Europe face and [ Interruption. ] Of course, the Europhobes on the Conservative Benches are not interested in these questions. They simply believe that somehow we have to rerun the battle of Agincourt or somewhere else.
The First Deputy Chairman: I ask all hon. Members to remember the common-sense way of debating. Let us have a bit of taste and decency. However, I am not considering extending any lists of unparliamentary language.
Mike Gapes: I am sorry that the hon. Member for Stone is so sensitive to the language that I use. I could have called him many other things, but I will not go down that route. I could have called him a pro-European. I could have called him
Mike Gapes: The Lisbon treaty does not lead to the centralisation of power or the creation of a superstate, as has been alleged. In fact, it allows the European Union to operate more democratically and more effectively. The treaty allows the European Union to move away from the introspection and navel gazing of the past few years and start to focus on the real agenda, which includes business, efficiency and how to deal with the environment, climate change and the challenges of globalisation.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I am grateful to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee for giving way, despite the injunctions of others not to take an intervention. He seems to be arguing two contradictory things. At one point he told us that we should be proud that the UKs voting share was increasing, thereby making us more capable of creating a blocking minority. However, he then told us how appalling it was that things would be blocked and that it was important that the EU should become more efficient. Those two positions are opposites, but he has argued them in the same speech.
Mike Gapes: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood, so I will repeat myself for his benefit. The move towards more qualified majority voting in those areas where it is necessary is in our national interest, because that is where we will be in the mainstream and able to secure the reforms that are needed in the European Union to deal with globalisation and the other challenges that we face. However, there are also important safeguards. In those areas where the process is not necessary, such as foreign and defence policy, we retain the entirely intergovernmental decision-making arrangements.
It is therefore necessary to support the treaty, because it is in our national interests. It gives us an increased share of the vote, reduces the size of the Commission, gets rid of inefficiencies and duplications, gets rid of the External Affairs Commissioner, and replaces two jobs with one in foreign policy. The treaty also means that the way the European Union institutions work is more accountable to both national Parliaments and the European Parliament.
Rob Marris: Does my hon. Friend agree that the intervention by the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) precisely highlights the differences between the position that my hon. Friend and I hold, and that of many on the Conservative Benches? When we talk about voting and about the United Kingdom going up from 8.5 per cent. to 12 per cent., many Conservative Members immediately think that we are talking about a blocking minority. They take a wholly negative view of the European Union, rather than turning the issue round and asking whether the measure will make it easier for the United Kingdom to build a coalition of other member states under QMV on issues that are in the interests of our country. The EU is not a negative thing, although it is to the Conservatives; it is a positive thing.
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