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I have discussed a collection of measures to enhance the power of the House and give it real power and influence over decisions made in our name. National Parliaments are the big losers in this entire process. Other EU institutions gained during the negotiations, despite the fact that they should have been reforming themselves. Indeed, the very institutions that are the
source of much of the disillusionment with the European Union get the extra powers under the treaty of Lisbon.
The Parliaments loss of powers is shown by the massive switch to qualified majority voting, which practically removes the veto powers of this House over such legislation. The loss is also shown in the loss of control over the making of international agreements, common foreign and security policy, criminal justice, immigration and asylumpowers on all those matters are transferred from this House to the European Union. That loss of control is most marked in the new division of competences, Eurospeak for powersthe new doctrine of exclusive and shared competence in the treaty.
Amendment No. 48 would re-establish parliamentary control and allowindeed, encouragethe widest degree of international co-operation when that was required. However, it would do so on the firm foundation of the principle of self-government and the rights of national Parliaments.
Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): I listened carefully to the points made by the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), some of which I agreed with. Amendment No. 286, which is in my name and those of my hon. Friends, addresses similar issues.
I begin with the crisis that seems to be pervading the whole of Europe. It exists between the popular classesthe people of our country and elsewhereand the political élite. There is clearly a wide-ranging problem, and my amendment attempts to address it. There is a feeling among the electorate that the country is changing somehow, that Parliament does not seem to be able to get a grip on those changes and that the changes are not always favourable to the way in which we live. There is a strong feeling that the House of Commons exists to regulate the affairs of the country and to protect the provisions built up by the people of this country over many years. That belief is to some extent negated, however, by a suspicion that the European Union is, in part at least, contributing to changes that many people feel are unpalatable. I suspect that that point of view is not inaccurate.
As I have remarked in previous debates, two kinds of Europe are struggling to emerge, one of which will impact directly on the kind of country that we inhabit in years to come. I would like to see the kind of country in which social provisions are strong, and where the market may have its place but the conditions of life are safety-netted so that the inequitable consequences of free markets do not damage the social fabric. We see such social provisions at work across a range of public services, such as post offices, the health service, council housing and the other areas mentioned in my amendment. Those social provisions, however, for a reason that remains mysterious to many including myself, have been eroded by European Union developments.
It is the latter Europethe Europe of free competition, open markets and inequity, with its sweeping cold winds of competition and market-driven changethat is gaining greater momentum in the EU. It is eating away at the social provisions that exist, but no one seems to understand exactly how that came about. We have had a glimpse in the past few weeks of how those processes have developed, and how the market-driven model of Europe has come
about. My amendment would ensure that even if we do not control the neo-liberal European Union as it develops, people would at least understand how that process is taking place, why it is taking place and which institutions are responsible for the changes.
Mr. Cash: I do not want to dismay the hon. Gentleman by agreeing with him, because that might cause him some embarrassment, but I remember saying in the debates on Maastricht, during an exchange with Peter Shore, that I never thought the day would come when I attacked my own Government for deliberately creating unemployment. I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from, although I object to over-regulation.
There is a battle between two conceptions of Europe, and it is the latter onethe free market Europe rather than the social onethat is gaining ground. We have had some glimpses of that and my amendments try to tackle some of those problems.
The Bolkestein directive introduced a free market in services, but nobody has bothered to define the services that should be subject to competition; it is simply stated that competition in services should be secured throughout the European Union. The directive was agreed through the Commission and the Council of Ministers and there was no appropriate way in which our Parliament could exercise judgment and issue caution about the way in which the European Court of Justice might employ it.
The European Court of Justice began to interpret services as including those that, we believed, were protected, especially our national health service. The NHS is the pride of our country and embodies British values of fairness. However, the European Court of Justice, working on the basis of the Bolkestein directive, began to rule that health was a tradeable commodity and should fall within the remit of free and open competition principles, which would fundamentally undermine the way in which our NHS works.
There was a famous European Court of Justice judgment in the Watt case, whereby the court decided that people travelling abroad circumvented the normal processes of the NHS for receiving treatment. Consequently, the Commission decided to draw up a directive to extend the principles of competition to cross-border health. There will be further developments. We are witnessing a process whereby one of the most important social protections that our country has constructedthe NHSgradually succumbs, without parliamentary debate, to the forces of attrition by the free market, which the European Union increasingly represents. Many of my colleagues and I want that process to stop. If a change in health service provision is to be agreed at European Union level, it should not be done by the Bolkestein directive, an ECJ ruling and the Commission subsequently trying to open the wedge further. It should be debated here first.
The amendment would therefore provide that health should be reserved primarily to our Parliament. In so far as the European Union makes any decision relating to the NHS, such a matter should be debated in the House of Commons before it is determined by Ministers in the European Council. That might not necessarily prevent the erosion of the NHS, but it might at least explain to our citizens how our NHS changed.
I would resist any marketisation of the NHS, as would many of my colleagues. However, there is currently no appropriate procedure for this Parliament to debate such matters before a decision is made. That troubles me deeply and begins to explain the gulf between our citizens and our Parliament. Our citizens no longer understand how decisions that affect the social fabric of our country are made.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech and I agree with every word. He has focused on the importance of nation state Parliaments. We are not debating whether Europe should go for a market or a public service model for health services, but decidingI hopethrough the amendment that each member state should choose for itself the direction it wishes to follow. If we want a public service model, we should choose that and if another state wantsin my view, mistakenlya marketised, privatised health service, it should be able to choose that. However, such choices should be made through democratic decision at nation state level.
Jon Trickett: I certainly agree with my hon. Friends point, although my amendment goes beyond that and says that if any Europe-wide changes are being envisioned, they ought to be discussed here first and be subject to a vote, at least so that the Minister who represents Britain in the European Council can reflect the views of Parliament and so that the people can see that Parliament has debated vital matters that affect the very social fabric of our country.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): I am following my hon. Friends remarks closely. I, too, agree with everything that he has said about the gap between the public and Parliament on issues such as health. Is the situation not the same on another issue that is close to many millions of peoplehealth supplements? Peoples freedom to choose the health supplements that they want will be set by the Commission and by people who have in no way consulted Parliament or the people of this country on what they wish to do.
Jon Trickett: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point and many people in the country will agree with her. They, too, have reservations about how the European Union appears to create legislation that has never been debated in the House of Commons.
I want to speak briefly about the Post Office and the postal service generally. I mentioned the Bolkestein directive, which introduced internal market provisions into services without first ring-fencing public services such as the health service. The same applies to the postal service. Rarely a week passes without some hon. Members or right hon. Members, even on the Treasury Bench, resisting proposals in this regard; I do not see any such Members sitting on the Front Bench now,
although it may well be that some have resisted such proposals. I see the Deputy Leader of the House smiling, and I happen to know that the futures of some of the post offices in her area are being considered carefully, but I know, too, that she will defend her constituencys interests fully.
There are regular such debates in this place. It is widely rumouredI believe that it may be truethat the Government have decided to gold-plate the European directives on postal services and to introduce them in advance of any other nation in Europe. It is arguable, I suppose, that we should force all the others to go down the same path as we have. Another way of arguing, however, is to say that the Post Office is part of our very social fabric, just like the NHS, and ought not to be subjected to the icy winds of competition that we have been discussing.
As we all know, post offices are the centres of many communities, neighbourhoods, villages and towns. Our Post Office, which is one of the prides of our nation, has been subject to change that is perhaps driven by the Government, but which certainly has the support of the European Union. Rather than debate how post offices should be reconstructed retrospectively, it would be far better to carry an amendment such as mine, so that the House could debate any changes in advance and we could explain to our constituents that we had been party to a series of decisions that had led to the decimation of the postal service. I am arguing that the NHS, postal services and other public services ought to be protected, at least by parliamentary debate, before and not after Ministers go and agree to changes that could damage the social fabric of our country.
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): I do not recognise my hon. Friends description of the European engagement with the Post Office. Does he not recognise that the Post Office is losing millions of customers a day? That is the essential driving force behind the reorganisation. However, the Government, almost alone among national Governments, are providing a substantial subsidyI believe it is in the region of £160 million
Jon Trickett: I look forward to listening to my hon. Friend explaining to the people of his constituency why the post offices in their area are going to close and what the involvement of the European Union was. The fact is that he is almost alone on the Labour Benches in defending the closure programme. Most of us are spending our time trying to resist it, and we know perfectly well that the European Union has played a role in all this.
Mr. Harper: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point about the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey), whom he described as being almost alone in holding that opinion. Many members of the Government, including members of the Cabinet, are running around the country protesting about the post office closure programme. One might have thought that they would be here supporting the hon. Gentlemans amendment.
There are certain public services that no one envisaged being subject to the winds of competition from the European Union when the Bolkestein directive was agreed. Those rules of competition are being driven by the Commission and the European Court of Justice, almost against the will of the House of Commons. When these matters were being debated, the House did not have the opportunity to debate them and to ensure that the will of the people was properly heard.
Our amendment proposes that any decision on public services should be reserved to a vote in this House before a Minister makes a decisionin a mysterious way, as is often the casein the Council of Ministers. It goes beyond that, however, because we also want to secure proper parliamentary approval before a Minister of the Crown goes to the European Union to agree, or disagree, on fresh legislation on workers rights. How and why the decisions on the so-called opt-outs from the charter of fundamental rights were made is a mystery to many people. It might be a mystery that has been deliberately created by the Government. My hon. Friend the Minister for Europe says that they are an opt-in.
We find an even bigger mystery when we ask exactly what the Governments position is on agency workers. The question of agency workers is an acid eating away at many communities and work places in this country. The Government say that we should wait for European legislation to bring in regulations on workers rights relating to agency labour. They are widely reported, however, to be preventing agreement at European level on an agency workers directive, although I do not know whether that is true. The Government should come to the House and explain precisely what they are doing in relation to rights at work before they take a position, either for or against legislation. Our amendment seeks to ensure that that would take place.
Mr. Clappison: I am following the hon. Gentlemans argument carefully. Is he aware that, under the relevant title of part 3, there is already text relating to some aspects of health policy? Under the treaty, the simplified revision procedure could be applied so as to add to the text and expand the treaty provisions on health. That would then be covered by the ordinary legislative procedure in front of the Council. No matter how this House voted on such health matters, if the proposal were then outvoted in the Council, that would be it: the hon. Gentleman would have the health policy that he is afraid of.
Jon Trickett: I am concerned that the treaty envisages new competences in certain limited areas of health provision. Health is mentioned once or twice in some other documents: I am worried about it, because we have seen the process and how it works. That is why I want to see health as one of the public services ring-fenced for this House of Commons to debate prior to any decisions being made.
I was talking about workers rights and there has been some mystification, or perhaps obfuscation, as to how decisions are made on the regulation of the labour market. Once again, it seems to me that the right place for that to be debated first is this Chamber.
We go on to make other proposals on other matters that are clear in the amendment, so there is no need for me to address them, but the amendment makes one final radical proposal that I want briefly to address.
Rob Marris: I have to say to my hon. Friend that I like the last five lines of his amendment at the end of proposed subsection (A5). However, will he clarifyperhaps he was about to do sothe meaning of the phrase
a statement on their negotiating mandate,
which appears in proposed subsections (A1), (A2) and (A5)? Is he proposing the sort of situation represented by Lech Walesa in the Gdansk shipyards in 1981 and 1982, when negotiations between management and workers were broadcast through a microphone to mass meetings? That seems to me a difficult way to pursue negotiations. My experience of the trade union movementI expect it is the experience of my hon. Friend, toois that we have to be careful how much of the negotiating hand we tip before the negotiations begin. Will my hon. Friend elucidate what the
statement on their negotiating mandate
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