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Westminster Hall

Tuesday 15 June 2010

[Mr. Gary Streeter in the Chair]

UK Parliamentary Sovereignty and the EU

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.-(James Duddridge.)

9.30 am

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak before you in this Chamber, Mr. Streeter. I would like to dedicate this debate to my mother, who died this past weekend, and to my father, who was killed in action in Normandy in the last war.

I heard today that Philip Ziegler's biography of Mr Edward Heath has just been published. I recall vividly a discussion that I had with Mr Heath in the Smoking Room on an anniversary of the D-day landings. It transpired that we had an enormous amount in common, which may seem very strange. I heard Philip Ziegler this morning describing Edward Heath as a person who stuck to his course, who did what he thought was necessary, and who was bloody-minded. That is not an uncommon characteristic of those of us who get entrenched in European battles.

I recall that Mr Heath was not much disposed to talk at the beginning. He had on an Artillery tie, and I asked him, "Why have you got that tie on?" He said, "It is because of today's commemoration." I mentioned the fact that my father had been killed in Normandy, where Mr Heath had fought at the same time. Interestingly-to me, at any rate-he then began to engage in earnest conversation and explained to me the real reason he took the line that he did on Europe, which I do not think has come out in some of the reviews of the book. He felt that if we did not take that line, the problems that he had witnessed in the war might well recur.

I also remember, while I am in historical mode, a Cabinet lunch in July 1990 to which I was unexpectedly invited. Margaret Thatcher, now Baroness Thatcher, invited me to No. 10. She said, "Today we will talk about Europe." There I was, surrounded by an impressive galaxy of Cabinet Members. She turned to me and asked, "Bill, what do you feel about Europe?" Rather taken aback, I said that I thought that her task was more difficult than Churchill's. She said, "Did everyone hear that? Bill says that my task is more difficult than Churchill's. Can you explain?" I said, "Yes, Prime Minister. He was faced with bombs and aircraft. You are faced with pieces of paper." That is the starting point of my concern about what has developed during the 26 years that I have had the honour of being a Member of this House.

The time has come for action. I quote a passage from "Julius Caesar":

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I believe that we are at such a moment.

It is ironic, perhaps, that this week there will be an incredibly important summit that will deal with the essence of our sovereignty in relation to the proposals for budgetary arrangements and the question of whether they would be presented to the European Commission before they are presented to this sovereign Parliament. Therefore, without overdoing it, I hope, I suggest that, as in the case of the passage I just read out, this is the moment when there will be those who will be seen at Philippi.

There are similar problems today in respect of the sovereignty of our country, our people and our Parliament, and we have a responsibility to deal with them analytically and politically. Sovereignty means supreme power or authority. It means a self-governing state. I hasten to add-this is for my hon. Friend the Minister, with whom I have had the pleasure of debating these matters over many years-that this debate is not specifically about getting out but about the practicalities of how we should now deal with the European issue. It is not about an abstraction but about the daily lives, economic and political, of those who vote us into this Parliament. It is about Euro-realism in the United Kingdom and in Europe as a whole.

This debate is about rules that do not work, economically or politically, and the need for radical reform of a system that has become uniform and inflexible, with the acquis communautaire, which has become sacrosanct and irreversible, and with majority voting and the pernicious system of co-decision. Barring only a total negotiated change by all 27 members in an association of nation states will problems be resolved. If and when that fails, we must assert the sovereignty of the UK Parliament to override this failing system. It is in our vital national interest to do so.

To give but one example of the problems, the system of co-decision is described by someone from the European Commission's Legal Service as creating a situation in which the European Parliament

Of course, that is compounded by the role of the European Court of Justice. If the Legal Service takes that view, and it is so seminal to the undermining of the sovereignty of this Parliament, a serious review is called for.

On the "Today" programme yesterday, I heard a pre-eminent German banker state that he believes that there will be "revolts in the street" in "ever higher frequency" and a kicking out of the Government. He described the situation as highly dangerous, and said that there were indications of revolution. Michael Sturmer, who was Chancellor Kohl's adviser, is also deeply disturbed, and Angela Merkel herself, who, by all accounts in today's paper, is in serious crisis with her coalition, acknowledged recently that Europe is in danger, as is the euro. So it is, and so are we.

We have already seen hundreds of thousands of people all over Europe coming out on to the streets, and the catastrophic failure in Greece. It is not as if this has not
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been coming for decades. In a series of essays published in "Visions of Europe" in 1993, I warned of how the then new rules of economic and monetary union, which we opposed at Maastricht, would increase the likelihood of strikes and civil disorder but that there would be less and less practical accountability as the leaders of Europe withdrew from their responsibilities and handed over more decisions to unelected bankers and officials.

I then went on to warn of the neutering of national parliaments and the paralysis of Europe, which would

I say this not with any sense of self-congratulation-at the time of the Maastricht rebellion, we were under the most intense pressure to disavow what we were saying. I simply ask that, in all honesty-an eminent columnist wrote to me the other day and said that it was lacking-people admit that a problem exists and that it must be addressed.

The real question is what the UK and our coalition Government will do about the situation as it is now-as it has come about-and how they will lead the UK and Europe out of the predicted and present chaos which is damaging to the UK economy and democracy, and to individual European countries and Europe as a whole. That is a practical necessity requiring vision, statesmanship and political will. The argument, I would say, is over, and it is now down to action.

The European Communities Act 1972, as Lord Bridge said in the Factortame case, is a voluntary Act. European treaties are subordinate to Parliament-as I established in exchanges with the right hon. Members for Blackburn (Mr Straw) and for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) when they were Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe respectively-and that includes the Lisbon treaty. I have made that point consistently and repeatedly, and I have already made three speeches in the new Parliament on the issue. In January 2010, I set out the legal and constitutional case, and in this contribution I wish to concentrate more on the practical questions, as compared with the remedies that I proposed in my United Kingdom Parliamentary Sovereignty Bill.

Over many years, I have set out the case in correspondence with the current Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary for the immediate implementation of the sovereignty Bill. In my view, there is an unchallengeable, legal, political and constitutional case for that Bill, and a necessity to enact it immediately to underpin negotiations that are needed and which include, for example, talks that the Prime Minister will conduct this week in Brussels. The sovereignty Bill was in our manifesto. On 4 November 2009, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron), now Prime Minister, made a speech entitled, "A European policy that people can believe in", to which I replied in The European Journal. That was on my website during the general election.

Immediately before the general election, I intimated to the current Foreign Secretary that we needed the sovereignty Bill now, so as to underpin negotiations and deal with what appeared to be the inevitable and now present course of events. On 10 May, I wrote to the Prime Minister regarding those fundamental matters in the context of his pending negotiations for the coalition agreement. He replied on 21 June.

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The situation has become significantly worse, including proposals in the context of majority voting for the sovereign right of the United Kingdom Parliament to receive and determine its own budget, which the Prime Minister will have to address this week. I regret to say that under the coalition agreement we are now reduced to a mere proposal for a commission to discuss sovereignty, not the manifesto commitment to pass the sovereignty Act on which we fought the election, and to which I referred in my commitments in my election material.

In my judgment, the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament and the imminent practical necessity supersedes the compromises of a coalition. This is no time for dither or prevarication, or for too-clever-by-half manoeuvres by the Foreign Office or diplomats in the Committee of Permanent Representatives, or by others. This is a time for action. We are where we are, and we must address the present crisis that lies at the heart of our constitution and at the axis of our economic and political future.

On "The Andrew Marr Show" last Sunday, the Foreign Secretary replied to questions about the European proposals to submit the UK budget to European institutions before submission to the UK Parliament. He replied that those were only proposals and would be dealt with in due course, and that we will argue for that position and maintain it. So far, so good, but we heard nothing about the use of the veto, no doubt in the knowledge that the proposals will be dealt with by majority voting. There are times when issues cannot simply go on being deferred or avoided, as happened, for example, in very different times during the 1930s. We cannot expect that something will turn up, or that negotiations with recalcitrant parties will somehow succeed.

In 1986, I tabled an amendment to the Single European Act, which is where majority voting comes from. It was refused for debate but stated:

It was supported by only one other Member of Parliament at the time, the right hon. Enoch Powell, who clearly understood why it was important.

There is also the question of the still outstanding Irish guarantees, which take us back to the Lisbon treaty and which we are told will be attached to the next accession treaty, possibly with Croatia. We will be denied a referendum on that, despite the accretion of powers to the European Union that it will involve. We have already been refused a referendum on that treaty, despite the fact that it fundamentally alters the constitutional relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union-a point that was outrageously denied by the outgoing Government but well understood by the Conservative Opposition during the last Parliament, and about which I made a minority report in the European Scrutiny Committee.

Why can France, Holland, Denmark, Ireland, Spain and other European countries have referendums, yet we deny one to our own people? There is also the question of what are, in my view, the unlawful guarantees given by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer regarding the Greek bail-out. I tabled questions on that, but I have received no satisfactory answers. They appear to have been thrust under the carpet, despite exposing the fact that the UK taxpayer has been saddled with about £12 billion of commitments. That is against the background
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of the current Government debt and deficit, which is second only to Greece. It is compounded by our being the second greatest contributor to the European Union, with costs rising to £6.6 billion for 2010-11. According to the TaxPayers Alliance, the European Union costs individual British taxpayers £2,000 each per annum, which they certainly cannot afford. In the context of that broad landscape, I have to ask what it is in return for.

Furthermore, there is the proposed European tax on our financial services sector, which infringes the sovereign right of taxation of the UK Parliament, not to mention the European regulation of the City of London, about which I have written in the Financial Times on many occasions over the past few years, and spoken in the House. That tax is again by majority vote, and the jurisdiction-as with all European legislation-is with the European Court of Justice over and above the Bank of England and/or the Financial Services Authority.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman talks about the costs of the European Union. Does he accept that other additional costs go beyond those that he has mentioned? Because of the European Union, economic growth has been slower than it would otherwise have been. If one adds up the cumulative loss of growth over 30 years or more, it represents a considerable cost to Britain. Additionally, there is the higher cost of food which is a result of being a member of the common agricultural policy.

Mr Cash: I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his consistent, persistent predictions, all of which have proved to be right, even if he and I may differ as to what use we would make of the sovereignty if it were reclaimed. The right hon. Peter Shore became a good friend of mine, and during the Maastricht debates, he and I debated issues of the kind raised by the hon. Gentleman. We can honestly say that we did our best and that what we demonstrated has occurred.

The hon. Gentleman's point about costs raises the question of over-regulation and competition. Professor Roland Vaubel of Mannheim university has written on that matter, calling it a form of "regulatory collusion" between the Governments of the member states, with member states using majority voting to create competitive advantage. Vaubel shows that regulation is explicitly used as a means of raising rivals' costs. People must take that seriously. That is what is going on; it is a form of warfare-as Clausewitz would have said, "War by any other means". Indeed, Germany followed that model, led by Prussia in a majority coalition after 1871. As with so much of what goes on today, much has already happened in the creation of modern Germany.

There is also the problem of over-regulation calculated by the British Chambers of Commerce in its "Burdens Barometer", written by Tim Ambler and Francis Chittenden. It shows that in both the United Kingdom and Europe, 70% of over-regulation comes from the European Union, which since 1998 has cost the British economy £76.8 billion.

One of the most invasive legal obligations is the working time directive, which came through the Single European Act. Despite my warnings to the then Government, that directive was misleadingly included in a declaration in that Act, which the Court of Justice subsequently ruled, as I had expected, as a legal
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obligation-a costly mistake, which has to be reversed. Even the noble Lord Mandelson stated-as did his fellow EU Commissioner Mr Verheugen-that the over-regulation that so undermines EU and UK competitiveness, with China and India for example, amounts to as much as 4% of GDP. Indeed, we heard yesterday that the noble Lord Young of Graffham will lead a review of health and safety legislation. I trust that that review will recognise that so much of this damaging legislation-some of which is necessary-comes from the European Union, and particularly from the powers made under the so-called precautionary principle, which bypasses judicial review and is used by the Court of Justice. That principle will need to be overridden-as will so many other laws-under the sovereignty Act that I propose. That same principle applies in the fields of environmental and consumer protection law, and it is therefore pervasive.

Kelvin Hopkins: I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman's flow yet again, but he made a point about competitiveness. There might be many differences between the two of us on economics, but had Britain been a member of the eurozone we would not have been able to depreciate and our competiveness, compared with India and China, would have been even worse.

Mr Cash: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is, as ever, slightly ahead of my curve, but I now move on to the next point.

We hear from the Prime Minister that we want the eurozone to be stable. I have argued for many years that an imploding European Union is not in our national interest. I have been saying that for 20 years; I thought that it would occur, and it has. What has been needed is a realignment of European institutions and Europe itself into an association of nation states, precisely to avoid the implosion that is taking place. Only a few months ago, the Prime Minister himself referred to the desirability of our forming ourselves into an association of member states, which I take to be much the same idea.

The Lisbon agenda has failed. I railed against the stability and growth pact in 1996, when the now Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), was Chancellor of the Exchequer. I wrote to Members of Parliament in reply to his letter, indicating that I did not think that the pact could work. It has failed, and with it, the rule of law. Yet, here they are: I heard Madame Lagarde only yesterday talking about bringing it back again, as if experience cannot be seen for what it is. Experience, in my judgment, crushes hope.

The common agricultural policy, the common fisheries policy and the EUROSTAT statistical system have all failed. I believe that the latter is at the heart of the problem in relation to-let us put it bluntly-the lies that were told about the Greek economy. EU origin marking causes enormous damage to the third world, as the committee of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) demonstrated the other day. We had an interesting analysis from the global governance commission in Washington, which emphasised over and over that the EU origin marking system was one of the major problems for the third world.

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