Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(James Duddridge.)
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”:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”
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
“is allowed to propose uniform, irrational, impractical amendments, safe in the knowledge that they have no responsibility for implementation.”
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 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
“give way to the…collapse of the Rule of Law, compounded by waves of immigration from the east, recession and lawlessness.”
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.
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:
“Nothing in this Act shall derogate from the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament.”
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
There is endemic fraud. The Maastricht deficit criteria of 3% is nothing short of a joke, with massively seriously consequences for the voters in this country and throughout Europe, who are subjected to bungled economic management, and massively increasing debt, with the hidden costs of up to £3.1 trillion——in our own case in real terms—which cannot be swept away. The budget deficit proposals of £6 billion are a mere sop in relation to the mismanagement that is coming through Europe and affecting our economy as well, and we will not convince the bond markets or the rating agencies, which determine our ratings in the global marketplace.
As I have said, we were told by the Prime Minister that we need a strong eurozone, because 50% of our trade is with that zone. However, the eurozone is imploding, and Angela Merkel and 68% of the German people are opposed to the Greek bail-out, precisely because the whole economic and political structure of the European Union does not work.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again, in this very timely debate. I am listening with great interest to him analysing the situation, both within and without the eurozone. Does he agree with me that if we do not move now and grasp the nettle—as he has accurately said we should—one of the political problems will be the rise of the far right across Europe, which preys on the very fears and concerns that we all know are out there, and which we have seen emerge from time to time in various nation states?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and in my essay in “Visions of Europe” in 1993 I said exactly that—that that would be the consequence of the lawlessness that would follow. The problem is that it is not good enough to wring our hands and say, “Oh well, we’d like this to be better,” or “We’re going to go along with it.” We have to have a radical policy based on proper analysis. I wait to hear what my hon. Friend the Minister says, but I cannot believe that he could seriously disagree with anything I have said. These are factual questions. If it is just a matter of culture or attitude: “Oh well, we want to be good Europeans,” or “We don’t want to face up to these things,” or “People such as Bill Cash are just Europhobes who go around ranting about Europe and banging on”—
I am glad that my hon. Friend has made the inevitable harrumph, but the matter needs to be taken extremely seriously. Europe does not work as it is now devised; it is pre-eminently a practical matter. It is no good our being committed to a eurozone that is so undermined by its own institutional inadequacies and contradictions, by the diversity of its different economies, and by the real requirements of the voters and the business community in each country. Is it all so difficult, complicated and entrenched that nothing can be done, or do we roll up our sleeves and get down to resolving it? I suggest that at the summit this week we at least start to get serious about the nature of the problem. Europe does not work, not only because of over-regulation and the irreversibility of the acquis communautaire, but because it is essentially undemocratic and authoritarian, which is dangerous, as both German and Greek commentators agreed only yesterday. And it is not only one or two commentators; that view is becoming endemic and demonstrable.
The whole of Europe is trembling and action is needed now. There are those, such as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of The Daily Telegraph, Martin Wolf and Ralph Atkins of the Financial Times, Walter Munchau, Stephen Glover, Andrew Alexander and a growing band of Euro-realist Members of Parliament who are beginning to speak out, and many who have done so over many years. In Holland, the general election left its message on the table—in France and Germany, the same. Across the entire breadth of the continent, in Italy, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria, in the referendums that have taken place and in the ditching of the constitutional treaty, which was then supplanted by the Lisbon treaty—virtually the same thing—people are disillusioned with the European Union and demand change and action, yet we are still presented with a policy of further enlargement, against which I have argued for many years. In the leader in today’s Financial Times we hear more about Europe’s debt crisis. It states:
“Europe’s sovereign debt worries have prompted parallels to…2008”,
“crisis management is not the same as crisis resolution.”
On enlargement, only last week The Spectator devoted its leader to the proposal for Turkish accession. It is clear that Turkey is moving towards accession, and on both economic and political grounds it should not be regarded as a prospective member of the club, given its current dealings with Syria, Iran and the middle east. As is so often the case in the political and economic sphere, the problem with enlargement is that European Union policies, once espoused, are deemed irreversible. Just when decentralisation and democracy—listening to the people and involving them and the big society in our Government—have become so essential, the institutions and governmental establishments of the European Union and each of the member states career ever more wildly into crisis.
Recently, we have had the experience of the European arrest warrant. The absorption of our criminal justice system is yet another area of deep concern. Under a European arrest warrant, Mr Arapi, a British resident from Leek, in Staffordshire, was convicted in his absence and sentenced to 15 years. We have the inconceivable and unacceptable vision of a British judge ordering Mr Arapi’s extradition, when there is apparently overwhelming evidence that he was not where he was said to have been when he was supposed to have committed a murder in Italy. The whole project is flawed from beginning to end and must be radically reformed, or else.
I turn now to the European Scrutiny Committee. Parliament has a system for dealing with many of the problems that I have outlined or, at any rate, for alerting Members of Parliament to what is going on. I regret to say that the Committee is still not sitting, despite the fact that Parliament has now been back for a couple of weeks. I have been on the Committee for 26 years, sometimes in adverse circumstances; it has been difficult to be heard, let alone listened to and certainly agreed with, despite much evidence. While in opposition in the last two years of the previous Parliament, the Conservative party achieved remarkable unity on the European issue and the Lisbon treaty, barring just one vote on the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.
Although the manner in which Parliament deals with European legislation has been subjected to a number of improvements, we have not gone far enough. Indeed, the present Home Secretary made some significant proposals for reforming European scrutiny. She agreed to adopt my proposal that if the European Scrutiny Committee recommends a European matter for debate, and 150 Members of Parliament propose that it is a matter of national interest, it should be subjected to a free vote on the Floor of the House—I say “vote”, not “take-note motion”, because that is one of the problems. She also proposed that the Committee meet in public, as many of us have advocated for some time. After the issue was finally voted on by the Committee, it was abandoned, and it must be revived.
In my 26 years on the Committee, the establishment and the Government of the United Kingdom have always ensured that there is a majority in favour of European proposals that emanate from Brussels. Matters may be recommended for debate in a European Standing Committee—sometimes by a majority vote—but no vote in such a Committee ever goes against the Government. If one ever does, it is immediately reversed on the Floor of the House as being inconsistent with the European Communities Act 1972. That is no way to proceed. Not one vote has ever gone against Brussels legislation in my 26 years on the Committee. Only last week, a Cabinet Office Minister indicated that there were no proposals for a sovereignty Act to alter that disgraceful state of affairs.
That is how the European Scrutiny Committee functions. I have been on it long enough to know that not one single vote on any European legislation that has been through a European Standing Committee on the recommendation of my Committee has ever been passed on the Floor of the House, and I challenge anyone to come forward with an example. We have take-note motions, Adjournment debates and general European affairs debates, but we do not have votes on seminal matters of the kind I have described.
Whatever the merits of the national interest, which I have already described, it is vital to create a requirement, set out by our Prime Minister in 2005 when he referred to an imperative requirement to achieve competitiveness in the British economy. The European Scrutiny Committee is called in for debates, but issues are not voted on, which makes the process intrinsically futile. The Committee is important, but it must be reformed and improved, although improvements are taking place.
The Committee has the power to impose a scrutiny reserve while debates take place, but it is sometimes overridden out of what is described as urgent necessity. In any case, such measures merely hold down the European juggernaut for the time being, and there is no resistance whatever to majority votes in the Council of Ministers being imposed on the UK Parliament. A work by Sanoussi Bilal and Madeleine Hosli states what some of us know already, although it is worth recording. They say that in the EU,
“a major difficulty arises from the lack of transparency of the decision-making process. In particular, decisions by the Council seldom result in a formal vote, but are rather taken by consensus (or without a vote when no obvious blocking minority has formed)…why would a minority member state cast a vote against the majority knowing it is doom to lose anyway, unless it wants to make public its disagreement. Therefore, most of the time, formal votes at the Council level merely represent the tip of the iceberg of the coalition-building and decision-making process.”
Given that the enormous matters we are discussing affect the entire British economy in one form or other, and given what is at stake, only some of which I have indicated, it is inconceivable that there should be such incredible problems in the fault-lines of the system that has been devised. Once again, the issue needs to be taken extremely seriously, but I wonder whether it will be. If it is not, there will be difficulties of a kind that I do not need to specify.
The Back-Bench business committee proposals, which will come before the House this afternoon, do not include European documents, although the proposals would not seem to preclude votes on European affairs, unless such matters were taken only in Westminster Hall, and that highly contentious question will no doubt be debated this afternoon. We therefore have debates on European matters without votes, on a take-note basis. Much business is conducted behind the scenes in Brussels by the United Kingdom Permanent Representation to the European Union and COREPER, using their own arcane procedures. It is conducted within and parallel to the European establishment and it is intertwined with it. Why and how can that be allowed to continue?
Not only is most business conducted behind closed doors, but the majority voting system itself is not transparent. More often than not, we do not even know which way the UK will have voted or whether it will have deliberately abstained—we know a bit more about the German situation—to acquiesce in or even appease the European institutional consensus. At the same time, the UK Parliament, and therefore the British people, are bypassed and stitched up.
Recent events relating to the 1922 committee concern the independence of Conservative Back Benchers, but the same applies to the parliamentary Labour party. It is essential that those of us on the Back Benches have systems, mechanisms and procedures that can act as a safety valve. We do not necessarily want those things because we want to act in a hostile manner or to be difficult or awkward, but because there is an alternative view, and expressing it is part of our freedom of speech and vitally affects the interests of those who vote us into this place.
The BBC has consistently declined to give proper coverage to the European issue and has adopted that policy with tenacity and editorial contrivance since the 1950s, as has been well documented. Anyone who raises serious and seminal questions about the European issue—most of their predictions have turned out to be true—tends to be regarded as Europhobic or worse.
What can now be said with certainty is that, as we speak, our economy, our democracy and our constitution are on the line. This week, the summit will discuss proposals for our Budget to be presented to the European institutions before our Parliament sees it. There may be attempts to create some obscurantist device, perception or spin to make it look as if these things are not really happening or that they are all happening under the aegis of the majority vote. At last, however, the penny has begun to drop. The mask is being stripped away. Our national interest is at stake, and the need for political will to reaffirm the sovereignty of the British people through their representative Parliament has become paramount in the national interest, as is there for all to see.
This critical summit is the time for us and the European Union to face up to action and reality. Let us put our commitment to a sovereignty Act on the table this week. Let negotiations commence between all 27 member states for a voluntary association of nation states to get out of the mess that exists, which will get worse. Even the Prime Minister has recently put forward the idea of an association of member states. If that falls on deaf ears at the European Council, let those member states who want to, including Germany and France, use the enhanced co-operation procedure for a fiscal and political union—a new Zollverein with a new treaty—with a referendum here in Britain on the proposals; for they will affect us in a fundamental change in our relationship with the European Union. We can remain with other like-minded states in an associated status within the amended European arrangements, as I proposed in my pamphlet of 2000 called, in deference to Churchill’s time-honoured phrase, “Associated, Not Absorbed”.
May I say first what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr. Streeter, and secondly may I convey my sympathy to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) on his bereavement? I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on raising this important debate. I thought it important to come along and put a democratic socialist perspective, arriving at the same conclusions from a different perspective on the European Union.
This is a critical time in the development of the European Union and in Britain’s history. The European Union and, indeed, Britain, are suffering severe economic difficulties. The eurozone is in crisis and the plans of the extreme federalists are unravelling before our eyes. That is a welcome movement, and is happening not before time. It is possible that Germany is in the process of re-establishing the Deutschmark, or a Deutschmark area. It has great difficulty in doing that, because it is so exposed to other member states of the European Union, which have great economic difficulties, but that shows the folly of imposing a single currency on different economies, with different levels of economic success. It does not work and on many occasions elsewhere it has been proved not to work.
The peoples of Europe are deeply sceptical about the European Union and the direction that it has taken. The danger, as the hon. Gentleman said, is that there could be a rise in nationalism as a reaction. Such a reaction results from the fact that the peoples are not listened to. The opposition to much of what the European Union has been doing recently comes from the left. The referendum in France was won—that is the sense in which I see it—by people of the left. The left was also in the lead in the Dutch referendum. Even to go back to the Swedish referendum on joining the euro, which was another substantial no vote, it was the left—trade unionists, socialists and social democrats—who pressed that case.
Over and again I have to point out that, although we keep talking about Europe, we are discussing not Europe but the European Union. Europe is a geographical entity with many historical and cultural links. The European Union is an invention of humankind, imposing a political structure on many of the nations of Europe, but it is not Europe itself. Although I may be accused of being a Europhobe I genuinely love Europe. I am culturally European. Clearly, Britain is European. I love European music, languages and literature. I love and enjoy everything about Europe, but I do not approve of the European Union.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that positive intervention. In a few weeks I shall be sojourning in Provence, sampling wonderful European wine, listening to music and so on. Europe is a wonderful place, but the European Union is deeply flawed.
The hon. Gentleman has said that even this week the European Union is trying to interfere and to impose its will on Britain’s decisions about its budgetary situation and economic policies. That was reported yesterday in the Evening Standard, so it is not going away. I hope and trust that the new Government will tell the European Union in no uncertain terms that decisions about our budgetary and economic policies will be decided by the British Government, who will be accountable to the British Parliament, and will not be determined by the European Union. Perhaps the EU is under the illusion that it can manage Britain as well as it has managed the eurozone. That would lead us pretty much into disaster.
While I am on the question of the European Union’s recent policies, I shall mention enlargement. It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman mentioned Edward Heath. I listened to one of his last speeches to Parliament before he retired 10 years ago, and he made a strong point to the effect that enlargement would not work. He was against it. I do not speak for or against it today, but Edward Heath was strongly opposed to it because he thought that a European Union covering more than the developed nations of western Europe would not work. He wanted a deeper and stronger European Union, possibly with a single currency, but he believed that it could not work if it were to be widely enlarged. One of the reasons I have supported enlargement is that I believed it could weaken the European Union. That may be a cynical view, but I thought that over time people would realise that ramming countries or nation states together in that way would not ultimately work. Therefore I have gone along with enlargement. I think it is a way of ensuring that in the end people come to their senses.
I am not against international alliances or co-operative relationships with all our neighbours. Indeed, those are vital. I am sure that everyone would be in favour of those things if they were based on democratic Governments agreeing to work together for mutual benefit on behalf of their peoples. That is what the European Union should become, in my view. We must stop the drive towards a federal Europe now, retain what sovereignty we have, and begin to roll things back: the EU and what it has taken over from Britain and other member states.
I have often mentioned my concern about the common fisheries policy, which is completely barmy. I think that Edward Heath decided at the last minute that we should go into that, but it has been disastrous. Some of the biggest fisheries in Europe are Britain’s, and the EU itself has reported, in the past week or two, that 30 per cent. of fish stocks are at the point of collapse, and all fisheries are being overfished. The only way to overcome that is for fisheries to be restored to member states, which will then have the sense of ownership and responsibility for managing the areas in question. Then fish stocks can start to recover. Reforms have taken place and there are non-fishing areas, but it will not work until member states take over responsibility for their historic fisheries and husband them as they did in the past.
The costs of agriculture are enormous and every member state in the European Union has its own approach. Some are more agricultural than others. We are one of the most efficient agricultural nations, but that is only a small part of our economy. Other countries are overwhelmed by agricultural costs and inefficient, small-scale agriculture, but it is up to those member states to manage their own agriculture. If we need to transfer revenues between member states, that can be done on a voluntary basis, and if poorer states need to be sustained by richer states perhaps fiscal transfers can take care of that. The common agricultural policy distorts the whole of agriculture and operates in an inequitable way. Some member states pay more than they should and some receive more than they should, in a way that bears little relationship to their relative wealth. We should start to roll back agricultural policy.
I hope that the Government will give notice that we want to return to a world in which member states manage their own fisheries—an abandonment of the common fisheries policy. If other member states or the European Union refuse, Britain should give notice that, after a period, we would re-establish control of our historic fishing grounds. I hope that that would put sufficient pressure on the EU to make some sense of it.
The real question is one of democracy—of whether the populations of the various member states have control of their own destinies and can choose to be free market capitalist or democratic socialist countries. I have campaigned all my life for a democratic socialist Britain, and I do not want that possibility to be taken away by EU bureaucrats. Equally, some want to see a more free market capitalist world in Britain. We will not want bureaucrats in Brussels telling us that we cannot do things if the people of Britain have chosen to go in those directions. It is about democracy. One of the great advantages of our system of government is that when the population gets fed up with the Government or do not like what they are doing, it can kick them out and put in another Government with a different view. The essence of democracy is a real choice of policy in how people are governed.
British economic policy should be decided by British Governments that are elected by the British electorate. As and when we need to co-operate with other member states and other nations, we should do so on a democratically agreed basis. I am sure that that would be most agreeable to everyone, as well as being beneficial. It would also help us resist the tendency to nationalism. If people become frustrated about the EU and the lack of democracy, they may turn to other forms of politics, some of which would be much more unpleasant—one such is nationalism—and there is talk, even in Germany, of serious disorder if things are not made democratic. If the Germans and the Greeks can decide their future, so can we. Although we have friendly relations with other member states, if we rather than the European Commission and the European Union were able to decide our future, everyone would be a lot happier. The danger of extreme politics would go.
I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend, and I share most of his views. Does he agree that one of the mistakes made by our trade union and labour movement—it was a historic and democratic mistake—was to be persuaded by Delors that we could more easily get a shift to the left and more trade union rights via the back door of the European Union, then the Common Market, than by winning the argument in this country?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The fear was that the only way to roll back what was then described as Thatcherism was by going along with the European Union. The TUC flip-flopped right over from being critical and sceptical about Europe to being enthusiastic. Subsequently, however, judgments have been made by the European Court against trade unions and in favour of employers, because it thinks that they interfere with how the market should operate. The trade unions, and even John Monks, a great enthusiast for the European Union, are becoming more sceptical.
May I mention again the extremely important paper written by Professor Roland Vaubel of Manheim university on the raising of rivals’ costs? Much of that is to do with labour regulation. I shall give the hon. Gentleman a copy, as it demonstrates how regulatory collusion can create disadvantages for certain countries.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. I take a slightly different view on some of these things because I think that trade union rights should be decided though the democratic governance of member states.
International involvement comes through the International Labour Organisation, with its minimum standards for labour regulation. That is where we should stand, but we fall below those standards. I want us to move forward and restore trade union and worker rights at least to the ILO standards, in many ways going back to the sort of regime we had in the past. That would not be agreeable to the Government, no doubt; and other countries, too, might choose another approach. However, that is the approach that I would like to see, and I would like to see it voted on by the working people of Britain, who I hope would support the election of a Labour Government committed to re-establishing trade union and worker rights. It is another example of democracy. I do not want to see the European Union telling me or other trade unionists or socialists that we cannot legislate in a particular way. We should decide our trade union rights, not the EU.
The EU and its ultra-federalists have over-reached themselves. It is time to roll back the EU, and restore sovereignty and democracy to member states. Member states may choose to go down a socialist road or a non-socialist road, but the direction should be down to them and to their electorates and peoples. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on raising this important subject, and I hope that my brief comments are helpful.
I apologise, Mr Streeter, for having missed the opening of the debate and the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash).
I see this debate as being divided into two sections. Sovereignty of Parliament is questioned—indeed, threatened—by the development of the European Union. That may be so if custom and usage has a part in it; sovereignty of Parliament is the profound constitutional doctrine that has determined the course of our development over nearly three centuries. I do not see that concept being threatened for as long as the judges apply it.
The conflict that arises with the European Union is entirely of Parliament’s making. If there is a conflict, it is because Parliament assents to each and every dreadful transfer of powers—powers of initiation, and powers of legislation—to the EU. The conflict lies with Parliament asserting—contrary, I would argue, to the will of the people—that all these transfers and mechanisms used by the EU are appropriate. That will doubtless be the Government’s position today; they will fudge along, arguing that we are, of course, taking strong measures to protect our sovereignty. However, there is no need to protect our sovereignty if we in Parliament are clear about its relationship with the people.
I have argued during my time as a Member of the House of Commons that it is not the sovereignty of Parliament in the current age but the sovereignty of the British people that matters, and that for as long as Governments are not prepared to refer the issues involved in that concept to the people themselves, then the question of legitimacy arises. Those are the issues that I think thread through the problem.
Anyone who has experienced modern British government knows the tyranny of the majority; the sovereignty of Parliament can indeed assert itself and, as a raw concept, be a great tyranny. Instead of the old traditions, with Governments attempting to win arguments to pursue their policies, they now resort to sheer, simple, straightforward majoritarianism. It is evidenced, of course, in the proceedings of the House, where guillotines are the order of the day. No one can say, in a proper and reliable sense, that the sovereignty of Parliament rests upon consent, in the sense that due and proper process, the seeking of an argument and the ability to develop an argument, is scrupulously observed by Parliament.
In respect of the European Union, one speech on what was happening was perhaps the best that I ever heard. Leaving aside all the manoeuvrings, it was an observation made on 28 February 1992, when I was moving my Referendum Bill on Maastricht, that it was incredible that what will now be two generations of those who had run our country’s affairs were prepared to surrender that thing which this island, this nation, had believed was among its crown jewels—self-government. That is what this conflict is about.
In my lifetime, Governments of both parties have, since the referendum, pursued the giving away of whole areas of self-government. The hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) referred to the right of others to determine our employment laws and the relationship with the trade union movement. Such matters were brought up by Peter Shore, whom we remember as the author of Gaitskell’s “a thousand years of history” speech. That was not a rabid anti-European Community measure, or the Common Market as it was then called, but a speech made in the absence of knowing what this would lead to—cautious, intelligent and well worth reading today.
Why have the two generations who have run our public policy pursued a policy that undermines the very sense of sovereignty of the British people, and done so often contrary to the wishes of the parties—it destroyed Major—and the people, as regularly diagnosed by public opinion polls? Those who make the laws are accountable. That is what self-government is about in a democratic age. They are accountable to the people, in our instance; hence, I call it the sovereignty of the people. What in those relationships makes the European Union, to which we have outsourced the making of our laws, accountable to the British people? Of course it is not accountable, nor was it ever intended to be. The biography of Edward Heath was mentioned; his regard for the wholehearted consent of the British people was contemptuously disregarded. It took Mr Wilson and a split Labour Cabinet to give a “sort of” referendum to the British people on something of which Mr Gaitskell would have said, “We do not know where this leads”. And we did not know where it led.
I praise my hon. Friend the Member for Stone for initiating this wide-reaching debate about where we are and the significance of what we should be. I stand, as does my hon. Friend, for the British people in this argument. In the end, those who give cast-iron guarantees on referendums, or otherwise, destroy faith and trust in themselves and in our system. This debate gives us a way forward to show that our political parties believe in their people, their nation and the trust conferred when they make a pledge.
It is a great pleasure to see you chairing the debate, Mr Streeter. Following the contributions this morning, I think the Minister and I will be the more pro-European contributors, which is perhaps ironic. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) on securing the debate and on his consistency, constancy and determination. I am sure he will apply as much rigour to his scrutiny of the new Minister for Europe as he did to that of the previous one; indeed, if anything I suspect his scrutiny will increase slightly. I am sure he will look forward to that. I, too, pass on my condolences to the hon. Gentleman; he spoke movingly about his father and mother. Many of the positions we adopt on European matters spring not only from an intellectual position but from an emotive argument that has sustained itself in our hearts. I do not say it is a bad thing; it is an entirely laudable one.
One area on which I agree with the hon. Gentleman is European scrutiny: we still do not do it properly—not only in this House but across Parliament. It tends to be done by a very small number of people who could perhaps be described as obsessives or anoraks—I include the hon. Gentleman, my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) and myself in that category—and we need to find a means of doing it better. The hon. Gentleman is right: we rarely vote on European matters and that ought to change. I have never understood why European affairs debates have to be on the motion for the Adjournment or a general debate. I do not know why they cannot be on a substantive motion before the House, which might encourage the Whips to take a greater interest in ensuring that more people attend such debates, and might extend the range of issues that we discuss. The focus is often narrow—on what is going on in the European Union—rather than broad.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton North and I both nominated the same person for leadership of our party, but we may end up voting for different candidates. I say gently that I also believe in democratic socialism, but I do not believe that it can be built in one country alone. We have to strive for it internationally, because the rights and principles that one adheres to apply to all.
Which shows what a generous soul I am.
It is good to see the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr Shepherd) in his place. He pointed out that Parliament consistently assents to such measures, which relates to the point I made earlier about the European Union and scrutiny in this House. Parliament assented originally in the European Communities Act 1972, and we continue to assent every time we choose not to have a vote, and every time we choose to do so and vote in favour. In a sense, therefore, the nub of the question about sovereignty is rather different.
If the hon. Gentleman does not mind I will not give way, which means I will shut up sooner. He spoke for some time and we want to hear from the new Minister.
There are some significant paradoxes and problems facing the Union. We all rightly fight for fiscal autonomy for each of the member states, but also know that we are economically interdependent. If the euro collapsed it would be bad for the British economy, not least because to all intents and purposes, in many regards we are Europe’s banker. We want the rest of Europe to shoulder more of the security burden around the world, particularly in Afghanistan. At the same time, the only way we can achieve that is by cajoling and persuading. We want Europe to punch its weight in relation to the emerging economies—Brazil, Russia, India, China and so on—but we rely on self-discipline to achieve that and often, self-discipline does not work when Russia holds out its paw with an enormous financial offer.
We want better protection—for instance, for British people who have chosen to live in Spain and whose houses are being pulled down—but we are not prepared to ensure that Europe has the enforcement powers when rights are not being protected. We want better EU regulations so that financial services organisations in Cyprus, for instance, do a better and more legitimate job, but at the same time we want to ensure the autonomy of the UK financial services industry. We want Romania and Bulgaria to be members of the Union, but at the moment I can see no prospect of allowing Romanians and Bulgarians to work in the UK. I suspect that the same might be true of Croatia and the other countries we hope will become members of the European Union in the near future, such as the western Balkan countries. We want them to join, but I suspect that the Government want a derogation so that those nationals cannot enjoy freedom of employment in the UK from day one; perhaps the Minister will clarify that point later.
Likewise, I have always considered the operation of the common agricultural policy immoral in many ways, as other countries are unable to compete because we subsidise so much. At the same time, if there was not a common agricultural policy there would be a French, Italian, German or Greek one, which could be considerably worse. There is a constant clash at the heart of Europe between subsidiarity and collective action, and now is a key moment in European politics to decide how to reconcile such issues. I suspect that such a reconciliation will happen at a dinner on Wednesday evening when Angela Merkel and President Sarkozy meet up. Let me say gently to the Minister that I hope he ends up joining the European People’s party, because it is easier to do business sitting at the table when the decisions are being made, rather than waiting for the moment after the decisions have been made by the big players.
The hon. Member for Stone did not refer much to his or the Government’s sovereignty of Parliament Bill. I have expressed views on the matter before, so I will not bore the Chamber with them again. Suffice it to say that it will either mean nothing because Parliament is already sovereign—it could, if it wanted to, withdraw from the European Communities Act 1972, it could repeal the Act or decide that the legislation no longer applies—or it will mean something, in which case this House can say, “We don’t care what has been decided through the co-decision process; we simply disagree.” It could say, “I don’t care whether the Government have signed up to it; we disagree and we are going to strike down that legislation.” Such a move, however, is potentially very dangerous because it puts us on course for leaving the Union.
I have a few questions for the Minister. He told us that there would be a new Europe Committee—a Cabinet Sub-Committee. Has it met yet and is it to meet in public? It will be fascinating to see the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary publicly debating Europe. Will the Committee include Members from the devolved Administrations in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland? Some of the issues that come up at such meetings are devolved responsibilities, so there might be a particular value in including those Members. I have similar questions about the committee on parliamentary sovereignty. Who will chair it and who will be on it? When will it meet and what resources will it have? Will it effectively be a parliamentary commission, and if not how will it conduct its business; and when will it complete its work? Finally, what is its precise position on whether Britain and countries outside the euro should be required to present their budgets to the Commission? It seems bizarre that the European Union or the Commission—in whatever format—should be able to have sight of a British Budget before the British Parliament.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) on securing this debate, and also express my sincere condolences to him on the recent death of his mother. He clearly set out his views on sovereignty. In the last Parliament, he championed the United Kingdom Parliamentary Sovereignty Bill to allow for further debate and consideration of such matters. As my hon. Friend knows, the Government are now considering a United Kingdom sovereignty Bill, and the programme for government agreed by both parties in the coalition states:
“We will examine the case for a Bill to make it clear that ultimate authority remains with Parliament.”
As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr Shepherd) pointed out, the common law is clear; Parliament is sovereign. European Union law takes effect in this country only by virtue of an Act of Parliament. The European Communities Act 1972 states that European Union law should have primacy. That means national laws, including Acts of Parliament, must be interpreted in such a way as to comply with EU rules. Where the two are incompatible, UK law is disapplied. The 1972 Act, therefore, gives EU law primacy over UK law for so long as that Act remains in force. However, as successive Governments and the courts have recognised, such measures do not impact on sovereignty, because it is always open to Parliament to amend or repeal an Act; it is Parliament’s choice that EU law has primacy, and it can, if it chooses, change its mind. I do not want to underplay the enormous political consequences that would flow from such a decision, but those are the constitutional facts, and they were confirmed in the most trenchant language in the metric martyrs’ case in 2002 when the courts ruled that
“Parliament cannot bind its successors by stipulating against repeal, wholly or partly, of the [1972 Act]…there is nothing in the [1972 Act] which allows the Court of Justice, or any other institutions of the EU, to touch or qualify the conditions of Parliament’s legislative supremacy in the United Kingdom. Not because the legislature chose not to allow it; because by our law it could not allow it…being sovereign, it cannot abandon its sovereignty.”
The Government are now exploring how they can ensure that the fundamental principle of parliamentary sovereignty is upheld. They want to assess whether the common law provides sufficient ongoing and unassailable protection for that principle. It is an important process, and it is only right that sufficient time is allowed for discussions within Government and for appropriate advice to be taken. Once the Government have decided on whether there should be a Bill to reinforce the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, we will make an appropriate statement to the House.
My hon. Friend the Minister will know that I have spoken on both this subject and the metric martyrs’ case on many occasions. Does he not accept that we voted against the Lisbon treaty, which is a consolidating treaty and incorporates all the treaties? In addition to that, the issue of primacy is already clearly stated in Costa v. ENEL and in other cases. They say that the European Court of Justice asserts its primacy over our constitution. I hope that the Minister will come on to that, because that is where a big problem starts to get even worse.
My hon. Friend will have to forgive me if I say that the kind of questions that he asks are precisely those that the Government will wish to consider in the exercise that I have just described—when they come to a view as to whether we should introduce primary legislation to reinforce the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. So far, as he knows, the British courts have upheld the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. We want to ensure that such a principle is unassailable and ongoing.
Before the Minister’s speech, we were told by the Government that a committee will be set up to do such work. Now, however, he seems to be saying that there will not be a committee, but just a general process of cogitation, regurgitation and general thinking. Does he describe that as the backburner or the long grass?
It is certainly not the long grass. The work has already started, but it requires proper consideration. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s impatience and eagerness for an outcome to this exercise, but given that we are only a month into the new Administration, he will have to bear with us a little longer before we come to a conclusion. I can assure him that as soon as a decision is taken, we will make a statement to Parliament, so that he and other hon. Members can question and challenge us on the outcome of that debate within Government.
The Government have been clear about what we intend to propose in legislation at the earliest opportunity. We have agreed that there should be no further transfer of sovereignty or powers from the United Kingdom to the EU over the course of this Parliament, and that commitment is written into the coalition programme. The Government are also committed to increasing democratic and parliamentary control, scrutiny and accountability in relation to EU decision-making. We will introduce a Bill to ensure that the British Parliament and the British people have more of a say, and that will increase the democratic accountability of the European Union. The Bill that was listed in the Gracious Speech has two main elements: a referendum lock and greater parliamentary control over the use of the so-called passerelle or ratchet clauses in the Lisbon treaty.
Let me describe briefly what we propose in terms of a referendum lock, although my hon. Friend the Member for Stone and the House will appreciate that very detailed work is now going on to determine the precise language of the Bill. Any proposed future treaty that transferred competences or areas of power from the UK to the EU would be subject to a referendum. No Government would be able to pass more powers to the EU unless the British people had agreed that they should be able to do so and no Government would be able to join the euro unless the British people had agreed that they should do so.
My hon. Friend said that there might be an attempt to bring about treaty change to create some form of economic governance in light of the current financial crisis. I can say to him that there is no consensus so far even in the euro area that there should be a further treaty. Any EU treaty, even one that applied only to the euro area, would need the unanimous agreement of all 27 member states, including the UK. Each of those 27 member states would have a veto. Even in the case of a hypothetical treaty that the British Government were prepared to endorse, the fact remains that any treaty that proposed to transfer powers from the UK to the institutions of the EU would require a referendum for ratification, under the terms of the programme for Government that the coalition has set out.
We also plan to change the law so that any Government would be required to pass primary legislation before they could give final agreement to any of the so-called ratchet clauses. There is a variety of those clauses; there is no easy definition of a ratchet clause. Some provide for modification of the treaties without using the ordinary revision procedure and some are one-way options that are already in the treaties, whereby EU member states can decide together to exercise those options, and which allow existing EU powers to expand. There are options, for example, in the common foreign and security policy, in justice and home affairs, and in environment policy. Besides the provisions on primary legislation, in our Bill we will also ensure that the use of any major ratchet clause that amounts to the transfer of an area of power from the UK to the EU would be subject to a referendum.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stone and the hon. Members for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) spoke about the inadequacy of our current system of parliamentary scrutiny of European legislation. The Government plan to improve the scrutiny of EU decision making, and getting the scrutiny system right is a very high priority for us. I am currently examining ways of strengthening the existing system of parliamentary scrutiny and I am keen to discuss proposals with the new Scrutiny Committees of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, once they are formed. I hope that they will be formed in the very near future.
There has been an honest division of view about how parliamentary scrutiny should be reformed. The hon. Member for Stone talked about having all the debates on scrutiny open. I took the other view, because we receive very valuable advice from Officers of this House—honest and frank advice, which I may say is often sympathetic to my view as well—and the Officers would not be able to provide such advice if the debates on scrutiny were carried out in public.
The hon. Gentleman makes a clear point that we in Government and the House as a whole will want to bear in mind when it comes to taking decisions about the scrutiny process. It is also important that we look at the practice of scrutiny in other EU member states. I had a meeting last week with the chairman of the Swedish scrutiny committee, and we are exploring the models of scrutiny that are in use elsewhere in the EU, to see whether there are any aspects of those processes that we might usefully adapt for our own purposes here.
The Minister is being very generous in giving way. I sensitively suggest to him that most other member states conduct scrutiny remarkably worse than we do, which is quite a thing to be able to say.
In addition, all I would say to the Minister is that we still do not have the European Scrutiny Committee set up. For the life of me, I cannot see why the chairmanship of that Committee was not established when the other Select Committees that we have already elected were established. Also, I hope that a new scrutiny reserve resolution will be tabled fairly soon. I urge the hon. Gentleman to try and make this issue as much a matter for the House as for the Foreign Office, because it should be a matter for the whole of the House to decide on.
I take very seriously the points that the hon. Gentleman has made. He also asked me about the new Cabinet Committee on European Affairs. That Committee is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, and the deputy chairman is the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. It has met; it met for the first time last week. However, I must disappoint the hon. Gentleman by saying that it does not meet, and does not intend to meet, in public. There is no difference in that regard to the system for any Cabinet Committee. Members of the devolved Administrations are not members of the Cabinet Committee on European Affairs but they continue to meet under the aegis of the Joint Ministerial Committee on Europe, to prepare for the European Councils each year.
The hon. Gentleman says that, but we want to make our relationships with the devolved Administrations work a lot better than they used to during his time in office; that is one of the differences that the new Government intend to make. We want to turn not only those formal meetings but our regular contacts with our colleagues in the devolved Administrations into something that informs the development of our approach to European affairs. Now, having said that, I must press on.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stone asked questions about a number of detailed issues and I want to reply very quickly to those questions. So far, there are no proposals at all on the table that would require the UK or any other member state to submit its budget plans to the Commission in advance of informing Parliament, and my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor have all made it clear that we would be utterly opposed to any such proposal.
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the importance of some of the current proposals on financial services, which are with the European institutions now. In particular, the de Larosière package on financial supervision is a matter of primary importance to the interests of this country. Yesterday, in both the formal proceedings of the General Affairs Council and in bilateral conversations with some of my counterparts from other countries, I said that we wanted to see the unanimous agreement that was reached on the proposal at ECOFIN in December 2009 maintained in any future drafts of that proposal.
The hon. Member for Luton North asked about agricultural policy reform. The Government remain committed to a policy of common agricultural policy reform that would see an end to the direct subsidy of production, a reduction in the external tariffs on foodstuffs, bringing them down to the same level of external tariffs that apply on other goods, and an end to the practice of dumping EU produce on the markets of developing countries, which undercuts those countries’ own farmers.
A number of hon. Members spoke about excess EU regulation. I know that both the Cabinet Committee on European Affairs, which I am a member of, and the Regulatory Sub-Committee of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs will be keeping a very close eye on that issue. Excess EU regulation comes not only from Europe itself. Too often, there is gold-plating in Whitehall of European legislation, which is something that we are also determined to guard against.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stone said one thing that I will quarrel with him about—in a good-humoured manner—and it was about EU enlargement. I disagree with him on this issue. I think that the enlargement of the EU has entrenched political stability, the rule of law and democratic institutions in Spain, Portugal, Greece and in central and eastern Europe. It is actually a tremendous achievement on the part of the EU. If one contrasts the picture today in those parts of our continent with what we saw in those same countries in the 1920s and 1930s, I think that the advantages and the strengths of the EU’s approach are demonstrated.
My hon. Friend rightly said that many people in Europe are frightened, angry and disillusioned. That is why we need to push forward a positive British agenda, to get European people back to work, to free up markets, to enhance free trade with the rest of the world and to demonstrate an advance towards a cleaner and greener European economy. At the same time, we need to champion vigorously the interests of the UK within the EU, to increase accountability to the British people and to increase the democratic legitimacy of the decisions that Ministers take in Europe, ensuring that it is the people who can take the final decision on any future transfer of power from this country to European institutions.