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I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for keeping her here at the end of a busy week. However, I welcome the opportunity to draw the House's attention to what I regard as a serious matter—the erosion of parliamentary sovereignty, stemming from recent actions of the institutions of the European Economic Community. Much of it has gone largely unnoticed, but the time has come to look at what has been lost and at what is at risk and to consider whether there is any action that we can take to curb the process, if that is in the national interest.
Much of the recent loss of sovereignty has obliged the Government to take steps against their will and judgment. Quite frankly, some have made the Government look silly and break pledges that they have given to Parliament. Our sovereign Parliament seems to be on the road to achieving county council status.
I shall give a few examples. In December 1984 the Prime Minister came to this House of Commons, about six months after agreeing to a massive increase in the Common Market's cash — an increase of about 25 per cent. in real terms—to announce that agreement had been reached on strict budgetary controls which would ensure that the Common Market's agricultural spending would not increase by more than the increase in the own resources base. That was not just a statement of intent. In the Prime Minister's own words, it was an agreement that was binding on the Council—the supreme authority of the Common Market. My right hon. Friend further explained that although the VAT base had been increased from 1 per cent. to 1·4 per cent., that was the legal limit of expenditure and could be increased to a maximum of 1·6 per cent. only by unanimous agreement in 1988.
While expressing doubts about the advisability of handing over more cash, the House welcomed the clear and unambiguous assurance from the Prime Minister. Nobody doubted her sincerity. However, since then those binding controls have proved to be a sick joke. Spending has rocketed well beyond the ceiling of 1·4 per cent. In fact, it has gone beyond the 1·6 per cent. ceiling which had never been agreed to by anybody.
That has been done by a series of devices operated by the Commission. For example, there has been the introduction of the metric year of 10 months, which was achieved by requiring payment into the Common Market a month early and paying out bills a month late. It has been achieved also by transferring the responsibility for costs, such as that of butter dumping, from the Common Market lo member states, although the Court of Auditors has stated that the device was wholly contrary to Common Market law.
Parliament's representatives have lost — it seems completely — their power to control expenditure to a non-elected body, the Common Market Commission, which is simply a group of European civil servants.