Treaty on European Union

Part of Orders of the Day — European Communities (Amendment) Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:30 pm on 4th March 1993.

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Photo of Mr Bowen Wells Mr Bowen Wells , Hertford and Stortford 8:30 pm, 4th March 1993

I quite understand the hon. Gentleman's ease of assocation with others in the European Communities who feel and think as he does. There are many more such people in Europe than there are in Britain. The hon. Gentleman felt so comfortable because he is a federalist. My argument is that we can move away from what I regard as thoroughly destructive federal practices—destructive of national parliaments, destructive of national pride and destructive of cultures. We must let the European Communities breathe. Each country must be able to develop and to take a pride in its own history. Some federalist melange is opposed by me and most of my colleagues, including members of the Government.

We must develop the idea that national parliaments should meet together, say, twice a year separately from the European Parliament and then, for a third time, with the European Parliament to exchange ideas. It is essential that we begin to develop this sort of institutional practice if we are truly to have a Europe with some control over the executive bodies—the Commission and now, crucially, the Council. The Maastricht treaty does not say how the Council is to be made accountable. In our case, the Head of Government reports to the House of Commons and is subject to questioning. But that is not universal practice in Europe. Policy decisions that have not been debated by national parliaments or between national parliamentarians are not understood by the peoples of the various countries. Those concerned race ahead with ideas that are simply not understood by the people of Britain.

However, that does not apply only to the people of Britain. To realise that, one has only to look at the result of the referendum in France, where roughly 50 per cent. of people said that they did not want the Maastricht treaty. Why do they not want it? Because they have not been consulted about it, and they are not familiar with the issues involved. It is therefore essential that we develop Europe-wide parties so that there may be political discussions. National parliaments must meet together regularly. The lessons that the privileged members of the Select Committee on European Legislation have learnt must be extended.

In that way we should begin to make up for the undoubted democratic deficit in the Community. We should be able to bring Europe together and achieve deeper understanding. We should achieve more democracy and accountability. By achieving acceptability, we should enshrine the principle of consent to which the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney referred. The right hon. Gentleman said that the British community is to some extent homogeneous. People in this country lean towards different parties, but they remain one people. We discuss things and then accept majority decisions. That is not a universal practice. It takes place only if the consent of the people to be governed has been obtained through discussion in pubs, lounges and sitting-rooms and through debate in the press. That is what we must reproduce in Europe.