Clause 4 — Increase of powers of European Parliament

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 10:30 pm on 3rd March 2008.

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Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe) 10:30 pm, 3rd March 2008

My right hon. Friend refers to the disgrace of the timing; we have five minutes left in which to debate clause 4, and we will have no time at all to debate clause 5. We will not even reach it because of the way in which the Government have rigged the debate on the treaty, time and again.

I want to make some quick points about the need for better regulation on the part of the European Parliament. It is a problem that the European Parliament's structure and machinery are entirely dedicated to processing new legislation. Conservatives have long pressed for that Parliament to have instead mechanisms to monitor implementation of existing legislation, and to be able to propose the repeal of legislation, but those proposals have never been actively taken up by the Government. The European Parliament has a string of legislative committees, but no deregulation committee. I ask the Minister—when I have his attention—to consider that proposal in the context of tonight's debate, and any avenues that there might be for pressing it forward.

There is one other matter that I have to mention: the farce of the two seats. The European Parliament spends £120 million annually commuting, for one week a month, to Strasbourg from Brussels. In 2006, more than 1 million people signed an online petition calling for an end to Parliament meetings in Strasbourg. Independent studies have calculated that the Strasbourg commute, as it is known, generates 20,000 tonnes of additional carbon dioxide emissions a year, yet far from acknowledging that the situation is clearly unsustainable, the European Parliament is currently negotiating to buy its buildings in Strasbourg from the French Government at a cost to the taxpayer of many hundreds of millions of euros.

The decision to abandon Strasbourg can be taken only by EU Governments, but the UK Government have repeatedly refused to raise the issue proactively at European Union meetings. It cannot be right that the European Parliament continues to commute from Strasbourg to Brussels, and Brussels to Strasbourg, at a massive cost to the taxpayer, and a great cost to the environment. That should have been put right many years ago. We are debating the European Parliament now, but why have the Government remained so completely silent on the matter? They have been in power for 10 years; why have they not done something about it?

Let me conclude by saying that it is a shame that more Members of the House will not be able to air their views on clause 4 and on the operation of the European Parliament. In fairness, that is not the fault of the European Parliament or the UK Parliament, but of the Government, who have rigged the debate so that such issues cannot adequately be discussed. They have timetabled debate on the treaty in a way that does not give us the line-by-line scrutiny that we were promised. In lieu of that, they should be held accountable by the British people, and should give them the referendum that they promised.