Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

European Union Bill

Part of Safe Standing (Football Stadia) – in the House of Commons at 8:20 pm on 7th December 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere 8:20 pm, 7th December 2010

It is a great pleasure to follow Kelvin Hopkins. The sentiments that he expressed-a feeling of disconnection with the European Union, concerns about its lack of accountability, and even a feeling of crisis in the European Union-are ones that we have heard throughout this debate. That is not something that has been invented by parts of my party or got up by the press; it is a deep-seated feeling across parties and among voters of all parties.

To be fair to those of my party on the Front Bench, they tried to respond to that in the general election. It was no doubt with concern about Europe in mind that they made the following promise, which they were right to make, in the manifesto, on which I was proud to stand, just as every other Member of my party did:

"We will be positive members of the European Union but we are clear that there should be no further extension of the EU's power over the UK without the British people's consent...We will work to bring back key powers over legal rights, criminal justice and social and employment legislation to the UK."

That was described in the Conservative manifesto as a liberal Conservative policy, and it is indeed in accordance with the tenets of classical liberalism. However, since then we have actually had a Liberal-Conservative policy.

I understand that, and I understand the reasons why it has come about. However, I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will understand when I say to them that although I appreciate the fact of the coalition and the way in which it is working, I still hold to what was said in the manifesto, which I supported, and that I wish to accomplish the ends of that manifesto, particularly in respect of not allowing the extension of any further power to the EU, as well as repatriating existing powers-I thought that that would be a tall order, but it was worth trying. It is certainly still in order to seek to prevent any further extension of EU power. However, I am afraid that the Bill as it stands does not fully accomplish that end, and my hon. Friends would be testing my credulity if they claimed that it did.

Indeed, clause 18 does not even seek to do that. This is a matter of academic debate, but clause 18 is a restatement of the existing position-there are different academic views on that-and it certainly does not set out to stop any further transfer of power to the European Union. Nor, I would suggest, do the other parts of the Bill fully accomplish the end of preventing a transfer of power to the European Union, however many referendum locks they contain, particularly in so far as they concern transfers of any further competences to the European Union. If one studies the list of competences that are already possessed by the European Union, as set out in the treaty of Lisbon, one can see that virtually every field of policy-indeed, every type of human activity-is covered by a competence of one type or another. Even where those competences do not give the European Union a law-making power-and in many cases they do-the European Union can still use the competences that it holds in other fields to make law and policy in those fields where it does not have a formal competence, and the European Commission, backed up by the European Court, has not been slow to do that.

The problem that we are faced with is that which Kate Hoey described earlier: the drip, drip, drip of power to the European Union, through European directives, European regulations, all the soft law that comes from the European Union, and the new objectives that are set for the European Union, which influence policy makers. All that goes on as before. As far as the European Union is concerned, it is just business as usual. Those are the problems that we need to address, and although it is difficult to take them on, I would urge Ministers to do so.

Already in the lifetime of this Government we have seen transfers of power to the European Union that-I think I am right in saying-would not have been captured by the Bill's referendum provisions. Most people would understand a transfer of power in any ordinary sense to include giving the European Union power to set policy, or giving the European Commission the power to take initiatives or, most particularly, to make law. I am thinking in particular of the advent of the External Action Service, which has attracted so much bad publicity in this country. However, the External Action Service is bad for this country not just because it is extravagant-although it clearly is-but because it will act in such a way as to supplant British power and the exercise of independent British representations. I suspect that this is something that we will see more and more of in times to come.

We have also seen the Van Rompuy report on economic governance, which most people would see as a prospective transfer of power, in any ordinary sense of the word, to the European Union, framing, as it does, the criteria by which our economic policies are made and the guidelines that Governments must observe in their fiscal policies. The report also gives the European Union the power to impose sanctions on this country, in the form of placing it under certain procedures-not financial sanctions, but sanctions of other forms, which could be influential with policy makers. The report is certainly intended by the European Union to be an instrument of economic governance over this country, even though it is not a member of the eurozone.

We have also seen a significant transfer of power into the European so-called area of freedom, security and justice, caused by opting in to directives of the European Union in that area, even though this country had an opt-out from those policies-something that the previous Government said was the key difference between the constitutional treaty and the treaty of Lisbon. Now we are seeking to opt in. We have already opted in to six directives-two are very significant directives indeed-that give the European Union legislative authority over this country and, more importantly, give the European Court of Justice jurisdiction over our criminal procedure and criminal law. Those are all matters that are not covered by the Bill as it stands.