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
I am privileged to follow my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg, who does justice to the House, as he does justice to the sentiments that he expressed and the cause to which he spoke. That makes it harder for me to follow him. I realise that that is usually a challenge for Members, but I will do my best.
I echo my hon. Friend's sentiment and I will support the Bill because I regard it as the first serious attempt to stop the erosion of power from Westminster to Brussels. I say "serious" because it is legislation before the House, and I say "attempt" because I recognise that it does not go as far as I and other Members might like. EU interference has dogged us for many years. We as a sovereign nation have been bled dry of powers, which has increased the frustration of the public with an institution that is so remote yet so influential on their lives.
I support the attempt to introduce a referendum lock. For too long, the people have been sidelined as dodgy deals are done and negotiated across Europe, stealing our sovereignty. How? It has been done through treaties such as Lisbon, Amsterdam and Nice. The previous Government handed over so many of our powers during the past 13 years. When the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said that he wanted to be at the heart of Europe, he was not kidding. He effected one of the most powerful transplants ever of so much power to Europe from Britain. We all sensed the betrayal that the British people felt as a result of the Lisbon treaty.
The Bill moves to give Parliament more say over Europe. The Government will have the opportunity to pass primary legislation before we have more self-amending clauses. There is good stuff in the Bill. As for sovereignty and clause 18, I know that there are many learned Members in the House and I dare not question their judgment, but when lawyers say to me that something is enshrined in common law, I am immediately concerned that common law and precedent mean that it could change over time. I have no problem with an attempt to establish clause 18, but I acknowledge, as my hon. Friend Mr Cash said, that it carries some risk with lawyers in the future.
My main concern is that the Bill may be seen as the end of a process, rather than as the beginning of a process to ensure that the present or any future Government cannot continue to transfer powers to the EU. My hon. Friend Richard Drax spoke eloquently of wiggle room. There is wiggle room in the Bill, and that is not good because we are attempting not just to pass a Bill, but to rebuild trust between the British people and the Government by challenging the transfer of powers in our relationship with Europe.
The existence of wiggle room raises the question of who decides what is material and what is not. Ministers clearly have the right to determine what constitutes a transfer of powers, and mechanisms spelled out in the Bill make it clear in many cases what constitutes a transfer of powers, but it is the little grey areas of wiggle room that are, in effect, a Trojan horse that can be exploited and undermine the genuine attempts of the Bill to protect any transfer of power.
I tried to apply a test. Had the Bill been in place when the European arrest warrant was introduced, would we have had a referendum on a significant directive from Europe? I attempted to find out. I am grateful to the Minister's staff, who spent some time briefing me on the Bill. I raised the question, but I have to say that I am still confused-not because of their lack of effort, but because of the potential greyness surrounding the issue.
What is more illustrative of our sovereignty than the fact that the courts in an individual's own land cannot protect him, but could lead him to be extradited merely by ticking boxes in a process and undermining the right of a British court to pass judgment on him?
The Minister knows that, until recently, one of my constituents, Andrew Symeou, languished in jail for many months after being subjected to a European arrest warrant, and the Minister is kindly trying to make representations to the Greek Government to assist him. The family keenly await any outcome, and I thank him for that. But my constituent would believe that the sovereign power of his country had not served him well by agreeing to transfer those powers outside the jurisdiction of our courts and to Europe. I think he would say that his Government had not protected him.
Will the Minister look closely at the wiggle room in the Bill and see how we can reconcile the conflicts that no doubt will lead to other issues over transfer of power? Yes, of course, issues can come to Committee, to scrutiny and to Parliament, but ultimately a Government can get their way, and however much we may protest, a Government may get a motion through and the people will not have had their say in a referendum on a transfer of powers.
I sympathise with my hon. Friend Mr Carswell when he suggests that we may be shutting the gate after the horse has bolted, but on balance that would not be a reason to oppose the Bill, because it marks a massive step forward for Britain and her relationship with Europe. It is a confidence-building measure for the British people in their relationship with what can only be described as an empire-building EU, and it is an important marker in the sand for this coalition Government to rebuild trust with the British people. We must not breach that trust.
Decisions have been remote from the British people. Yes, Parliament does have more say. I accept that the Bill only draws a line under the past, but it still leaves the future somewhat grey. It could be tightened further, and that is in the interests of constructive engagement, which I hope we will have the chance to debate at length in Committee, but I have no hesitation in supporting it, and I believe that my constituents will also seek to take advantage of engaging in future European debate if they have the opportunity to have their voice heard should the Bill be enacted.