Clause 18 — Status of EU law dependent on continuing statutory basis

Part of Food Labelling Regulations (Amendment) – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 11th January 2011.

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Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham 6:30 pm, 11th January 2011

The Crown was sovereign once. It is intriguing that we are more than two hours into this debate but so far we have talked only about parliamentary sovereignty, even though the sovereignty technically still belongs to the Crown in Parliament. We all know about the events that took place over several hundred years, particularly when they were accelerated during the 17th century revolution and crisis. There was a large transfer of power from the Crown to Parliament. When a sufficiently large transfer of power takes place from someone who was sovereign to those who would be sovereign, a point is reached at which that sovereignty passes because enough power has been surrendered and the arrangements have changed sufficiently.

As other Members have suggested, we need briefly to look at how that very big transfer of power occurred in the 17th century from the Crown to Crown in Parliament and, in due course, effectively to Parliament standing on its own. One important factor was that Parliament was very good at aggregating power to itself. In those days, it decided to be very nice to bankers, which worked very well for it, because it got the City of London and the men of finance on its side. In those days, the English Navy did not have French ships in it, and Parliament made sure that it responded to the English Parliament. Parliament also took the precaution of hiring and training and paying-something quite unusual in those days-the best army in the country. It got over the problem of competing armies and, in due course, established that it had military power and could command the Army.

Parliament also needed to deal with the judges. It was established during the revolutionary period that judges were necessary and that, according to our current tradition, they had to be independent and should not interfere in parliamentary matters by trying to make the law. They simply had to deal with the law as Parliament provided it. We therefore eventually ended up with a very powerful Parliament.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Parliament did something that everyone in the House is now united in admiring: it made the exercise of power by Parliament a democratic matter by extending the franchise until practically every adult in this country was able to participate in elections. That gave Parliament the authority of having a democratic voice and mandate. The question that we are debating today is whether that great democratic settlement, in which most Members believe, is now under threat from judge-made law, from European-made law and from other centres of power. Could parliamentary sovereignty come under pressure in the not-too-distant future? Is it being damaged because too much power is being transferred? These questions account for the nervousness, certainly on the Conservative Benches, about the degree of power that has already been surrendered by successive Parliaments over the years, particularly under the most recent Government following the treaties of Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon. Under those treaties, a large number of areas were transferred either to joint decision taking or to sole European decision taking.

That means that the exercise of power in many important areas of activity, including regulation, the expenditure of money and the provision of public services now emanates from the continent. Those powers are trying to establish their own democratic credibility through the European Parliament. They are also trying to establish their own judicial credibility through the European Court of Justice, and their own administrative credibility by strengthening the powers that are exercised around the various collective corporate tables that constitute the ever-evolving, and ever more powerful, European Union settlement.

The nub of our debate today is whether there is something that this Parliament could and should do, no matter how much power has passed, how many decisions are taken through the European Union and how much money it now takes to itself and spends on our behalf, to make it clear that, should we want those powers back, we can have them back. If we wish to change or moderate what the European Union is doing, do we have every right to do so because we are still the sovereign?

Some of us fought long and hard to keep the currency under British sovereign control. These arrangements involve a British sovereign and preserve the settlement of the Queen in Parliament, and the Queen's face appears on the banknotes of the realm, but we all know that they are Parliament's notes and that they represent an expression of parliamentary sovereignty. Indeed, it was this very Parliament that, by a majority, approved the previous Government's decision to print a lot more of those notes-or electronic notes-as an expression of what that sovereignty can do for the people of Britain. We can argue about whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, but it was an undoubted expression of sovereignty.