European Commission: National Parliaments

Part of Deregulation Bill (Programme) (No.3) – in the House of Commons at 5:44 pm on 10th March 2015.

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Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North 5:44 pm, 10th March 2015

May I apologise, Mr Speaker, for arriving after the beginning of the debate? I was detained elsewhere. I want to say a few words, but will not speak for too long.

When I was a student, I read the works of Walter Bagehot, the 19th-century writer on constitutional matters who distinguished between what he called the decorative and the effective parts of the constitution. Much of what happens around the European Union is decorative. The real power resides not with the elected bodies, but elsewhere. Many people among the political elites of the various members of the European Union go to great lengths to ensure that the European Parliament and their own Parliaments have a comfortable majority of Euro-enthusiasts who will just go along with what the political class wants.

However, Euroscepticism is a major force. It is not effectively represented in many Parliaments, but it is among the populace. I remind hon. Members of the referendums that the French and Dutch held on the proposed constitution. The Socialist party in France went to the extreme of having a ballot of its members and encouraging them to vote yes for the constitution, which they duly did. It was assumed that the conservative party would vote in favour of the constitution anyway. In the referendum, the great majority of working people voted no. It was the working class and those on the left—and, no doubt, some people on the right—who voted no because they did not think that the constitution was in their interests. Euroscepticism was therefore found to be quite a strong force when a referendum was held, but it is not necessarily a strong force in the elected Parliaments. The same thing happened in Holland.

From time to time, I attend meetings of COSAC with other members of the European Scrutiny Committee. COSAC is an organisation for representatives of the national Parliaments and it includes some Members of the European Parliament. However, Members of the European Parliament are rather irritated that they have to listen to Members of the elected national Parliaments, because they see us as interlopers in their preserve or realm. They think, “We are elected European Members and we do not want these other Parliaments having their say.” Nevertheless, we go to the meetings. Even there, the overwhelming majority of Members are docile supporters of the European Union and all its works.

It is interesting that the British voices from the House of Commons are often very distinctive in being outspoken and critical, and just in raising issues. We were in Italy not so long ago and I said, “Well, what about the 13.2% unemployment rate in Italy? What about those who are arguing for the restoration of the lira?” Those voices are not represented at COSAC, but they are represented in the street outside. When politicians stop listening to the voices in the street outside, they are in danger in the longer term.