European Commission: National Parliaments

Part of Deregulation Bill (Programme) (No.3) – in the House of Commons at 5:55 pm on 10th March 2015.

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Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset 5:55 pm, 10th March 2015

It is a great pleasure to follow Kelvin Hopkins, who speaks such sense on these matters. It was also interesting to hear about his holiday plans for the summer, and I hope that he will tell us more about them in future debates.

I turn immediately to the wording of the motion. Her Majesty’s Government like to say all the right things and do all the wrong ones. Let us look at the end of the motion, which proposes that the House

“welcomes the Government’s commitment to increasing the power of national parliaments in EU decision-making by strengthening and, where possible, enhancing current provisions.”

It sounds splendid that we in the national Parliaments should have an increased role and that there should be proper scrutiny within this House. But let us look further into the Order Paper, where we find the European business and the debates set down to take place on the Floor of the House. We had one yesterday. How generous of Her Majesty’s Government to allow us, after months of delay, to debate an issue that had been suggested for debate by the European Scrutiny Committee!

Turning to the future European business, however, we see that no time or date has been set for the first debate in the list, on the free movement of EU citizens, despite its having being asked for more than a year ago. Debate No. 2 would be on strategic guidelines for EU justice and home affairs to 2020. Debate No. 3— [Interruption.] Bless you! Debate No. 3 would be on the rule of law in EU member states. Debate No. 4 should be on ports, a highly controversial matter awaiting the discussion that was suspended in the Committee because the Government had not got their act together. No. 5 is the topic that we are discussing now. No. 6 should cover the EU budget 2014, which is not a minor matter. Indeed, it is rather important. When we discuss our own Budget, we have four days of debate on it, yet we are not even given 90 minutes for the EU budget. No. 7 on the list is the EU charter of fundamental rights. So there are six further debates that we have not been given, yet today we are debating the Government’s wonderful commitment to increasing parliamentary scrutiny of European matters.

There is a saying that fine words butter no parsnips. We get a lot of fine words from Her Majesty’s Government but the parsnips remain distinctly unbuttered, and as I represent a dairying constituency, I think it is about time we had some butter and got the debates that the European Scrutiny Committee has been asking for. There is a considerable lack of wisdom in this approach—this contumely towards the House. These debates take place in an atmosphere of considerable cross-party consensus. Those on the Opposition Front Bench rarely cause any trouble in European debates, and the motions that are tabled are normally so anodyne that it is hard to oppose them. The Government broadly say that they are in favour of motherhood, apple pie and democracy while giving away as many of our freedoms as they can, as quickly as possible. Furthermore, these debates do not end up being front-page news.

Where the Government get into trouble, however, is through their lack of willingness to go along with what the European Scrutiny Committee has asked for. At that point, they run into procedural difficulties. We saw that in spades over the European arrest warrant, and we thought that the Government might have learnt the error of their ways and realised that trying to obstruct the procedures of the House of Commons is an error. They might have found from yesterday’s experience, when an amendment was tabled on a subject that the Government did not want us to discuss, that the House would get its way in the end. It did so because, fortunately, we have a robust Speaker who ensures that the House gets what it wants in the end. That is much to be welcomed. However, there should not be this constant battle between the European Scrutiny Committee and the Government to get that which the Standing Orders of the House of Commons require. The Government come out with ridiculous promises and fine words but simply fail to deliver on their promises.