I am happy to speak in support of the Bill. As I mentioned in my intervention, it seems ironic that something that appears to attract little opposition and not even a great deal of concern across the House could, if necessary, be granted a total of six hours of debate—tonight’s allocation and what we had on Second Reading—on the Floor of the House, yet massively important and much more contentious EU legislation, such as the CETA deal, is guaranteed no time whatever on the Floor of the House. The Government were eventually dragged kicking and screaming into an upstairs Committee room for an hour and a half after the CETA deal had been signed off but before it was finally ratified. That was after months, if not years, of determined efforts by the European Scrutiny Committee, whose scrutiny process was ignored and overridden by the Government on that and on so many other matters. I will come back in a moment to explain why that is so vital, but it seems ironic that something relatively non-contentious requires an Act of Parliament before the Minister can sign it when Ministers from all parties have quite happily signed much more contentious EU documents in the past without any appropriate reference back to this House.
I want first to speak about the applications from Albania and Serbia. We should enthusiastically welcome the movements in those two countries. I am one of a fairly small number in here who can remember the days when Albania was like the North Korea of Europe. Even before the fall of the iron curtain, even when the Stasi were in charge in East Germany and even when the Ceausescu regime was in charge in Romania, Albania was seen to be the most isolationist place of all. We should welcome the fact that it now wants to move closer to the more modern family of European nations. And look at where Serbia has come from in the past 20 or 25 years; we should enthusiastically welcome the fact that it is now asking to be allowed to co-operate much more closely in the protection of human rights and the eradication of racism and xenophobia. We should encourage the Serbian people and Government to continue on that journey.
The co-operation with Canada makes sense. We are two major trading economies, both of which accept that anti-competitive behaviour on a global scale damages everybody except the handful of billionaires who own the anti-competitive companies. It makes sense for Governments, nation states and groups of nation states to work together. A single country on its own these days is often not big enough to take on the big global economic superpowers that are today’s multinationals. We have to work together to make ourselves big enough to be able to stand up to the big bullies of multinational business. We should certainly look for this kind of co-operation with Canada and, similarly, with other major economies in the future.
There are consequences to the way in which this Government and previous Governments have failed to respect Parliament’s role in scrutinising everything Ministers did on our behalf at the European Union. I say it like that deliberately because the job of the European Scrutiny Committee has never been to scrutinise what Europe is doing. It has always been to scrutinise what Ministers are doing in Europe on behalf of the House. From the couple of years in which I was a member of that Committee, it was perfectly clear that Governments in the past have done everything they could to avoid that scrutiny. I am sorry to say that the House often appears to have been supine in its failure to hold Governments to account for that. That, more than anything, has allowed the wildest of all myths to gain currency: the myth that European civil servants are allowed to make laws without any input from this Parliament. It is simply not true.
When this Parliament has been denied the opportunity to comment on European laws, it has not been the European Union that has denied us that opportunity; it has been British Governments, past and present. Had they not done that—had they held themselves properly to account for their actions in Europe and come back to this House saying, “We don’t agree with what the Europeans want to do. What do you, as Parliament, think?”—the public would not have been made to believe that Europe was acting over the top of this Parliament. They would not have been led down the path that we are heading down. We could have avoided that comical—if it was not so tragic—irony.
Serbia and Albania were each in danger of being seen as international pariahs at different times and for different reasons. These two countries are now taking the sometimes difficult, but momentous, steps towards fully rejoining the worldwide family of democratic nations. At some point along that journey, they will meet the United Kingdom heading in the opposite direction. That is a tragedy that should have been avoided had this Parliament and previous Governments done their job properly.