The House of Commons held a debate, yesterday, on Europe. During the debate Bill Cash made the following speech and interventions:
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of Europe.
background to the debate, as the House knows, is that Europe faces
greater change than at any time since the fall of the Berlin wall. As my
right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out in his speech last week—a
speech that was well received in this country, by British business and
in many quarters overseas—[Interruption.] I thought that would excite
the House at the beginning. As my right hon. Friend said, there are
three great challenges facing the European Union: the profound changes
being wrought by the eurozone crisis, the lack of competitiveness in the
face of a transformed global economy and the gap between Europe and its
This remains a difficult time for economies across
Europe. Unemployment here is coming down, but elsewhere in Europe it is
rising sharply. Europe faces challenges from surging economies of the
east and south. On some predictions, by 2050, only Germany and the UK
from Europe are likely to remain in the top 10 largest world economies.
Growth elsewhere benefits us all, but we should be in no doubt that a
new global race is under way and that financial market turbulence and
the burden of debt make the path to recovery in Europe harder to climb.
Europe has many fundamental economic assets but action is needed. As
Chancellor Merkel has said, if Europe today accounts for over 7% of the
world’s population, produces 25% of global GDP and has to finance 50% of
global social spending, it is obvious that it will have to work very
hard to maintain its prosperity and way of life.
Then there is
the democratic disconnection between the EU and its peoples—a
disconnection felt particularly acutely in Britain, for reasons I will
come on to in a few minutes. The Eurobarometer survey conducted earlier
this year showed that only 27% of Britons were very or fairly attached
to the EU. The EU average is 46%, which is hardly encouraging.
Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): Right
at the heart of the five principles, as my right hon. Friend knows, was
the insistence that the national Parliaments lie at the heart of our
democratic accountability. In that context, does he accept that the
movement towards ever-closer union had to be rejected and, furthermore,
that it is vital that we recognise that there cannot be two Governments
and two Parliaments dealing with the questions that arise in the context
of the future of Europe?
Mr Hague: I will come
in a few moments, I hope, to the importance of national Parliaments
playing an increased role in the decision making of the European Union.
My hon. Friend knows from his close reading of the Prime Minister’s
speech that he set out a vision of the EU as an explicit contrast to the
vision of ever-closer union, so that is absolutely right.
Mr Hague: (…) As my hon. Friend the Member for
Stone (Mr Cash) pointed out, the changes in the eurozone are raising
questions across the EU about national sovereignty and democratic
legitimacy. In our view, balancing the need for flexibility,
competitiveness and a stronger role for national Parliaments will be
central to the future success of the EU.
The European Parliament
has an important role that is set out in the treaties and many MEPs do
excellent work. However, over the past 20 years, member states have
granted the European Parliament a dramatic increase in its powers
through successive treaties, in the hope that it would address the
growing sense of distance and disengagement among European voters. That
manifestly has not worked. The question of democratic disconnection and
accountability has not gone away. That suggests that we need a different
answer. That answer will include a bigger and more significant role for
national Parliaments, which are and will remain the true the source of
democratic legitimacy in the European Union. By according a greater role
to national Parliaments, we will give practical effect and real force
to the principle of subsidiarity.
Mr Cash: Does the shadow Foreign
Secretary agree with the Barroso blueprint that the European Parliament,
and only that, is the Parliament of the European Union?
Mr Alexander: We were clear during the passage
of the Lisbon treaty that there should be an enhanced role for national
Parliaments—indeed, in my speech last week, I contemplated whether we
could strengthen the yellow card procedure with a red card procedure. I
see a greater role for national Parliaments being contemplated in the
future, therefore; it is certainly one of the negotiations that the
Foreign Secretary might be minded to articulate, if he felt able to be
explicit, but alas he has taken a Trappist vow of silence.
Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): The ultimate
question that lies at the heart of the five principles that the Prime
Minister set out in his speech is about our democracy, because
everything ultimately depends on the fact that we agreed, in the
European Communities Act 1972, on a voluntary basis, to accept the
legislation that came out of the Council of Ministers when it made
decisions. Those decisions are increasingly made by qualified majority
The 1971 White Paper—the basis on which the legislation
went through, albeit by only six votes—categorically stated that there
would be no erosion of British sovereignty in this House, and that it
was vital that we retained the veto, not only in our national interest
but in the interests of the European Community as a whole. That remains
fundamental because, in a democratic nation faced with the pressures for
federalism that people are seeking to impose from outside, it has to be
right that the Prime Minister has taken the decision to challenge the
nature of the structure of the European Union. He went to the heart of
the issue when he rejected the notion of ever-closer union, and I
commend him for that. I also believe profoundly that we must bring this
programme forward rather than waiting until 2017. For reasons of
uncertainty, of practicality and of principle, we should have a decision
during this Parliament, not during the next one.
Mr Cash: I will make one further point before I give way.
have just come back from Dublin, where, in my capacity as Chairman of
the European Scrutiny Committee, I met the other 27 national chairmen.
There was no doubt whatever in the statement made by the chairman of the
Bundestag’s European affairs committee that, as far as he and Germany
were concerned, delay was unacceptable. We also know, from listening to
him and to the German ambassador, that there will be no cherry-picking
and no negotiations of the kind that are being contemplated. The French
take a similar view; I have had meetings with them, too. The reality is,
therefore, that there is a serious requirement to make the decisions
earlier rather than later.
Mr Redwood: I quite
agree with my hon. Friend’s central point. Does he agree that the reason
that we have this tragedy in Britain over our relationship with Europe
is that more than 100 vetoes in important policy areas were given away
at Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon, against the wishes of the loyal
Opposition in this House and probably against the wishes of the
overwhelming majority of the British people, who were never consulted
about the way in which their democracy was taken away and trashed?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend, and I will add another
point. The recent analysis by VoteWatch Europe, which has been through
every decision taken by the Council of Ministers in the past three
years, demonstrates that in 91.7% of votes taken in that forum, the UK
Government—under the aegis of UKRep and through the Council of Ministers
itself—have voted in favour of the proposals in question. That is
effectively a forced consensus, because we have only 8% of the votes in
the Council of Ministers. When I hear Ministers and others talking about
the degree of influence that we exercise in relation to qualified
voting, I say yes, we have to have alliances, but we know that if others
are not going to be in alliance with us, we will not get the kind of
result that the British people deserve.
Ultimately, this is about
one fundamental question. It is not about just the word “democracy”; it
is about democracy in action and its impact on the daily lives of the
people of this country. The reality is that when someone goes into the
ballot station, votes in secret and casts his or her vote based on a
manifesto in which they are told what the party in question is offering
them in a general election, that is what democracy is all about. When
they cast their vote, they expect the legislation to follow what they
have been promised. The reality is that, under this system, the whole of
Europe is becoming increasingly dysfunctional, with riots, unemployment
and the rise of the far right. Let us face it; we have to get real. The
fact is that it is not working. That is why our debate is so important.
Michael Connarty: I am grateful to the Chair of
the European Scrutiny Committee. I have always wanted to ask him this
question, so that he can put his answer on the record rather than
provide it in a private conversation with me. Is he likely to campaign
to come out of the European Union and, if so, on what terms? I want to
know, and I think the Foreign Secretary wants to know, on what basis
will the hon. Gentleman campaign and vote to come out of the European
Mr Cash: I am grateful for that
intervention for a very good reason. One of the reasons why I believe it
is right for the Prime Minister to insist on the “in or out” question
is that now, after all the agonising over all these years—including the
Maastricht rebellion, for example, which I was able to participate in
and lead at the time—all these things have culminated in this
referendum. We have fought for a referendum. Precisely because the
question is “in or out?”, it raises the question of the European
Communities Act 1972 and whether the British people, having voted in the
ballot box, should be expected to receive legislation that comes
automatically into law when they might not in fact agree with it. That
is the problem: that is why I believe we must have the right question,
but it must also be at the right time.
As far as I am concerned,
if that democratic principle is not upheld, I will vote to come out,
because the democratic principle is the fundamental issue for the
British people, many of whom fought and died for this country.
I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway)
refer to the fact that he was born in May 1945. I was born on 10 May
That was the day on which Churchill became Prime Minister,
and it is was over the question of whether or not Britain would be able
to govern itself—and much more besides. I follow the line Churchill took
about being “associated but not absorbed” with Europe. That is the
In addition, on the economic front, let me
make this point. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex
(Mr Jenkin) and I wrote a pamphlet about a positive way forward for the
single market. We believe that there is a positive way forward for
Europe, but that what is happening at the moment is that Europe is
creating instability by this concentration on a compression chamber when
there are all these diverse countries. As my hon. Friend the Member for
Croydon South said, “one size fits all” does not work. We must have an
association of nation states. I appreciate that that challenges the
centralisation that has gone on for so long in Europe, and I appreciate
that it challenges the democratic deficit. I appreciate, too, if I may
say so, that this would increase trade, increase opportunities and help
to liberalise the rest of the world in the global marketplace. All these
things have to be examined, as we move forward in the debate that has
Given the dysfunctionality of the European Union,
the determination to repudiate the idea that we should have a referendum
is astonishing. The French had two referendums—I took part in both of
them in France—and we did incredibly well in Denmark, too, where there
were several referendums. There was a referendum in Ireland and in
Holland. Who on earth are these people to turn round to us in this
country and say, “We can have referendums, but you can’t”? It is beyond
Wayne David: Just so we can be absolutely clear, when would the hon. Gentleman like to see the referendum in this country being held?
I would like to see it before the European elections. I believe that
that is where the focus on the European question will be at its best.
Then we can expose the position of the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the
Labour Opposition at the same time. The reality is that the British
people deserve to have that vote.
Henry Smith: I was hoping to speak
yesterday, to quote from the Reform Act of 1831 and refer to the
sweeping away of the rotten boroughs—[Hon. Members: “1832.”] My
apologies; I will refrain from using dates. Nevertheless, our history is
based on free trade, as is our future.
Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a serious problem if the free
trade arrangements that he and I, along with many others, want are in
any obstructed by the exclusive competence of the European Union
overlaying the question of whether we could trade freely with, for
example, all the members of the Commonwealth and emerging markets?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. It is an EU competence to
negotiate free trade agreements. If we had that competence back, as a
sovereign Parliament and a sovereign nation, we would once again be free
to forge those free trade agreements. I am struck by the fact that
there is a multilingual central European country that is free of the
European Union, but which has free trade agreements with the European
Union—and, indeed, the rest of the world—and that is the nation of
Switzerland. It is perfectly possible for us to maintain co-operation
and free trading with Europe and to extend that to the rest of the
Mr Cash: To respond to the question that the
hon. Gentleman put to me earlier, would he be good enough to tell me
whether it is more important to implement the laws made by consensus in
the European Council of Ministers or the laws that his constituents
support through the ballot box?
In 20 years in this place, I have never found it inconsistent to
support the European Union. I supported it when I voted in the first
referendum, and I supported it when I was the chairman of the
Mid Scotland and Fife European parliamentary constituency and convinced a
Eurosceptic MEP to see the benefits of Europe. There is no
inconsistency between my job as a Member of Parliament and my support
for the EU.(…)
Mr Cash: Would the hon. Lady
recognise that some of us seek to address this question in the context
of the national interest? When she speaks about GDP, does she recognise
that the challenges to GDP in this country are largely driven by the
lack of growth in the eurozone? We run a deficit with the EU member
states of £47 billion a year.
Germany’s EU membership has not prevented its economy from growing more
than 4% in the past two years, nor has France’s membership prevented its
economy from growing by more than 1.5%. (…)
Mr Cash: Would my right hon. Friend
care to take this opportunity to repudiate the statement in the Barroso
blueprint that the EU Parliament and only the European Parliament is the
Parliament for the European Union?
I do not agree with that statement. The European Parliament has a role
that is set down in the treaties, but if giving extra powers to the
European Parliament were the answer to discontent over the democratic
deficit, the transfer of those additional powers in successive treaties
over the past 15 or 20 years would have remedied the problem. It clearly
has not, and it is not just in the United Kingdom where politicians are
starting to think about how to involve national Parliaments more in
European business than they have been in the past. Europe is changing
and needs to change further.