Yesterday the European Union Bill raised its ugly head, yet again, in the House of Commons - and in this post I wish to begin by focusing on the amendment proposed by Peter Bone (Conservative) which called for an in/out referendum on EU membership, one to be triggered by a “no” vote to any referendum on transferring powers to Brussels under the Bill, was rejected last night by 295 votes to 26. The Hansard record can be read here. (Column 780 onwards)
Richard North, EU Referendum, has poured scorn on this attempt and I leave readers to make up their own mind on his views, which is not to say that I disagree, to a certain extent, with the views he expresses. Douglas Carswell has also posted his views on the defeat of Bone's amendment and with that post I do have some comments to make. Carswell writes:
"How often in Westminster have I heard the phrase "I'm a Eurosceptic, but...". From today, the new breed of Eurosceptic have made as their over arching objective an in / out referendum. Not merely sceptical about the European project, they reject it."
Really? Besides the miniscule number of Conservative MPs who voted for Bone's amendment - and bear in mind of the 26 voting in favour, 8 were from other parties, which further illustrates my use of the word 'miniscule' - it would appear that some so-called "Eurosceptic" Conservative MPs cannot make up their minds exactly where they stand. Consider Claire Perry who during the previous debate intervened to proclaim that the people must decide on on any loss of power, but denies them the right to decide on membership of the EU and consequently votes against Bone's amendment. Consider also the stance of Bernard Jenkins who, in that same debate, stated that he was against an in/out referendum, but then votes for Bone's amendment. Priti Patel is another example of 'indecision', proclaiming herself a "Eurosceptic" yet votes against Bone's amendment. As an aside, but still on this question of being 'undecided', it is also worth mentioning that stalwart of the EU, Keith Vaz, Labour, who in that same earlier debate basically proclaimed that the people could 'go hang' as Parliament was supreme and should have the sole right of decision, but now votes for the people having a say.
That deals with the 'weird' part of this post.
So to the disgraceful.
During the debate on Clause 21, this exchange took place (column 774):
"Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The Minister mentioned competence about a hundred times in his remarks, quite rightly, but subsection (3)(b) of the new clause mentions a cost-benefit analysis of the impact of any decisions made. Will the Minister address that point? Will Her Majesty's Government at any point undertake a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of our membership of the EU?
Mr Lidington: My hon. Friend pre-empts me, because I am about to come on to the question of cost-benefit analysis. I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Witham that the EU has to provide much better value for money. The Government are clear that the EU needs to change and can do things a lot better than it does at present. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has argued in the House and elsewhere that the EU cannot be immune to the budgetary realities that every member state Government in the EU and every family in the EU has to face. That is why it was the Prime Minister and this country that led the process to ensure that the 2011 EU budget did not grow in line with the unacceptable demands of the Commission and the European Parliament, and why at the end of last year the Prime Minister secured the important principle that over the next financial perspective the EU budget should reflect the consolidation efforts being made by Governments right across the EU."
Not received an answer (as can be seen), Philip Hollobone tried again (column 778):
"Mr Hollobone: We will have plenty of time to enjoy ourselves with that this evening. The Minister is stressing the benefits, as he sees them, of our membership of the EU, so I will return to the point I made some moment ago: why will Her Majesty's Government not undertake a comprehensive audit of the costs and benefits of our EU membership?
Mr Lidington: There are some elements of EU membership that could be put into such a calculus, but we cannot measure, in the way my hon. Friend wishes, things such as the diplomatic leverage that we obtain by being able to work in partnership with other European countries. [Hon. Members: "No!"] Some will differ from me in that analysis, but the fact that we were active members of the European Union helped us to achieve a package of sanctions against the Iranian nuclear programme last year that was tougher and more effective than either the United States or the Government of Iran believed possible. We were there at the table, so we were able to exert a powerful influence, in partnership with others, in the defence and enhancement of our national interest in securing sanctions against that programme, and we were able to overcome opposition from a number of other member states that weighed in the balance some very big commercial interests in Iran. That sort of advantage does not lend itself easily to the calculation that my hon. Friend invites me to make. There are all sorts of things wrong with the EU as well, and we can find other occasions to debate its flaws, but the Government's position is that membership of the European Union is one of the key ways in which we seek to advance the United Kingdom's influence in the world."
So once again, answer was there none.
As I have posted previously; it is disgraceful that Members of Parliament seem content to cede power in whatever form to the EU, yet attempt to maintain the argument that Parliament is sovereign. It is disgraceful that Members of Parliament feel able to vote against an amendment in a debate without having heard the arguments - presumably as a result of pressure from their Whips. It is disgraceful for MPs to continue the argument for repatriation of powers, when they know full well that such a course is totally out of the question. Were that possible, it is disgraceful that those MPs would then still be content to accept governance from abroad. It is disgraceful that Members of Parliament admit that they are elected to represent the views of the people but then proceed to disregard those views - and then, in support of that, state that they have not received any letters or surgery visits about the subject of EU membership. The lack of protest on this matter, or any other matter come to that, is probably due to the fact that their constituents are only too aware that they would be wasting their time as their Member of Parliament will not listen. In my case, what is the point in my confronting Cameron when his mind is set on a course of action regardless of what anyone else may think? As I have mentioned frequently, Cameron is too frightened to even publicly debate our membership of the EU, having three times refused.
As a further example of how disgraceful politics, parliament and our democracy is, I would refer readers to John Redwood's post on the subject of regulation and the use of Statutory Instruments:
"I had a bad day yesterday. In the morning I was required for one of many Statutory Instrument Committees. Most detailed UK law now takes the form of a Statutory Instrument. The Act of Parliament which we spend a lot of time over is usually lacking detail. The detail, the things that really bite, comes in the SIs which follow. These only get a maximum of 90 minutes debate. There can be a single vote on a take it or leave it basis. There is no opportunity to amend or improve."
That is democracy? No, that is what I have referred to as "democratised dictatorship".
A further example of this latter point comes in this article from today's Mail-on-line concerning the possibility of a free vote for Members of Parliament on the question of voting rights for prisoners. Assuming the details of this article are correct and in particular:
"Tory MPs are to be given the green light to assert the supremacy of Parliament in a defining battle with the European courts.......In an extraordinary move, the Prime Minister has decided to give his MPs a free vote on the issue – effectively encouraging them to refuse to bow to the European Court of Human Rights. A defeat would allow the Government to go back to the court in Strasbourg and insist it has tried, but failed to change the law – and that the democratic will of Parliament should prevail."
How in what is supposed to be a democracy, elected representatives who are supposed to represent the views of their constituents are given permission by one man, Cameron, to do just that? When, exactly, was he elected with such dictatorial powers? Where is that small matter mentioned in the Conservative manifesto? As for the remark by Lord MacKay, that is stating that politicians 'cherry-pick' the laws that they should obey. Have not politicians broken 'the rule of law' by, in effect, setting to one side a condition laid down within the Bill of Rights 1688? If MPs can be given a free vote on this issue, why not a free vote on an in/out referendum? Why not a free vote on the various amendments put forward on the European Union Bill?
Some argue that our democracy is broken - I would argue that our democracy is totally wrecked and that until we remove those in power it is impossible to even consider how it can be improved. If that involves their slaughter, as suggested by Richard North in an earlier post on his blog, so be it!