Previous SectionIndexHome Page

The Minister for Europe (Peter Hain): I assure the hon. Gentleman that the reason why there are relatively few Members on the Government Benches is that there is still a great deal of euphoria among Labour Members at the result of the election yesterday.

Mr. Cash: I have no idea how all that will pan out in due course. All I can say is that I am confident that my Learned Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) is going to do extremely well and, in my opinion, win. Then, Labour will discover some serious opposition to the sort of proposals coming from its Front Bench. I am just doing my best, at the moment, to supplement some of the arguments that I have been developing over a long period. My hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) has done a marvellously urbane job in speaking to the amendments and I pay tribute to him as a dear friend and colleague. Sometimes, however, I think that we could go a little bit further in some of the decisions that we take when voting on these matters.

That is one of the reasons why I tabled my amendment (a) to new clause 4. I say this with great respect to the shadow Foreign Secretary, whose name heads the list of those tabling the new clause: I entirely agree with most of it, but I believe it would provide us only with an annual report, as opposed to the serious opposition that is required, for the reasons that I shall give. It says:

I shall be kind and assume that that is supposed to mean something a little more emphatic, although I very gently tabled a little amendment to leave out "should" and insert "shall". I do not want to make a great issue of that, but with respect to new clause 5, the business of the regulations is much more serious. I do not want to draw nice distinctions between new clause 5 and my amendment, but the new clause says that the regulations

I suggest that we leave out "have legal effect in" and insert

There is a nice distinction there, but I do not want to press it too much, because I know that my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk and his colleagues took the right approach—or at any rate had the right intention. There is a bigger problem. When the treaty goes through by way of incorporation in domestic law, it follows—[Interruption.] Although my dear and hon. Friend has to speak to the usual channels in the usual way, would he be kind enough to pay a tiny bit of attention to the point I am about to make?

If a treaty is to be incorporated in the domestic law of this country by way of an Act of Parliament, regulations must subsequently be made that deal with, in this

18 Jul 2001 : Column 324

example, political parties. However, there is a problem with new clause 5, which would not allow regulations through unless they were

The little problem is section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972, which invokes the Court of Justice and, indeed, the implementation of laws followed by their absorption in our own legal bloodstream. Once that has happened, it will unfortunately not be possible for us then to pass a resolution disapproving those regulations.

I very much agree with the sentiment behind the new clause and I am glad to say that my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk has, perhaps peradventure, raised a serious point. Indeed, many Opposition Members have wanted to raise it emphatically for a long time: the House of Commons will not be dictated to by legislation that comes from another source in the EU. We say that there is a residual sovereignty in the House as a result of which it is incumbent on us—let alone the fact that we want to do so—to ensure that in respect of matters as fundamental as what a political party is, we in this House should not be overridden.

You and I, Mrs. Heal, and all other Members are voted for in our constituencies in relation to political parties which would not be recognised under the regulations. I hope that Members of the House, though few are here today, appreciate how invasive the provisions are. That goes not only to the mechanics of political parties or groups, but to what people believe in and what they vote for. As I have said over and over again in several debates in the past few weeks, this is their Parliament—the Parliament of the people. The political parties represent different points of view that are reflected in the people's choice, which is the essence of democracy and the freedom that goes with it.

If the regulations are introduced and passed, we shall be unable to reverse them. The Court of Justice would rule any such resolution of the House invalid and we would find ourselves roly-poly absorbed in the new arrangements being prescribed by the EU.

Mr. David: Would the hon. Gentleman be kind enough to give us an explanation of this roly-poly process?

Mr. Cash: It is called roly-poly pudding, and it means that we will get rolled up somewhere in the attic, like Samuel Whiskers in Beatrix Potter, and left there for a long time unless we are lucky and someone comes along to save us. Someone must save the Conservative party and the country from these arrangements. That is the problem. Believe it or not, the Labour party is also caught up in this, but it has not twigged yet. It will not be able to differentiate itself from the Conservative party under the principles that will be laid down in the regulations. Sooner or later it will wake up.

I want to pay tribute to a good friend and colleague of mine, Roger Helmer MEP. He wrote an important article called "The Brave New World of European Political Parties" in The European Journal published by the European Foundation, of which I happen to be the chairman. It was published in June, so it is pretty well up to date. I shall send it to the Minister, because I am sure that he will be extremely interested to read it.

18 Jul 2001 : Column 325

The article says that the launch of new pan-European political parties has been on the agenda since at least 1996 when the Tsatsos report was prepared by the European Parliament's Committee on Institutional Affairs—in fact, it was going on some time before that. It is essential to distinguish political parties from political groups in the European Parliament. Most national political parties represented in the European Parliament form part of a parliamentary group. For example, Labour MEPs sit with the PSE, which is the party of European socialists, and the Tories are associate but not full members of the EPP/ED, which is known as the European People's party and the European Democrats group.

As Roger Helmer cogently explains,

who was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow)—

Roger Helmer goes on to say:

That is where the difference is and where the real problem lies. He gives the definition.

Surprise, surprise—the Conservative party does not qualify! Isn't that a funny thing? This is quite dangerous, and I am interested to know how the Minister will reply. Apart from anything else, this is a serious attack on democracy in the United Kingdom. I would love to know what my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk thinks about all this. Back Benchers are speaking in complete unison on such matters. I hope that I have not missed anything my hon. Friend said, but I also hope that he, like me, thinks that this represents a dangerous invasion and annihilation of the funding arrangements for the Conservative party. That is a fairly dramatic thing to have to say.

5.45 pm

We must ask what is behind all this. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham quoted John Stuart Mill, and others have expressed similar sentiments. This is, in fact, about the whole idea of European democracy: it is about why, under these arrangements, which are much more important than they seem at first sight, European democracy is a non-starter and European political parties unnecessary.

As if we did not already know, as a result of all these debates, that we are moving towards full-blown political union, let me ask the Minister a specific question: does he really appreciate that that is what is going on? I see his advisers scribbling away; I hope that they can rush something to him. I trust that they recognise that this

18 Jul 2001 : Column 326

question will, or ought to, concern a good many Conservative Members, because we are in the middle of a leadership election.

Some years ago, a former contender for the Conservative party leadership rang me to ask whether I would vote for him. I said no. He asked why not. I said "What is the point of being Prime Minister of nothing?" He said "You cannot say that to me." I said "Yes I can. Et tu, Brute," and put the phone down.

Next Section

IndexHome Page