John Redwood presses Government over human rights aspects of EU Treaty

<strong>Yesterday in the Commons John Redwood was again at the forefront of the debate on the Lisbon Treaty, this time concerning its provision for human rights. Mr Redwood championed Parliament as the appropriate and historic legislator for defining and protecting the rights of its people. Being bound to Europe in this area of legislation as proposed by the Treaty is yet another example of the erosion of Parliamentary democracy.</strong>

Mr Redwood’s six interventions and speech, taken from Hansard, follow.

<strong>(1) Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): </strong>Does the Secretary of State accept that, over the centuries, it has been this Parliament that has defined, upheld and shaped our human rights, and that it should be this Parliament that does so in future? The European charter would be too inflexible and would not reflect the will of the British people.

<strong>Mr. Straw: </strong>I do not accept that. It was this British Parliament that decided in 1971 to join the European Union. It was also this British Parliament that signed up to the Single European Act in 1986, to the Maastricht treaty and to the treaties of Amsterdam and Nice. We now have the prospect of signing up to this one. It is open to any party in this country to propose in its manifesto that the United Kingdom should withdraw from its treaty obligations and leave the European Union. That is the sovereign right of this country and this Parliament, and long may that continue to be the case.

<strong>(2) Mr. Redwood: </strong>We do not disagree with individual rights—we disagree with the legal process which means that they are defined and imposed on us instead of defined and imposed from here.

<strong>[No direct response]</strong>

<strong>(3) Mr. Redwood: </strong>Does my hon. Friend agree that the major fallacy in the Secretary of State’s argument is that all these rights, if we like them, can be granted by this Parliament and interpreted and enforced through our courts, with the advantage that if we do not like them as they evolve we can amend them here without needing the agreement of 26 other member states?

<strong>Mr. Lidington: </strong>Throughout his speech, the Secretary of State carefully sidestepped the challenge posed by my right hon. Friend.

<strong>(4) Mr. Redwood: </strong>Is there not a simpler point? The European Court of Justice is a federalist, activist Court, which over time always makes judgments in favour of more European power, so why take the risk? We could opt out of the whole provision and not include it in the treaty.

<strong>Mr. Lidington:</strong> It is not only my right hon. Friend who says that Britain should opt out of the charter of fundamental rights; it was originally the position of the Labour Government, but they have subsequently abandoned it. If we further consider the likely consequences of a European Court of Justice decision deriving from the application of charter rights, we can see that irrespective of the protocol, any company that operates in more than one EU member state will change its practices across the EU, even in the United Kingdom or Poland, once the ECJ has given a judgment on what has gone on in one particular country.

<strong>(5) Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): </strong>I am grateful to my hon. Friend (Mr Cash) for putting together and tabling so many excellent amendments, which, if we had the time to discuss them, would indeed provide us with the line-by-line scrutiny that we are being denied. Does he agree that the Government do not seem to grasp that the simple question is: “Do you wish to be governed by elected people in Parliament, whom you can sack, and from whom you can get a different answer following a general election, or do you wish to be governed by unelected people on the continent whom you cannot sack, and from whom you will never get a different answer?”? Is not that the issue?

<strong>Mr. Cash:</strong> It is the issue, and the point needs to be repeated over and over. I believe that there are Members on the Labour and Liberal Democrat Benches who believe in that, because their own parties evolved from, or came from, the fight in the 19th century for the very rights that we are now taking away from them. It is astonishing that a vague application of general principles, through the European Court of Justice, should be allowed to be a substitute for people’s right to choose who they want to vote for, and to choose the Government under whom they want to live.

<strong>Speech</strong>

<strong>Mr. Redwood: </strong>Tonight’s debate, like many of these debates, is about where power should rest. It is about democracy itself, especially in the context of the excellent amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). I should like the amendment to go a little further, because I should like to see the sovereignty of a Parliament clearly reaffirmed and re-established in the laws that we enact when trying to tackle this rather difficult and refractory treaty.

This Parliament made itself great over many centuries because campaigners of all parties and of none—Whig and Tory, Labour and Liberal and Conservative—came together so often to assert the right of elected representatives in this House of Commons to make the laws and take the right decisions, and to face their electors in turn on the hustings so that their work could be adjudged good or bad and the necessary decisions could be made about the futures of MPs individually and of Governments that had exercised the powers of this House.

There have been two great movements. There has been a great movement over many decades to ensure that we reach the point where all adults have the precious advantage of the vote, so that they can choose those elected representatives and decide whether to remove them when they fail to do their jobs in the imagined way. The other great movement was to ensure that the powers were in this Chamber and in Parliament as a whole, so that here the laws could be chosen, here they could be amended, and here they could be struck down. What the Government are asking us to do tonight is suspend that right, in perpetuity perhaps, and certainly for a very long time—there is no fixed time for this treaty—so that in future such decisions may in many areas be made by unelected people in a European court. They may, as far as the British people are concerned, in future be made by unelected people sitting in Council chambers, often meeting in private and reaching decisions in private.

<strong>Ms Hewitt: </strong>I am following the right hon. Gentleman’s points with great care, but I am puzzled that he seems to ignore the fact that, ever since this country joined what was then the Common Market all those years ago, there has been primacy of European Union law as decided by the collective institutions of the EU and as interpreted by the European Court. The point he is making is simply an argument for the United Kingdom to withdraw from the EU. That is a perfectly respectable point of view, although I profoundly disagree with it. Is that what he is asking this House to decide, and is that the official policy of the Opposition?

<strong>Mr. Redwood:</strong> The right hon. Lady is a little cleverer than that: she knows that that is not the official position of the Opposition party, and nor is it the case that I happen to be making at present. Her history is wrong, of course: we did not give all those powers away at the beginning when we joined something called the Common Market in common parlance, or the European Economic Community as set out in the original treaty. That was not the deal offered to the British people when they last had a vote on this issue in 1975. It so happens that I voted “no”. I have always since accepted the verdict of the British people. I am sure that they voted for a common market, and that is what I would like them to have. They voted for co-operation and collaboration while our country retained its veto. What I dislike about the deal under discussion—the clauses before us tonight highlight this—is that our veto has been given away needlessly, when the Government had the veto to veto surrendering the veto; the Government just had to say “no”, and they would not have had so many law-making powers brought in by the back door by this treaty and this proposed legislation.

I, like my party, say that this deal is many steps too far—it gives away far too much of the power rightly accumulated by Parliament over the centuries to do good for the British people and to respond to their will and their wishes. The right hon. Lady has in a previous intervention in our debates today come up with a clever argument. She says that the magic of this particular block of work is that at last the EU will have to submit itself to the human rights court and the human rights convention that many states in Europe have signed. What she omits, however, to tell the House in that very partial interpretation is that that in no way detracts from the power of the European Court of Justice to keep on advancing its power at the expense of the British people and their elected representatives in this Parliament assembled.

<strong>Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con):</strong> The logic of the argument we have heard from the Labour Benches is as follows: as we have given some power away already, we might as well give the rest of the power away. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is the Government’s position?

<strong>Mr. Redwood: </strong>That is clearly the Government’s position. They have shown total surrender in the negotiations over the treaty as a whole. The Government have told us again tonight that they wish the large number of principles and rights set out in the document before us to be adopted as part of our law code. Worse still, they will accept not one but two European Courts standing in judgment over us. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), I am more worried about the European Court of Justice, because it has a long tradition of furthering a federal agenda. In case after case that Court is determining that there should be more power for law-making and decision in the European Union and less in the member states.

<strong>Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con):</strong> Is that not why this House and the British people should approach this treaty with the greatest scepticism? They will recall the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1986, which I voted against. Our right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Thatcher was assured that employment and the social contract would be outside the ECJ’s remit, but the ECJ took that area into its own power. Therefore, we should resist any Government attempt to hoodwink the British people into thinking that we should accept these assurances.

<strong>Mr. Redwood:</strong> That is exactly right. The facts are stark. This Government have surrendered 10 times more vetoes than previous Governments. Some of us had reservations about surrendering some of those other vetoes, but they were at least surrendered in furtherance of the Common Market, for which people had voted in a referendum. That was why Baroness Thatcher decided to make those modest surrenders of power in the 1980s. Since then, this Government have given away massive rights, duties and powers that have nothing to do with the Common Market for which the British people voted.

<strong>Mike Gapes: </strong>Surely the right hon. Gentleman cannot believe that the modest changes in this treaty or in the Amsterdam and Nice treaties are comparable with the massive expansion of European competence in Baroness Thatcher’s Single European Act?

<strong>Mr. Redwood: </strong>I suggest that the hon. Gentleman tries reading the different treaties. The Single European Act was, as its name describes, about market measures to try to promote a common market. I believe that a common market is created by having buyers and sellers and does not need nearly as much law as the European Union subsequently developed. The SEA was a very narrow area of work compared with a common foreign policy, a common army, a common defence policy, a common criminal justice policy, a common immigration policy, a president of Europe and a much-expanded Parliament, all of which have come under this Government’s watch.

At each point, the Government have claimed that they were not giving any real power away, that we would not notice the difference, that they had protected our interest and that the famous red lines were in place. We have heard all that nonsense, but we can see from the huge amount of work embedded in this revised treaty that massive powers were surrendered at Nice and Amsterdam, and that such a surrender is being proposed tonight in this crucial area of fundamental human rights.

We have been told by some Opposition and Labour Members that we do not value human rights or the very good principles embodied in parts of this text—but of course we value those things. We fight, and our predecessors fought, for those rights for the British people just as surely as the Labour party has often done in the past. We believe that those rights are best expressed in British law, in the English language and in a way that is answerable to the British people. We believe they have to stay like that, so that the British people can, through their elected representatives, change, amend and improve them as circumstances and time require.

This treaty is an inflexible, unaccountable and thoroughly undemocratic way of legislating. We are being asked to embody at one point in the long evolution of our national and European history, a set of principles that might make sense to some people now, but which are going to be extremely difficult to change. It will be impossible to change them in a democratic way in this Parliament, because the agreement of so many of other member states will be needed, as will a treaty amendment. As we can see, such an amendment is a complicated and difficult process.

We must amend these clauses and retain these powers that the Government wish to give away. We must restore the position that this Parliament makes these crucial decisions, so that we answer to our electors. We should live or die as politicians by how well we do and by whether we answer to our electors in the correct way.

<strong>(6) Mr. Redwood: </strong>The Minister is now getting to something interesting. Is he not ashamed that there is so little time because of the ridiculous guillotine motion? Many Members cannot tease out these important points and have a proper debate on them. Will he give us more time?

<strong>Mr. Murphy: </strong>That does not fall within the scope of the amendment. The matter has already been resolved by the House.

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One Comment

  1. Devil's Kitchen
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Redwood, you rock!

    Notwithstanding any disagreements that we, personally, may have over how to proceed, keep on needling the government, carry on pointing out their perfidy…

    DK

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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