Time to reassert Parliamentary sovereignty

Yesterday I wanted to speak about the role and new powers of the European Parliament under the proposals of the Lisbon Treaty. Owing to the government’s unfair restricted timetable for consideration of the EU bill, it took the House until 10.25 pm to consider Clause 3 properly. That left just nine minutes before the government insisted the House stopped work for the evening to discuss the 40 areas of government where the European Parliament will receive enhanced co-decision powers – and it meant only the Minister and the Shadow Spokesman could speak before the government autocratically prevented more debate. It’s not the line by line scrutiny we were promised. Clause 5 and the Schedules fared even worse than Clause 4, receiving no attention at all and passing the House without debate or vote. No wonder people think Parliament is doing a bad job, and are fed up with the way this government runs politics.

This week we draw to a close of the proceedings on the European Union (Amendment) Bill.

Bill Cash and I have tabled four new clauses to reassert the supremacy of Parliament, which is being brought into doubt by the extent of the power given away in this Treaty, on top of the other five Treaties which predate it.

I would like to thank Bill for his assiduous attention to the issue and for drafting the new clauses.

Our new clauses state:

New Clause 6

“Notwithstanding any provision of the European Communities Act 1972, nothing in the new Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union of December 7th 2000, as adapted at Strasbourg on December 12th 2007, shall be binding in any legal proceedings in the UK, and shall not form part of the law applicable in any part of the UK”

New Clause 7

“Notwithstanding any provision of the European Communities Act 1972, nothing in Articles 68 to 89 of the Treaty (justice and home affairs) on the Functioning of the European Union shall be binding in any legal proceedings in the UK and shall not form part of the law applicable in any part of the UK”

New Clause 8

“Notwithstanding any provision of the European Communities Act 1972, nothing in this Act shall affect or be construed by any court in the UK as affecting Article IX of the Bill of Rights 1689”

New Clause 9

“Notwithstanding any provision of the European Communities Act 1972, nothing in this Act shall affect or be construed by any court in the UK as affecting the supremacy of Parliament”

New Clause 6 seeks to prevent the European Charter of Fundamental Rights overriding Parliament’s decisions and interpretations of the public mood. As the government has sought to reassure us the Charter will not prevent democratic decision making in the UK, they should welcome this clarification.

New Clause 7 seeks to preserve the so-called red line on criminal justice and home affairs matters which the government says it has kept by allowing us an opt in strategy towards these measures. This formulation is stronger as it disapplies EU attempts to modify our law without our consent.

New Clause 8 reiterates Clause IX of the Bill of Rights, which states: “That the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament”. There is a fear that some debates in Parliament can now be overruled, or some speeches could be prosecuted in European courts without this express protection.

New Clause 9 is the most comprehensive. It reasserts Parliamentary sovereignty, on the basis that Parliament has granted the EU certain powers within the UK, so Parliament can modify or repatriate those powers at a later date if it wishes.

We believe all of these are necessary, and if passed they would go a long way to reassure people that we can be in charge of our own affairs again if we need to be.
My worry is that the government will seek to prevent these big issues being debated, by restricting time. They will doubtless urge all their MPs to vote against them if we do reach them, giving the lie to their many promises that we have kept our right to self government and have preserved all our red lines. Lisbon is about another large transfer of power to the EU. These new clauses are about keeping a democracy in the UK. I urge my colleagues to vote for them if we are given the chance.

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16 Comments

  1. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted March 4, 2008 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    You are to be commended for your efforts, which I fear will come to nought. EU treaties should not be decided on the basis of raw party politics, which, with some honourable exceptions, this one is. This point should be universally accepted when EU issues are considered but especially so on this occasion when all the main parties promised the electorate a referendum. The fact that so many are prepared to renege on their pledges is a monstrous attack on our already withering democracy. When MPs are elected they are entrusted, on a temporary basis, with the authority to set the laws of this country. This most certainly does not give them the right to pass these temporarily held powers to an other unelected and therefore undemocratic body without first seeking the approval from those who entrusted them with that temporary authority.
    There is much talk of spreading democracy around the world by those same people who are prepared to break their election pledges to the British people. More and more laws are passed in Brussels with our Parliament impotent to change them in our national interest. The time is long over due to allow the people to decide if this undemocratic process should be brought to an end.

  2. Posted March 4, 2008 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    I commend your last ditch efforts to save the supremacy of Parliament, but I'm rather miffed at the article in this morning's Independent by Steve Richards.

    I can see the logic in Richards' argument, but the the position of honour ant trust that we place in our politicians is in grave danger if they insist on being elected on false promises.

  3. Susan
    Posted March 4, 2008 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    I also applaud the unstinting efforts made by yourself and your parliamentary colleagues but I am not at all hopeful of the government paying heed. They seem intent on selling us out and for the life of me I can't understand their motivation. They obvously will do anything to avoid an open & honest debate which possibly means that something even worse is lurking in the small print.

    I'm beginning to think, particularly in light of the four new clauses you feel it essential to table, that we would indeed be 'better off out'. How can we trust an organisation which wants to accrete power to itself by stealth and deceit? It appears to be self-amending with no further reference to national parliaments – indeed, will there actually be national parliaments in three or four years' time?

    Regarding your Clause 8 and the Bill of Rights, does this mean that should the Treaty be ratified there are no grounds for bringing a charge of treason against, for example, Gordon Brown? I ask because a member of the public has already made enquiries of the Met Police about bringing a prosecution and has been told that it would be investigated. However, since it is taking place in Parliament with all that Parliamentary Privilege entails, the Bill of Rights would seem to rule that out. Please will you clarify this for me?

    Reply: I DON'T THINK THERE IS LIKELY TO BE TREASON CHARGE BROUGHT AGAINST THE PM – THE AUTHORITIES REGARD GIVING OUR POWER OF SELF GOVERNMENT AWAY AS A POLITICAL MATTER TO BE SETTLED IN PARLIAMENT AND THE AT THE BALLOT BOX.

  4. Freeborn John
    Posted March 4, 2008 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    The problem here is that such clauses are too broad brush. They relate to an entire area of policy (such as justice & home affairs, etc.) or are blanket catch-alls (such as the clause 9) which, if applied by each EU member would mean that any state would be able to assert the supremacy of its parliament over any EU law it found to be inconvenient. If for example a protectionist-minded government would be able to flout EU rules on state-aid whenever they found them inconvenient, it would nullify the level-playing field of the common market.

    The problem is essentially that (a) sometimes EU law must be supreme otherwise the EU would be completely ineffective but (b) EU law lacks democratic legitimacy whenever it is imposed on a state by QMV against the wishes of the majority opinion of the state’s legislature. The democratic legitimacy problem also increases over time as it allows a decision taken by one government to bind its successors (as the French have found out with the issue the EU law on the minimum rate of VAT on restaurant bills).

    The challenge therefore (in my opinion) is to find some general rule which can be used to distinguish between EU laws that each state must respect (and which therefore should be supreme to national law) and others which a nation-state should be able to overrule when a majority of its Legislature so desires (including following a change of national government). In my opinion EU law should only be supreme when such law will prevent somebody in one country from acting in a manner harmful to somebody in another member-state. This would cover many of the early areas of ‘negative integration’ where the EEC was active in its early days (e.g. rules against harmful protectionist behaviour in the common market) but also some of the more recent issues such as cross-border environmental damage.

    If there is no cross-border issue involved then democratically-determined national law should decide the matter (even when all 27 members happen to agree, as there is no guarantee they will agree in future). If the issue has a cross-border dimension but involves no principle of harm then we are talking about one of the redistributive functions of governments (e.g. healthcare, education, agricultural or fisheries policy, etc) that consume state resources raised through taxation. Decisions in these areas should not be taken by a supranational majority because the absence of strong nation-like solidarities at international level means that each country automatically favours whatever course of action leads it to benefit the most financially irrespective of the merits of the policy. The permanent 26-1 majority in the EU against the British rebate illustrates this clearly. Furthermore taking such decisions at the supranational level removes a basic “guns-versus-butter” decision from national politics.

  5. Posted March 4, 2008 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    The Government has a new tactic. I tried to send the text below to my MP, Eric Martlew, at his official e-mail address, but it was bounced back as undeliverable. So that's the way then, just ignore your constituents comments and pretend they are not trying to speak to you. All very Brownian and just like the most disreputable IT company. So now I know where I stand with Martlew – he doesn't want to know me now, so I shan't want to know him at the next election.

    "I am writing to you as one of your constituents to ask you to vote in favour of a referendum on the EU Treaty. My experience in working in Brussels tells me that this treaty is the old Constitution in all but name – re-labelling is a well established Commission device. Chancellor Merkel has endorsed this view. The British people were promised a referendum on the Constitution and it would be dishonourable and ultimately counter-productive for the Government to hide behind mere semantics. The whole EU question has become a cancer at the heart of UK politics, poisoning the relations between the Government and electorate. This has been caused mainly by cynical subterfuge of the kind now being indulged in by the Government. We need a full, open and honest public debate followed by a referendum, during which the case can be made for enthusiastic UK participation in the EU. I believe there is a good case to be made, but unfortunately it has never been argued fully and openly to the British people. Until this happens the British people will increasingly view the EU with open suspicion and hostility. This is not only undesirable in itself, but it undermines the UK's position in respect of other Member States. This is a test of character for the current House of Commons, you have a chance to put right a long-standing error of judgement stretching back over 30 years, thereby cleansing British politics of a toxic sickness. I urge you not to listen to the Whips, not to act as lobby-fodder but to act for the long-term good of our country. I urge you to vote in favour of a referendum on the EU Treaty."

    Yours sincerely,

    Ian Holt

  6. Rohan
    Posted March 4, 2008 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    A noble attempt to assert what remains the fundamental basis of the constitution. But one doomed to fail I am afraid while we remain subject to the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice. The doctrine of supremacy (EU) crushes all before it.

    Notwithstanding the remarks of Laws LJ in Thoburn’s Case I doubt even clearly worded privative clauses would prevail here because any British court (really an EU court under the duty of solidarity) faced with a question as to the scope and effect of EU law merely reaches for Article 234 and the Court of Justice duly rules in favour of ‘ever closer union’, its genetic destiny.

    There is only one solution to this particular problem. Withdrawal. But we are too timid to do that. Soon our Parliament will be little more than a living museum.

  7. Posted March 4, 2008 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    Mr Redwood, the solution to reassert Parliamentary sovereignty is very simple, It is called "voting for a Parliament" and any voter can do it. Vote only for an Independent candidate whom you know to be genuine, who declares publicly, in writing, for individual liberty and choice. When enough Independent MPs replace Party MPs, appointment of Ministers will automatically return to the Monarch. The division of power will accompany this re-separation of government from parliament.

    As Lord Hailsham, former Lord Chancellor said in the Sunday Times 19 July 1970.

    "It is the Parliamentary majority which has the potential for tyranny. The thing that the Courts cannot protect you against is Parliament – the traditional protector of our liberties. But Parliament is constantly making mistakes and could in theory become the most oppressive instrument in the world"
    .

  8. Steven_L
    Posted March 5, 2008 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    The sticking point here is that when a member state blocks any sort of EU 'progress', the commission play en passant, such as they did by changing the constitution, that was rejected on referedum in more than one member state, into this treaty.

    It's all well and good insisting “Notwithstanding any provision of the European Communities Act 1972" – my understanding is that current provisions require us to implement EC directives into UK law.

    As I've seen throughout my lifetime (and I'm late twenties) ambigious clauses of the Rome and Maastricht treaties have been further interpreted and implemented by directives over the years.

    As far as I understand the European Communities Act 1972 obliges the UK to write unbinding EU law into binding UK legislation.

    Reply: THE NOTWITHSTANDING FORMULA IS THE ONE WHICH MEANS UK COURTS WOULD UPHOLD THE WILL OF PARLIAMENT RATHER THAN THE WILL OF BRUSSELS. WHAT PARLIAMENT HAS PUT IN PLACE BY MEANS OF THE 1972 ACT CAN BE MODIFIED OR REMOVED BY CHANGING THAT ACT. JUDGES WOULD ACCEPT PARLIAMENTARY SOVEREIGNTY IF WE ASSERTED IT. REMEMBER JUDGES HOLD THEIR POSITIONS BY VIRTUE OF ALLEGIANCE TO THE DEMOCRATIC SOVEREIGNTY OF THE STATE – the argument about quamdui se bene gesserint/ durante bene placito (whilst they still please )of the seventeenth century crisis when the issue of judges tenure had to be considered during that period of constitutional struggle.

  9. Rose
    Posted March 5, 2008 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    I am not so pessimistic about the fruit of your labours as some of our friends here. This morning the BBC Today team appeared at last to have got the point. As ours is, alas, a heartless, shallow, media-led democracy that is a huge step forward.

  10. Laurence
    Posted March 5, 2008 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    I commend your efforts to re-assert the sovereignty of parliament. But I don't follow your logic. As about 70% of the legislation that rules our lives now emanates from the unaccountable EU, such sovereignty is surely just academic? And you can be sure that the New Labour government will continue this process; also that any future Tory government under your wonderful Europhile leader Cameron will do the same. There is only one way the sovereignty of our parliament can be re-asserted, and that is by its voting to leave the EU. Neither New Labour, nor New Tories, let alone the useless and deeply hypocritical LibDems will ever do this in the current situation. So where do we go from here? UKIP are the only sensible party with a clear policy of leaving the EU – therefore as far as I can see they are the only party worth supporting, and the only hope for the independence and democracy of the UK. Voting for Eurosceptic tories in places where there is no UKIP candidate is better than nothing, but very much second best.

    Reply: VOTING UKIP IS WHAT THE FEDERALISTS WANT YOU TO DO. UKIP HAS NEVER GOT ANYONE ELECTED TO PARLIAMENT AND IS UNLIKELY TO. YOU MAKE IT MORE LIKELY YOU WILL HAVE A FEDERALIST MP RATHER THAN A CONSERVATIVE EUROSCEPTIC. THAT'S PART OF THE REASON WHY WE CAN'T WIN THE REFERENDUM VOTE TODAY.

  11. Freeborn John
    Posted March 5, 2008 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Laurence. If the Conservatives were in power they would likely be ramming this treaty through Parliament in the same way that Labour are. I have not voted Conservative since Maastricht and see no concrete assurances from them now regarding reversing this and other treaties on European Union such as might persuade me they are worth voting for at the next election. Even John Redwood voted for Maastricht showing that when it really counts he is no more reliable than a LibDem.

    Reply; I RESIGNED FROM THE GOVERNMENT TO DEMAND A REFERENDUM ON THE CURRENCY AND TO HELP SAVE THE POUND AFTER A FRUSTRATING TIME TRYING TO PREVENT MORE EU POWER FROM WITHIN GOVERNMENT.THE MODERN CONSERVATIVE PARTY IS VERY DIFFFERENT FROM THE PARTY OF JOHN MAJOR AND HAS OPPOSED NICE AMSTERDAM AND LISBON. THERE IS NO WAY WE WOULD HAVE ACCEPTED LISBON AND PUSHED IT THROUGH.

  12. Laurence
    Posted March 5, 2008 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    By supporting UKIP in election contests against europhile Tories we would automatically be making *more* eurosceptic Tory MP's likely, and that will be UKIP's strategy in future elections. Also by voting UKIP in the EU 'elections' we are very likely to see yet more UKIP MEP's doing an important job highlighting the corruption, anti-democracy and strong arm tactics of the EU in the so-called EU Parliament. Finally, by supporting UKIP we can maintain the idea of leaving the EU as a viable prospect which more and more Britons can rally round. Do you really think that without the existence of UKIP we would still be discussing these issues today, despite the efforts of people within the Tory party such as yourself? Rome wasn't built in a day, and the Labour party was dismissed as a non-event in its early days, but they *did* eventually break through into parliament and eventually formed governments. I believe it's going to be a very long struggle now, comparable to that of the dissidents and democrats in the USSR, but eventually by keeping the flame of British independence and democracy alight we can regain our freedom and reassert our constitution, laws and national sovereignty. People like you, Mr. Redwood, coulde help in this. I hope you will.

  13. Rose
    Posted March 6, 2008 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I agree with JR – we must convert the Conservative Party – it is our only hope. The Major years must surely have taught its members the folly of abandoning sound and tested principles for electoral expediency. Those who fell hardest in 1997 were those who had trimmed. Those who maintained their positions had not. I have not got the psephology here but it was clear to me when I looked at the figures that the swings were much less where there were principled conservative sitting MPs. For some reason the Francis Maude tendency missed this vital fact. If only they had been less emotional about their defeat, and more analytical, as Norman Tebbit always is, they would have avoided the sort of suicidal tosh Teresa May came out with about the "Nasty Party". As Enoch Powell used to say, it is increasingly difficult for countries to behave sensibly while continuing to talk nonsense.

  14. Julie
    Posted March 24, 2008 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Reply: VOTING UKIP IS WHAT THE FEDERALISTS WANT YOU TO DO. UKIP HAS NEVER GOT ANYONE ELECTED TO PARLIAMENT AND IS UNLIKELY TO. YOU MAKE IT MORE LIKELY YOU WILL HAVE A FEDERALIST MP RATHER THAN A CONSERVATIVE EUROSCEPTIC.

    How can we the voters know whether we are voting for a federalist Conservative or a eurosceptic Conservative. The sitting Conservative MP in my area did not vote in support of Bill Cash's amendment to reassert parliament sovereignty, I feel I have no option but to vote UKIP to register my protest.

  15. John
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Interesting debate. However, I can't understand why the Conservative Party doesn't start the ball rolling by asking its members whether they want Britain to leave the EU or not. Wouldn't that be more truly democratic ?

    At the moment, there are a great many potential Conservative supporters, both pro and anti EU, who cannot support the party because they don't know where it really stands on the fundamental issue of continued EU membership, never mind modifications to this or that treaty.

    Pretending that we can somehow turn the EU into something it has never been and will never be, namely some kind of free-trade zone, is just a fig-leaf. It has been a federalist project from the start. No more weasel words. In or out? Why not ask the membership?

  16. Posted January 25, 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    I appreciate you sharing this blog article.Much thanks again.

One Trackback

  • […] Redwood reveals in his blog that the governments timetable yesterday left only nine minutes to consider various clauses affecting 40 areas where the EU will receive enhanced co-decision making powers, it’s hardly the line by line scrutiny promised so many weeks ago. He adds; “Clause 5 and the Schedules fared even worse than Clause 4, receiving no attention at all and passing the House without debate or vote. No wonder people think Parliament is doing a bad job, and are fed up with the way this government runs politics.” […]

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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