The debates about the EU Constitutional Treaty have been a sorry coda to our long and distinguished history of Parliamentary democracy. As I sat through or watched the days of debate, I felt so sad that the Mother of Parliaments had come to this.
Our constitutional history prior to the federal Treaties was a proud one. Three important movements came together to create a democratic nation.
There was the continuous pressure of Parliament. The governments of Kings and Queens were made to listen, to deal with grievances, to ask before they imposed taxes. Later the royal government evolved into Cabinet government formed from the elected members of the Commons. The whole process revolved around the principle of no taxation without righting wrongs.
There was the growing pressure as the centuries advanced for more and more people to gain the right to vote, so they could have a say in how they were governed and who governed them. We moved from a franchise of rich men to all men and women..
There was also the movement to enlarge and unite the United Kingdom, with Wales joining in 1485, Scotland in 1707 and Ireland in 1800. After the formation of the Irish Free State we arrived at a United Kingdom where the majorities in each part of the country were volunteers to be part of the Union and to stay in it.
The debates about the Treaty of Lisbon are at their heart debates about where power should lie. Those of us who believe in Parliamentary democracy believe the power should rest in Parliament, to be exercised by MPs on behalf of the people. Once every few years the people can then decide if that group of MPs have exercised it well in the peopleâ€™s name, or if they need replacing. The people lose their power if Parliament loses its power. Neither Parliament nor people can control what the Commission does, what the European Court of Justice does, what the EU president will do.
Day after day during the Lisbon â€œdebatesâ€ we have been allowed just one and half hours to discuss a fistful of important amendments and complex issues about the governmentâ€™s wish to transfer major powers to the EU and to put European duties into our law codes through adopting the Constitutional treaty. The government allowed four and half hours for a general debate each day, in order to prevent MPs getting into the important line by line analysis of the 358 Articles and 327 pages of the â€œConsolidated texts of the EU Treaties as amended by the Treaty of Lisbonâ€. Several MPs each day were unable to make the speech they wished to make on the first group of amendments. Subsequent amendments on the order paper languished without debate, thrown into the dustbin of history without word or vote.
Bill Cash invited a number of us concerned about the legislation to implement the EU Constitutional Treaty to meetings before the debates began in the House. We all agreed that we needed to move a series of amendments to strike out the varying parts of the Treaty and Bill which transfer substantial powers from the UK to the EU. Bill Cash kindly produced a wide ranging series of amendments which we co-signed and lodged. I am grateful to him for his hard work in producing them.
The government turned down the official Oppositionâ€™s request for 20 days of consideration. We were offered 12 in committee, plus a day on Second Reading to discuss the overall picture, and a day to discuss the so-called timetable motion. The Official Opposition argued passionately against the whole Treaty, and we voted against it on a three line whip. We all argued passionately against the very restrictive timetable, and voted against that on a three line whip. Needless to say we lost both votes, because there were too few Labour rebels. The Lib Dems side with the government on the Treaty.
There has been all too little about this in the media. These are important debates, whichever side of the argument you may be on. For Parliament to do them justice, we need more time to discuss the very detailed text before us.