Things changed after the vote on a European referendum a couple of weeks ago in Parliament. The government recognised the force of feeling amongst Conservative MPs and in the country. Instead of condemning us for disagreeing, they announced they are going to draw up a list of powers and functions they want to get back from the EU. They now say they do wish to renegotiate our arrangements. They do not wish to do this immediately, as some of us want, but await other countries seeking revisions to the Treaty.
Many MPs on the Conservative side say we want a renegotiation now. What better time could there be, than when the constitutional arrangements of the EU are up in the air as members try to find a way out of the Euro crisis? We want the people to have a right to a referendum following any such negotiation, so the public can decide if the new terms make it worthwhile staying in, or if it would better to leave. We do not wish to see a single penny of UK taxpayers money wasted on trying to prop up the failing Euro scheme. That’s why I voted against more money for the IMF for fear it would be used to try to prop up the unsupportable on the continent. We are warning the government that soon Euroland will meet regularly, and has the voting power to decide what the whole EU should so. If Euro area countries vote as a bloc the UK will have no influence, no ability to stop undesirable legislation.
The government has made two welcome improvements to our democratic processes which made the referendum debate possible. They have allowed people to petition the No 10 website for a debate in Parliament on a topic that matters to them. That was how the debate on the referendum was first mooted. They have allowed us to establish a backbench business committee with days for debate where we can choose the topics. It was one such day that accommodated the referendum.
Soon the Backbench Committee will also be involved in choosing the business for the government time as well, which could help highlight the matters that need most discussion, and facilitate the passage of those that are uncontentious.
I have long thought we need a more powerful Parliament. Government spends around half of all we earn in this country. It has huge powers of patronage. It has also given away many of its rights to legislate and govern to Brussels. Such power needs challenge from elected people who are in touch with the public mood and understand where things are working badly. The Treasury Committee has just produced proposals to limit the unelected power of the Governor of the Bank of England, and for Parliament to play a role in his appointment. It is such creative thinking we need to try to harness the commonsense of the British people in how we are governed. The mess that the experts and Ministers made in recent years of financial regulation and banking excess, the boom bust cycle they presided over and the growing incursions into our freedoms should all make us want more scrutiny and more transparency. Speaking truth to power is what MPs are meant to do. There are some signs that we are beginning to do just that.