Yesterday David Lidington, Minister for Europe, appeared before the European Scrutiny Committee; and for those interested it is well worth watching those proceedings, which while lasting just over an hour are a prime example of the deficiencies within the system of representative democracy and the practice of politics.
The session began with Bill Cash making the point that while a written statement had been produced, it was lamentable that an oral statement had not been made by David Cameron which would have allowed him to be questioned on the floor of the House – this point being later rejected by David Lidington.
Questioning began with James Clappison querying the apparent wish of the Government to prevent debate on Syria and the country’s relationship with the European Union. This was, in effect swatted aside by Lidington who pleaded that there were time constraints, bearing in mind other business and that in any event it was the responsibility of party business managers to allocate time for debate. In regard to the first point made by Lidington, perhaps if Parliament sat for longer than it does, time constraints would not be such an issue. On the second point, it is obvious that none of the three main parties in Parliament wish to discuss matters EU, consequently it is hardly surprising that left to party business managers – who after all only do their master’s bidding – matters EU do not feature as regularly as they undoubtedly should.
The first half-hour was taken up very much on the question of who did what when, viz-a-viz requests from the ESC to the Government and the response by the latter. Lidington countered by stating that responses and papers were provided as and when possible, but cited the fact that some information and documents were subject to classification of confidentiality by the EU which caused delay in the release of said information. Clappison raised the point that surely the HoC should be involved prior to any meeting of Heads of State and Ministers, rather than what happens whereby by the time the HoC and the ESC are involved it is very much a ‘done-deal’.
Towards the end of the session Jacob Rees-Mogg returned to the question of the Government and the delay in their response, pointing out that in the 13th ESC report specific questions were raised in respect of Syria and which went unanswered, accusing Ministers of therefore not having read the report. At this Andrew Morrison from the MoD was most indignant complaining that if the ESC wished for a response on any matter then it would be courteous at the very least for such responses to be called for by means of a letter.
Reference was made by Bill Cash to an urgent question on the December Heads of State Council meeting which had been granted. This was one raised by Gisela Stuart and which can be viewed here - starts at 12:35:43; and containing extremely pertinent questions in response to Cameron’s written statement which she considered ‘tawdry’. In his opening statement Lidington was a tad disingenuous – as was Clappison during the ESC session when he mentioned that Cameron had negated any increased contributions to the EU (something in fact he did not) – by stating that Cameron had ensured the UK would not be liable for any further underwriting of eurozone debt when in fact I believe it correct that this country is still liable under IMF obligations.
Lidington’s response to Stuart was, I feel, patronising in the extreme. I fail to see the difference between the EU assuming competence in an area and the EU requiring Member States to ‘voluntarily’ co-operate in order to achieve that which the EU wants and is determined to have. Bill Cash then highlighted the two conflicting statements of Cameron and Van Rompuy, following the December Council meeting which only served to underline the content of the preceding sentence.
When considering democracy per se and the fact that the HoC’s role is so obviously diminished by our membership of the EU, it cannot have escaped the notice of readers that such statements, whether written or oral, coupled with the work of the European Scrutiny Committee are but another charade, one of many that we have to endure.
Setting to one side the ‘handbags at dawn’ adversarial content of the aforesaid ESC session, it is worth noting that when the ESC produced its 24th report calling for reform of the European Scrutiny System within the HoC, it ran to 3 volumes – the fact that it was necessary for this report to run to 3 volumes can but demonstrate that there is much wrong with our present system of democracy and the mechanisms involved in our membership of the European Union.
If Parliament is sovereign – which we are repeatedly informed it is – then surely there should be pre-EU Council meetings debate and any minister attending such would be constrained as to that which he can agree by the will of Parliament. That such debates now no longer take place only serves to demonstrate that we do indeed live under a democratised dictatorship whereby Ministers can take decisions and ‘come to agreements’ with no oversight whatsoever. While it is admirable of Stuart to attempt to hold the Government to account it is but a forlorn effort due to (a) the lack of separation of power that currently exists twixt the Executive and the Legislature; coupled with (b) the stranglehold party leaders have on their MPs through the whipping system; and (c) as stated earlier, Parliament does not sit long enough for any ‘holding to account’ to occur on any matter, particularly matters EU.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that where our politicians are concerned, in virtually everything they say, it is possible to levy a charge of misrepresentation or being economical with the actualité – apply whatever term you like; personally I prefer to rely on basic Anglo-Saxon and use the word ‘lying’.
Much has been written of late about our loss of ‘Englishness’ – it is becoming apparent that those in power have lost their Englishness due to the fact they have cast aside two important characteristics – namely that of principle and honour.
But we should worry not as do we not live in a democracy and are thus able to hold our elected representatives to account?