Sunday, 30 January 2011

First let the camel get his nose inside the tent--only later his unsightly derriere!

(The following article called "The Overhauling of Straight America'' was written by Marshall K. Kirk and Erastes Pill and appeared in Guide Magazine, November 1987. As you read the article, keep in mind it was printed seven years ago. Many of the strategies have already been put into place and have achieved their desired results.)
The first order of business is desensitization of the American public concerning gays and gay rights. To desensitize the public is to help it view homosexuality with indifference instead of with keen emotion. Ideally, we would have straights register differences in sexual preference the way they register different tastes for ice cream or sports games: she likes strawberry and I like vanilla; he follows baseball and I follow football. No big deal.
At least in the beginning, we are seeking public desensitization and nothing more. We do not need and cannot expect a full "appreciation" or "understanding" of homosexuality from the average American. You can forget about trying to persuade the masses that homosexuality is a good thing. But if only you can get them to think that it is just another thing, with a shrug of their shoulders, then your battle for legal and social rights is virtually won. And to get to shoulder-shrug stage, gays as a class must cease to appear mysterious, alien, loathsome and contrary. A large-scale media campaign will be required in order to change the image of gays in America. And any campaign to accomplish this turnaround should do six things.
The principle behind this advice is simple: almost any behavior begins to look normal if you are exposed to enough of it at close quarters and among your acquaintances. The acceptability of the new behavior will ultimately hinge on the number of one's fellows doing it or accepting it. One may be offended by its novelty at first--many, in times past, were momentarily scandalized by "streaking,'' eating goldfish, and premarital sex. But as long as Joe Six-pack feels little pressure to perform likewise, and as long as the behavior in question presents little threat to his physical and financial security, he soon gets used to it and life goes on. The skeptic may still shake his head and think "people arc crazy these days," but over time his objections are likely to become more reflective, more philosophical, less emotional.
The way to benumb raw sensitivities about homosexuality is to have a lot of people talk a great deal about the subject in a neutral or supportive way. Open and frank talk makes the subject seem less furtive, alien, and sinful, more above-board. Constant talk builds the impression that public opinion is at least divided on the subject, and that a sizable segment accepts or even practices homosexuality. Even rancorous debates between opponents and defenders serve the purpose of desensitization so long as "respectable" gays are front and center to make their own pitch. The main thing is to talk about gayness until the issue becomes thoroughly tiresome.
And when we say talk about homosexuality, we mean just that. In the early stages of any campaign to reach straight America, the masses should not be shocked and repelled by premature exposure to homosexual behavior itself. Instead, the imagery of sex should be downplayed and gay rights should be reduced to an abstract social question as much as possible. First let the camel get his nose inside the tent--only later his unsightly derriere!
Where we talk is important. The visual media, film and television, are plainly the most powerful imagemakers in Western civilization. The average American household watches over seven hours of TV daily. Those hours open up a gateway into the private world of straights, through which a Trojan horse might be passed. As far as desensitization is concerned, the medium is the message--of normalcy. So far, gay Hollywood has provided our best covert weapon in the battle to desensitize the mainstream. Bit by bit over the past ten years, gay characters and gay themes have been introduced into TV programs and films (though often this has been done to achieve comedic and ridiculous affects). On the whole the impact has been encouraging. The prime-time presentation of Consenting Adults on a major network in 1985 is but one high-water mark in favorable media exposure of gay issues. But this should be just the beginning of a major publicity blitz. by gay America.
Would a desensitizing campaign of open and sustained talk about gay issues reach every rabid opponent of homosexuality? Of course not. While public opinion is one primary source of mainstream values, religious authority is the other. When conservative churches condemn gays, there are only two things we can do to confound the homophobia of true believers. First, we can use talk to muddy the moral waters. This means publicizing support for gays by more moderate churches, raising theological objections of our own about conservative interpretations of biblical teachings, and exposing hatred and inconsistency. Second, we can undermine the moral authority of homophobia churches by portraying them as antiquated backwaters, badly out of step with the times and with the latest findings of psychology. Against the mighty pull of institutional Religion one must set the mightier draw of Science and Public Opinion (the shield and sword of the accursed "secular humanism"'). Such an unholy alliance has worked well against churches before, on such topics as divorce and abortion. With enough open talk about the prevalence and acceptability of homosexuality, that alliance can work again here.
In any campaign to win over the public, gays must be cast as victims in need of protection so that straights will be inclined by reflex to assume the role of protector. If gays are presented, instead, as a strong and prideful tribe promoting a rigidly nonconformist and deviant lifestyle, they are more likely to be seen as a public menace that justifies resistance and oppression. For that reason, we must forego the temptation to strut our "gay pride" publicly when it conflicts with the Gay Victim image. And we must walk the fine line between impressing straights with our great numbers, on the one hand, and sparking their hostile paranoia—"They are all around us!"--on the other. A media campaign to promote the Gay Victim image should make use of symbols which reduce the mainstream’s sense of threat, which lower it's guard, and which enhance the plausibility of victimization. In practical terms, this means that jaunty mustachioed musclemen would keep very low profile in gay commercials and other public presentations, while sympathetic figures of nice young people, old people, and attractive women would be featured. (It almost goes without saying that groups on the farthest margin of acceptability such as NAMBLA, [Ed note -- North American Man-Boy Love Association] must play no part at all in such a campaign: suspected child-molesters will never look like victims.)
Now, there are two different messages about the Gay Victim that arc worth communicating. First, the mainstream should be told that gays arc victims of fate, in the sense that most never had a choice to accept or eject their sexual preference. The message must read: "As far as gays can tell, they were born gay, just as you were born heterosexual or white or black or bright or athletic. Nobody ever tricked or seduced them; they never made a choice, and are not morally blameworthy. What they do isn't willfully contrary – it’s only natural for them. This twist of fate could as easily have happened to you!"
Straight viewers must be able to identify with gays as victims. Mr and Mrs. Public must be given no extra excuses to say "they arc not like us." To this end, the persons featured in the public campaign should be decent and upright, appealing and admirable by straight standards, completely unexceptionable in appearance--in a word, they should be indistinguishable from the straights we would like to reach. (To return to the terms we have used in previous articles, spokemen for our cause must be R-type "straight gays" rather than Q-type "homosexuals on display." ) Only under such conditions will the message be read correctly: "These folks are victims of a fate that could have happened to me."
By the way, we realize that many gays will question an advertising technique which might threaten to make homosexuality look like some dreadful disease which strikes fated "victims". But the plain fact is that the gay community is weak, including the play for sympathy. In any case, we compensate for the negative aspect of this gay victim appeal under Principle 4. Below.
The second message would portray gays as victims of society. The straight majority does not recognize the suffering it brings to the lives of gays and must be shown: graphic pictures of brutalized gays; dramatizations of job and housing insecurity, loss of child custody, and public humiliation: and the dismal list goes on.

A media campaign that casts gays as society's victims and encourages straights to be their protectors must make it easier for those to respond to assert and explain their new protectiveness. Few straight women, and even fewer straight men, wilt want to defend homosexuality boldly as such. Most would rather attach their awakened protective impulse to some principle of justice or law, to some general desire for consistent and fair treatment in society. Our campaign should not demand direct support for homosexual practices, but should instead take anti-discrimination as its theme. The right to free speech, freedom of beliefs, freedom of association, due process and equal protection of laws--these should be the concerns brought to mind by our campaign.
It is especially important for the gay movement to hitch its cause to accepted standards of law and justice because its straight supporters must have at hand a cogent reply to the moral arguments of its enemies. The homophobes clothe their emotional revulsion in the daunting robes of religious dogma, so defenders of gay rights must be ready to counter dogma with principle.
In order to make a Gay Victim sympathetic to straights you have to portray him as Everyman. But an additional theme of the campaign should be more aggressive and upbeat: to offset the increasingly bad press that these times have brought to homosexual men and women, the campaign should paint gays as superior pillars of society. Yes, yes, we know--this trick is so old it creaks. Other minorities use it all the time in ads that announce proudly, "Did you know that this Great Man (or Woman) was _________?" But the message is vital for all those straights who still picture gays as "queer" people-- shadowy, lonesome, fail, drunken, suicidal, child-snatching misfits. The honor roll of prominent gay or bisexual men and women is truly eyepopping. From Socrates to Shakespeare, from Alexander the Great to Alexander Hamilton, from Michelangelo to Walt Whitman, from Sappho to Gertrude Stein, the list is old hat to us but shocking news to heterosexual America. In no time, a skillful and clever media campaign could have the gay community looking like the veritable fairy godmother to Western Civilization.
Along the same lines, we shouldn't overlook the Celebrity Endorsement. The celebrities can be straight (God bless you, Ed Asner, wherever you are) or gay.
At a later stage of the media campaign for gay rights-long after other gay ads have become commonplace--it will be time to get tough with remaining opponents. To be blunt, they must be vilified. (This will be all the more necessary because, by that time, the entrenched enemy will have quadrupled its output of vitriol and disinformation.) Our goal here is twofold. First, we seek to replace the mainstream's self-righteous pride about its homophobia with shame and guilt. Second, we intend to make the antigays look so nasty that average Americans will want to dissociate themselves from such types.
The public should be shown images of ranting homophobes whose secondary traits and beliefs disgust middle America. These images might include: the Ku Klux Klan demanding that gays be burned alive or castrated; bigoted southern ministers drooling with hysterical hatred to a degree that looks both comical and deranged; menacing punks, thugs, and convicts speaking coolly about the "fags" they have killed or would like to kill; a tour of Nazi concentration camps where homoscxuals were tortured and gassed.
A campaign to vilify the victimizers is going to enrage our most fervid enemies, of course. But what else can we say? The shoe fits, and we should make them try it on for size, with all of America watching.
The buck stops here. Any massive campaign of this kind would require unprecedented expenditures for months or even years--an unprecedented fundraising drive.
Effective advertising is a costly proposition: several million dollars would get the ball rolling. There are 10-15 million primarily homosexual adults in this country: if each one of them donated just two dollars to the campaign, its war chest would actually rival that of its most vocal enemies. And because those gays not supporting families usually have more discretionars income than average, they could afford to contribute much more.
But would they? Or is they, [sic] gay community as feckless, selfish, uncommitted, and short-sighted as its critics claim? We will never know unless the new campaign simultaneously launches a concerted nationwide appeal for funding support from both known and anorymous donors. The appeal should be directed both at gays and at straights who care about social justice.
In the beginning, for reasons to be explained in a moment, the appeal for funds may have to be launched exclusively through the gay press--national magazines, local newspapers, flyers at bars, notices in glossy skin magazines. Funds could also come through the outreach of local gay organizations on campuses and in metropolitan areas. Eventually, donations would be solicited directly alongside advertisements in the major straight media.
There would be no parallel to such an effort in the history of the gay community in America. It failed to generate the needed capital to get started, there would be little hope for the campaign and l little hope for major progress toward gay rights in the near future. For the moment let us suppose that gays could see how donations would greatly serve their long term interest, and that sufficient funds could be raised. An heroic assumption.

Without access to TV, radio, and the mainstream press, there will be no campaign. This is a tricky problem, became many impresarios of the media simply refuse to accept what they call "issue-advertising" -- persuasive advertising can provoke a storm of resentment from the public and from sponsors, which is bad for business. The courts have confirmed the broadcaster's right to refuse any "issue advertising" he dislikes.
What exactly constitutes "issue advertising"? It evidently does not include platitudinous appeals to the virtues of family unity (courtesy of the Mormons) neither does it include tirades against perfidious Albion courtesy of Lyndon LaRouche); neither does it include reminders that a Mind-Is-a Terrible Thing to Waste (courtesy of the United Negro College Fund); neither does it include religious shows which condemn gay "sinners"; neither does it include condemnations of nuclear war or race discrimination--at least not in Massachusetts. Some guys get all the breaks.
What issue-advertising does include these days is almost any communique presented openly by a homosexual organization. The words "gay" and "homosexual"' arc considered controversial whenever they appear.
Because most straightforward appeals arc impossible, the National Gay Task Force has had to cultivate quiet backroom liaisons with broadcast companies and newsrooms in order to make sure that issues important to the gay community receive some coverage; but such an arrangement is hardly ideal, of course, because it means that the gay community's image is controlled by the latest news event instead of by careful design--and recently most of the news about gays has been negative. So what can be done to crash the gates of the major media? Several things, advanced in several stages.
Newspapers and magazines may very well be more hungry for gay advertising dollars than television and radio arc. And the cost of ads in print is generally lower. But remember that the press, for the most part, is only read by better educated Americans, many of whom arc already more accepting of homosexuality in any case. So to get more impact for our dollars, we should skip the New Republic and New Left Review readers and head for Time, People , and the National Enquirer. (Of course, the gay community may have to establish itself as a regular advertising presence in more sophisticated forums first before it is accepted into the mass press. )
While we're storming the battlements with salvos of ink, we should also warm the mainstream up a bit with a subtle national campaign on highway billboards. In simple bold print on dark backgrounds, a series of unobjectionable messages should be introduced:
And so on. Each sign will tap patriotic sentiment, each message will drill a seemingly agreeable proposition into mainstream heads--a "public service message" suited to our purposes. And, if their owners will permit it, each billboard w ill be signed, in slightly smaller letters, "Courtesy of the National Gay Task Force"--to build positive associations and get the public used to seeing such sponsorship.
As for television and radio, a more elaborate plan may be needed to break the ice. For openers, naturally, we must continue to encourage the appearance of favorable gay characters in films and TV shows. Daytime talk shows also remain a useful avenue for exposure.
But to speed things up we might consider a bold stratagem to gain media attention. The scheme we have in mind would require careful preparations, yet it would save expense even while it elevated the visibility and stature of the gay movement overnight. Well before the next elections for national office, we might lay careful plans to run symbolic gay candidates for every high political office in this country. (Such plans would have to deal somehow with the tricky problem of inducing gays and straights to sign enough endorsement petitions to get us on the ballot.) Our 50-250 candidates would participate in such debates as they could, run gay-themed advertisements coordinated at our national headquarters, and demand equal time on the air. They could then graciously pull out of the races before the actual elections, while formally endorsing more viable straight contenders. (With malicious humor, perhaps, in some states we could endorse our most rabid opponents.) It is essential not to ask people actually to vote Yea or Nay on the gay issue at this early stage: such action would end up committing most to the Nay position and would only tally huge and visible defeats for our cause.
Through such a political campaign, the mainstream would get over the initial shock of seeing gay ads, and the acceptability of such ads would be fortified by the most creditable context possible; and all this would be accomplished before non-electoral advertising was attempted by the gay community. During the campaign all hell would break loose, but if we behaved courageously and respectable our drive would gain legitimacy in and case and might even become a cause celebre.
If all went as planned, the somewhat desensitized public and the major networks themselves would be ‘readied for the next step of our program.
At this point the gay community has its foot in the door, and it is time to ask the networks to accept gay sponsorship of certain ads and shows. Timing is critical: The request must be made immediately after our national political ads disappear. Failing that, we should request sponsorship the next time one of the networks struts its broad- mindedness by televising a film or show with gay characters or themes. If they wish to look consistent instead of hypocritical, we'll have them on the spot.
But the networks would still be forced to say No unless we made their resistance look patently unreasonable, and possibly illegal. We'd do just that by proposing "gay ads" patterned exactly after those currently sponsored by the Mormons and others. As usual, viewers would be treated to squeak-clean skits on the importance of family harmony and understanding --this time the narrator would end by saying, "This message was brought to you by --the National Gay Task Force." All very quiet and subdued. Remember: exposure is everything, and the medium is the message.
The gay community should join forces with other civil liberties groups of respectable cast to promote bland messages about America the Melting Pot, always ending with an explicit reference to the Task Force of some other gay organization. Making the best of a bad situation, we can also propose sympathetic media appeals for gifts and donations to fund AIDS research--if Jerry Lewis and the March of Dimes can do it, so can we. Our next indirect step will be to advertise locally on behalf of support groups peripheral to the gay community: frowzy straight moms and dads announcing phone numbers and meeting times for "Parents of Gays" or similar gatherings. Can't you just see such ads now, presented between messages from the Disabled Vets and the Postal Workers Union?
By this point, our salami tactics will have carved out, slice by slice, a large portion of access to the mainstream media. So what then? It would finally be time to bring gay ads out of the closet. The messages of such ads should directly address lingering public fears about homosexuals as loathsome and contrary aliens. For examples, the following are possible formats for TV or radio commercials designed to chip away at chronic misperceptions.
Format A for Familiarization: The Testimonial.
To make gays seem less mysterious, present a series of short spots featuring the boy- or girl-next- door. fresh and appealing, or warm and lovable grandma grandpa types. Seated in homey surroundings, they respond to an offcamera interviewer with assurance, good nature, and charm. Their comments bring out three social facts:
( 1 ) There is someone special in their life, a long-term relationship (to stress gay stability, monogamy, commitment);
(2)Their families are very important to them, and are supportive of them (to stress that gays are not "anti-family," and that families need not be anti-gay.)
(3)As far as they can remember the! have always been gay, and were probably born gay; they certainly never decided on a preference one way or the other (stressing that gays are doing what is natural for them, and are not being willfully contrary).
The subjects should be interviewed alone, not with their lovers or children, for to include others in the picture would unwisely raise disturbing questions about the complexities of gay social relations, which these commercials could not explain. It is best instead to take one thing at a time.
Format B for Positive associations: The Celebrity Spot.
While it might be useful to present celebrity endorsement by currently popular gay figures and straight sympathizers (Johnny Mathis? Marlo Thomas?), the homophobia climate of America would make such brash endorsements unlikely in the near future. So early celebrity spots will instead identify historical gay or bisexual personalities who are illustrious and dignified...and dead. The ads could be sardonic and indirect. For example, over regal music and a portrait or two, a narrator might announce simply:
William Shakespeare--the greatest playright in the history of the English language. Yet, if he were alive today, some people wouldn't let him teach a high school English class. Now isn't that a shame?
The rhetorical question forces the viewer to answer Yes. And to explain the Bard's failing, the ad would end simply: "A message from the National Gay Task Force." Similar commercials could feature Michelangelo (an art class), Tchaikovsky (a music class), Tennessee Williams (a drama class), etc.
Format C for Victim Sympathy: Our Campaign to Stop Child Abuse.
As we said earlier, there arc many ways to portray gays as victims of discrimination: images of brutality, tales of job loss and family separation, and so on. But we think something like the following 30-sccond commercials would get to the heart of the matter best of all.
The camera slowly moves in on a middle-class teenager, sitting alone in his semi-darkened bedroom. The boy is pleasing and unexceptional in appearance, except that he has been roughed up and is starring silently, pensively, with evident distress. As the camera gradually focuses in on his face, a narrator comments: It will happen to one in every ten sons. As he grows up. he will realize that he feels differently about things than most of his friends. If he lets it show, he'll be an outsider made fun of, humiliated, attacked. If he confides in his parents, they may throw him out of the house, onto the streets. Some will say he is "anti-family." Nobody will let him be himself. So he will have to hide. From his friends, his family. And that's hard. It's tough enough to be a kid these days, but to be the one in ten... A message from the National Gay Task Force.
What is nice about such an ad is that it would economically portray gays as innocent and vulnerable, victimized and misunderstood, surprisingly numerous yet not menacing. It also renders the "anti-family" charge absurd and hypocritical.
Format D for Identification with Victims: The Old Switcheroo.
The mainstream will identify better with the plight of gays if straights can, once in a while, walk a mile in gay shoes. A humorous television or radio ad to help them do this might involve a brief animated or dramatized scenario, as follows.
The camera approaches the mighty oak door of the boss's office, which swings open, and the camera (which represents you the viewer) enters the room. Behind the oversized desk sits a fat and scowling old curmudgeon chomping on a cigar. He looks up at the camera (i.e. at the viewer) and snarls, " So it's you, Smithers. Well You're fired!" The voice of a younger man is heard to reply with astonishment, "But—but--Mr. Thomburg, I've been with your company for ten years. I thought you liked my work." The boss responds, with a tone of disgust, "Yes, yes, Smithers your work is quite adequate. But I've heard rumors that you've been seen around town with some kind of girlfriend. A girlfriend! Frankly I'm shocked. We're not about to start hiring any heterosexuals in this company. Now get out." The younger man speaks once more: "But boss, that's just not fair! What if it were you?" The boss glowers back as the camera pulls quickly out of the room and the big door slams shut. Printed on the door: "A message from the National Gay Task Force."
One can easily imagine similar episodes involving housing or other discrimination.
Format E for Vilification of Victimizers: Damn the Torpedoes.
We have already indicated some of the images which might be damaging to the homophobic vendetta: ranting and hateful religious extremists neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klansmen made to look evil and ridiculous (hardly a difficult task).
These images should be combined with those of their gay victims by a method propagandists call the "bracket technique." For example, for a few seconds an unctuous beady-eyed Southern preacher is seen pounding the pulpit in rage about "those sick, abominable creatures." While his tirade continues over the soundtrack,. the picture switches to pathetic photos of gays who look decent, harmless, and likable; and then we cut back to the poisonous face of the preacher, and so forth. The contrast speaks for itself. The effect is devastating.
Format F for Funds: S.O.S.
Alongside or during these other persuasive advertisements, we would have to solicit donations so that the campaign might continue. Direct appeals from celebrities (preferable living ones, thank you) might be useful here. All appeals must stress that money can be given anonymously (e.g. via money orders) and that all donations are confidential. "We can’t help unless you help," and all that.
The Time Is Now
We have sketched out here a blueprint for transforming the social values of straight America. At the core of our program is a media campaign to change the way the average citizens view homosexuality. It is quite easy to find fault with such a campaign. We have tried to be practical and specific here, but the proposals may still have a visionary sheen.
There are one hundred reasons why the campaign could not be done or would be risky. But there are at least 20 million good reasons why some such program must be tried in the coming years: the welfare and happiness of every gay man and woman in this country demand it. As the last large, legally oppressed minority in American society, it is high time that gays took effective measures to rejoin the mainstream in pride and strength. We believe that, like it or not, such a campaign is the only way of doing so anytime soon.
And, let us repeat, time may be running out. The AIDS epidemic is sparking anger and fear in the heartland of straight America. As the virus leaks out of homosexual circles and into the rest of society, we need have no illusions about who is receiving the blame. The ten years ahead may decide for the next forty whether gays claim their liberty and equality or are driven back, once again, as America's caste of detested untouchables. It s more than a quip: speak now or forever hold your peace.

Thursday, 27 January 2011


I nearly died laughing even though it's not funny.



This is not a very pretty picture of the new Justice Minister Ken Clarke is it? In fact, this picture is the worst I have ever seen of him. It makes him look like a ranting demonic bully.

It's a very good idea to study the pictures that newspapers choose to publish. Quite often, the choice of picture can tell you a whole lot more than the actual story. The Jersey Evening Post always choose their photos with great care - if they are, for instance , running a story about Ex Senator and whistleblower of child abuse Stuart Syvret, they are careful to choose the most unflattering one they can find, even if it is two years since it was taken.

Getting back to Ken Clarke. Why would the Daily Hall of Mirrors deliberatly publish the most horrible picture they could find of him, to accompany their story? And what a story it is. According to the Broken Mirror, Ken Clarke has lost control of the MOJ finances and had no idea what its staffing bill was.

"According to the Public Accounts Committee, the MoJ lacked a consistent approach to the supervision of its finances, and after two years still did not have a detailed understanding of staff costs."

Erm - hang on a sec. How long has Ken Clarke been in the job? Two years? I year? 6 months?

Who was the last person in charge of the MOJ? Lets think - oh yes, the last person in charge of the MOJ was married to the ex husband of Margaret Hodge! Well well well! Happy Families, eh Jack Straw? (not so happy for all the poor sods who have been smashed to smithereens in the Secret Family Torture Chamber Childstealing Forced Adoption Human Trafficking Kangaroo Courts!

"Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, said ­improvement was needed in fine collection as the amount of unpaid court fines grew each year."

See my previous blog post, for more information about Hargaret Hodge's track record regarding justice for the most vulnerable victims of institutional child abuse.

Here is the Daily Through The Looking Glass article:

"Ken Clarke told to get a grip on Ministry of Justice's finances
by Jason Beattie, Daily Mirror 25/01/2011

KEN Clarke was ordered to get a grip on the financial chaos at the Ministry of Justice yesterday.

A report by the Public Accounts Committee said the ministry had lost control of its finances and had no idea what its staffing bill was.

It came as Justice Secretary Mr Clarke was forced on the defensive over the ­decision to slash funding at riot-hit Ford open prison.

According to the Public Accounts Committee, the MoJ lacked a consistent approach to the supervision of its finances, and after two years still did not have a detailed understanding of staff costs.

Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, said ­improvement was needed in fine collection as the amount of unpaid court fines grew each year.

In 2009-10 the value of unpaid fines and penalties more than six months old was £1.5billion, of which 30% was deemed recoverable."



Hodge outlines Public Accounts Committee revolution
by Accountancy Age Staff

25 Jan 2011

PLANS TO BE NICE to top Whitehall mandarins instead of subjecting them to a humiliating public mauling have been outlined by the first ever woman to chair the Commons Public Accounts Committee.

Former Labour Culture and Tourism Minister Margaret Hodge, who is also the first to be elected to the position by fellow MPs, outlined the revolutionary policy in a speech to the Institute for Government.

She said the committee had a reputation for being "something of a bear garden, with permanent secretaries dreading their appearances and expecting humiliating verbal maulings", but remarked that although one top civil servant had admitted appearing before the PAC was very difficult "it seldom changes the price of fish".

The aim is "to change the style of engagement so that we can strengthen the impact of our findings", she said.






Mrs Hodge 'has not learned anything'
A child abuse victim plans to sue after being described as 'deeply disturbed' by council leader who could have helped him, reports Stewart Payne

After the years of sexual abuse he suffered as a boy in care at an Islington children's home, Demetrius Panton might have expected kinder words from the woman he tried to alert to what was going on.

"I wasn't blaming Margaret Hodge. It was the man who came into my room at night, the man who was meant to be caring for me, that I blame," he said.

"But perhaps Mrs Hodge could have apologised and assured me that something would be done."

Instead, years later, when Mrs Hodge did find words for Mr Panton it was to call him "deeply disturbed". And, in doing so, she reopened a wound that he has spent all of his adult life trying to heal.

"Everyone who has been abused will tell you the same thing. They feel that they will not be listened to, will not be taken seriously.

"In calling me 'deeply disturbed' Mrs Hodge had dismissed me. She has sought to suggest that I am not reliable, not credible. She does not appear to have learned anything."

The remarkable thing about Mr Panton is that "deeply disturbed" is the one thing he is not. Not only is there not a shred of clinical evidence to suggest it, he is a survivor who has emerged relatively unscathed.

He is angry, certainly. He still bears the scars. He has a burning sense of injustice. He would like someone to own up and say sorry.

But where many fail to come to terms with childhood sexual abuse, Mr Panton was able to move on. He went to university and got a good job.

But he never forgot. Which was why, in 1992, he arrived at the door of Mrs Hodge's surgery when she was Islington council leader, determined to tell her about what had happened.

"I was studying for my PhD. I wanted her to know what had happened to me. I wanted to prevent it from happening to anyone else. And I wanted the council to support me to help me pay for my studies."

He had been placed in a home at the age of 10 because his mother had walked out and his father could not cope. Islington council had taken on a duty of care and Mr Panton wanted assistance from its education department.

"I felt they owed it to me after all that had happened," he said. He had made an allegation against Bernie Bain, the head of his children's home, while he was still in care but no corroborative evidence was found and Bain was allowed to leave with the minimum of fuss.

He repeated his allegations several times after leaving the home, but no action was taken. His visit to Mrs Hodge was, he said, an attempt to go to the top with his concerns. When he arrived he found that Mrs Hodge was away and her surgery was being taken by another councillor from her ward, Stephen Twigg, now also a Labour MP and a minister in Mrs Hodge's department.

"He was very new. I was reluctant to talk to him but I decided to tell him what I knew and to request help for my studies. He knew I had come to talk to Mrs Hodge and it was my impression she would be informed."

Mr Panton never heard from her. A spokesman for Mr Twigg said yesterday that he remembered meeting Mr Panton but could not recollect if he was asked to bring the issue to Mrs Hodge's attention. "In any event, Mr Twigg did not do so and, with hindsight, regrets that he did not."

A few months after that meeting, the London Evening Standard published an investigation that exposed the extent of child abuse in the Islington child-care system. Mrs Hodge went on record to deny the allegations but later, when the findings were confirmed by official independent inquiry, conceded that mistakes had been made. But, she said, she had not been personally aware of the extent of the abuse.

Finally, Mr Panton went to the police and an inquiry was launched. Bain, it was discovered, had left Britain and continued his assaults on young boys in Morocco, where he was jailed for indecent behaviour. He committed suicide in Thailand in 2000, following a failed attempt to extradite him to the UK, and never faced trial over the Islington allegations.

In 1998 Mr Panton received an out-of-court settlement from Islington and an unqualified apology from the local authority.

Following the appointment of Mrs Hodge as children's minister earlier this year, Mr Panton's case was brought to the attention of the BBC Today programme. It was during the course of its investigation into what Mrs Hodge knew of the Panton case that she wrote to Gavyn Davies, the BBC chairman, describing Mr Panton as "deeply disturbed".

Mr Panton said: "I have every intention of suing. I have spoken to lawyers and I am advised that because Mrs Hodge is a Minister of State her letter has qualified privilege."

He said he had been told that that defence can be defeated if he is able to prove that malicious intent lay behind the allegation.

His solicitors, David Price and Co, said: "We are considering with Mr Panton the possibility of legal action in relation to the particulars contained within the letter."

That would not mean being less tough or rigorous, or less incisive and hard hitting, but there would be more emphasis on learning and capacity improvement.

She added: "We want the hearings to be constructive exchanges, not defensive appearances because in that atmosphere we are more likely to identify what's really going wrong and we're more likely to be able to articulate good and practical recommendations for change."

There would even be praise for good practice obtaining value for money and MPs would widen the scope of those called to give evidence.

She added: "If we are to be effective, civil servants and ministers must not just pay lip service to our recommendations, they must consider them properly, implement those with which they agree and give us a coherent and convincing argument where they disagree."

She said the committee would even consider issuing reports in advance of spending by departments and take a more rigorous approach to monitoring the implementation of recommendations.

Ms Hodge also signaled a breach in the tradition that the PAC relies on the National Audit Office, by appointing its own advisers and seeking advice from independent sources, stressing this "in no way reflects on the quality of the NAO work".

She said the committee was dealing with the first peacetime coalition since the 1930s embarking on the deepest cuts for decades, making the realisation of best value more important to minimise the impact of spending reductions on the public.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011


Clause 1 — Interpretation of Part 1
European Union Bill (Programme)(No. 2)
House of Commons debates, 24 January 2011, 4:12 pm

William Cash (Stone, Conservative)

"The hon. Gentleman has referred to Professor Hix's evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee. Will he note that the professor also said that previous EU amending treaties-Maastricht under a Conservative Government and Amsterdam and Nice under a Labour Government, as well as the Lisbon treaty-should all have been subjected to referendums? If the conditions of the Maastricht referendum campaign, which I founded and which had about 750,000 signatures, had been implemented by the Government at the time-let alone those for Amsterdam and Nice-is it not right to say that we would not be sitting here today discussing this nonsense?"

Wayne David (Caerphilly, Labour)

"I am aware of all Professor Hix's comments, and I was careful to say earlier that I did not agree with all his remarks. The point remains, however, that he is fundamentally opposed to the idea of having a multiplicity of referendums, for the reasons that he outlined to the Committee."

Charlie Elphicke (Dover, Conservative)

The hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that Professor Hix also went on to say:

"I think there should have been a referendum on Maastricht, on Amsterdam, on Nice...on the Lisbon treaty".

"That is surely significant. The Bill is all about ensuring that, having been cheated of referendums on those treaties in the past, we can now have referendums on other matters, enabling the House to give greater consideration to them before passing away powers to Europe. The committee proposed in the hon. Gentleman's new clause 9 would not achieve that."

Wayne David (Caerphilly, Labour)

"With all due respect, I must point out that the hon. Gentleman has made exactly the same point that Mr Cash has just made. I therefore give him the same answer: I was careful to say earlier that I did not agree with all of Professor Hix's comments, but the central thesis that he presented to the European Scrutiny Committee was that there should be referendums on major constitutional issues, not on the minutiae of legislation as is proposed in the Bill, and this Bill is what we are now debating.

It is important for us to recognise that having a proper national debate on technical issues presents a real problem. If this were to happen, it might mean that debates focused on other issues and voters might not vote on the question on the ballot paper. That is perhaps a fundamental problem with all referendums, but it is certainly the case with referendums on issues that are highly technical and very specific. A second problem is that such referendums might attract only very low turnouts. For many people, a shift from unanimity to qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers on the issue of permanent structural co-operation might not be a huge motivator to come out and vote."

Anne Main (St Albans, Conservative)

"I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman really means to imply that the voting public are so dim that they cannot understand the question asked of them. I seriously hope that that is not what he is saying."

Wayne David (Caerphilly, Labour)

"The hon. Lady should realise that all Members have had enormous difficulty understanding this Bill. Can she, hand on heart, say that she understands every dot and comma of the Bill before us? Please answer."

Anne Main (St Albans, Conservative)

"With the greatest respect, I think the hon. Gentleman is dodging the question. I asked him whether he felt that the voting public were too dim to understand the question put on a referendum, as he seemed to imply that they were."


Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry, Conservative)

I thank my hon. Friend, because every time he stands up, he educates me with a fact that I do not know.

The Labour proposals, in particular amendment 92, seek to redefine the referendum condition for UK ratification of amending treaties. As I will spell out in a couple of minutes, the proposed referendum committee would have to ask both Houses for agreement. As my hon. Friend Stephen Gilbert said, there must be agreement by both Houses before there is a referendum. The amendments are anti-referendum, anti-people and anti-common sense.

Currently, the referendum condition is that an Act approving an amending treaty must provide that its approval will not be effective until the ratification of the treaty has been supported in a referendum. Under amendment 92, the referendum condition would require an Act approving a treaty to provide that its approval will not come into force until the whole procedure has been completed. If the hon. Member for Caerphilly is to be believed, that procedure would involve the European Union referendum committee delivering a recommendation on whether a referendum should be held, both Houses of Parliament opposing or agreeing to the holding of a referendum, and a majority being in favour of ratification in a referendum on the treaty. The Bill's main alternative, which is the exemption condition for UK ratification of amending treaties, would remain intact. That means that an Act approving an amending treaty could state simply that the treaty did not fall within clause 4-the definition of a transfer of competence or power-and a referendum would not be held.

Essentially, the hon. Member for Caerphilly is selling us a sop. There would be a whole procedure to go through, but a clause that says that there might not be a referendum would not be amended. Amendment 92 is not clear. It is probable that the redefined referendum condition would be met if an approving Act required a referendum to be held on the amending treaty, and if that produced a supportive result, without the EU referendum committee having made a recommendation on whether a referendum should be held. By seeking to amend some parts of the Bill and to leave other parts standing, the hon. Gentleman is confusing the point. I suspect that that is a deliberate ploy, because I am not convinced that the Labour party is willing to trust the people with decisions about significant moves in Europe. I am not convinced that many hon. Members understand the significance of the amendments.

Amendment 88 suggests that the intention behind amendment 92-both were tabled by Labour Front Benchers-is that no referendum should be held unless the European Union referendum committee has delivered an opinion on whether there should be a free public vote. Amendment 88 makes it clear that all amending treaties or article 48(6) decisions, which simplify provisions, that fall under clause 4 must be referred to the procedure involving the EU referendum committee and both Houses to determine whether a referendum is required. In other words, even treaties or article 48(6) decisions that are deemed to fall under clause 4, which require a referendum under the Bill, would be exempted from a referendum under the Opposition proposals. Again, that would take away the British people's chance to have a say in these important areas.

New clause 9 would establish the referendum committee and the procedure for deciding on referendums on treaties and certain decisions, including article 48(6) decisions. It would report to Parliament in all cases on whether an amending treaty or relevant EU decision

"involves a significant transfer of power or competence, and if so...whether it requires a referendum to be held."

In other words, only if the Committee judged there to be a significant transfer of competence or power would it provide an opinion to Parliament on whether the referendum should be held. For all other decisions, it would not have to report to Parliament. That is a recipe for keeping decisions on which the British people might want a say behind closed doors in this place, rather than for adding more transparency.

Wayne David (Caerphilly, Labour)

"Why does the hon. Gentleman assume that the meetings would be in camera? They would not; they would be open and public."

Wayne David (Caerphilly, Labour)

"Why does the hon. Gentleman assume that the meetings would be in camera? They would not; they would be open and public."

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry, Conservative)

"That is not what is contained in the hon. Gentleman's amendment. Perhaps we can have this conversation elsewhere at a later date, because I do not wish to take up the Committee's time, but the Labour amendments would confuse the situation. Rather than open up the chance of our having referendums, they would close it down. I would like to think that we will not have to vote on amendment 85, but I fear that we probably will.

I wish to talk about the significance condition in the Bill, and about amendment 11, tabled by my hon. Friend Mr Clappison-an important amendment on which we should divide. The British people have given up on politicians and political parties a bit when it comes to Europe. They elect representatives to this place on party platforms that do not necessarily reflect their views on Europe, because matters European do not stack up in their priorities at a general election. People make decisions based on reforms to the health service, education, defence and a bunch of other matters, and when we ask them how significant Europe is in deciding how to vote, we find that it falls way down the list. They are therefore trusting us, in a way, to do a job for them when we discuss the matter in the House. We, the political classes of this country, and I as a former MEP, have let the people of this country down.

The hon. Member for Caerphilly might say that the Lisbon treaty was not the constitution, but the fact is that the British people do not trust anybody on these matters now. They think that we are all the same, and that whatever we say will simply not happen. As Ms Stuart put it, we are all in favour of referendums when we are in opposition, but we are certainly not when we are in government. I welcome the Bill, because we can say to the British people that that has stopped.

There are matters in the Bill on which a Minister must judge whether something is "significant". I understand the fact that it sets out 44 vetoes, 12 decisions and eight ways of increasing EU competences on which a referendum will be mandatory and there will be no significance test. I hope that the Minister will say in what situations the significance test will be used, because I should like clarification of that point.

I believe that the significance test will apply when there is a possibility of conferring on an EU body or agency new powers or the ability to raise sanctions against the UK. There is a whole list of exciting and interesting EU agencies, and I understand that the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders having an extra competence might not seem a huge issue for the Committee. However, I should like the decision to be taken by the House, not by a Minister. Such decisions are best taken by the Members of this place and those of somewhere else a bit further away. I should like the Minister to state why he believes such minor matters, as it were, do not warrant debate in the House."

James Clappison (Hertsmere, Conservative)

"My hon. Friend is making a compelling case. He is talking about minor matters, but does he agree that the Government concede that they could be significant enough to warrant a referendum? The question is not whether they are significant enough, but who decides whether they are significant enough. Would a Minister alone or the House make that decision?"

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry, Conservative)

"I concur with my hon. Friend. Although I completely trust the Minister, I am slightly concerned that, in future, the role might be played by a Minister who was not so interested in those matters"

Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston, Labour)

"As a former Member of the European Parliament, the hon. Gentleman knows that the decision-making process on those minor amendments is infinitely longer in the European Parliament than in the House. I cannot remember how many Ministers for Europe there were in the 13 years of Labour government, but although I hate to say it, collective memory in this place is vested not in the Minister for Europe, but in the civil service. It is not even a Minister who makes the decision, but the civil service."

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry, Conservative)

"I concur with the hon. Lady. Several manoeuvres have taken place under previous Governments to determine who is Minister for Europe. The incumbents do not often stay in the role for long. Either they are, like the current incumbent, sufficiently ambitious to move up the ministerial pay scale, or they could easily be a journeyman on the way out. There is a historical context to some decisions about conferring a competence on an EU agency, and one needs to know what the agency was formed to do in the first place. I perceive such conferral as part of the mission creep in Europe. The European Commission, in establishing so many new agencies on such a regular basis, creates its own quangocracy.

When I was a Member of the European Parliament, it was difficult to police the spending and powers of an agency that the European Commission set up. Indeed, it was more difficult than policing some of the agencies and quangos that Governments of different complexions established in this country. If those agencies grab power and take more competences-even for a valid reason at the time-it is important that the Minister of the day understands the historical reasons for setting up the agencies and the intended limits on the powers. I was present when Eurojust and Euro-magistrate were set up-all part of the European public prosecutor, which I look forward to debating tomorrow, and all part of a significant salami-slicing approach of taking powers away from individual member states, and building something that nobody particularly wanted.

I understand that any ministerial decision on the significance test has a kind of double lock. It has been drawn as narrowly as possible, and I would therefore like the Minister to answer a couple of questions. First, I want to check whether any treaty change will require an Act of Parliament. I should like to think that Parliament will have every opportunity to vote for a referendum on such a change. That is why I support amendment 11. Secondly, the decision on significance is subject to judicial review to ensure that decisions not to hold a referendum only on genuinely insignificant matters are backed.

Those matters are important because, as I said, they are about getting the British people to trust the decisions that we make on Europe again. No member of the public wants decisions to be made behind closed doors, without reasonable explanation. I emphasise strongly to the Minister that the amendments are not about trust in him, his ability to undertake the role or his decisions. I would like clarification that Parliament will have a say because that is what we were sent here to do.

My hon. Friend Mr Cash has tabled some tempting amendments to which the Minister and Ms Stuart alluded. In amendment 1, my hon. Friend manages to do a fantastic decapitation job on the Bill that would basically put all changes up for referendum. Although there is validity in my hon. Friend's reasoning-he has seen through the years a lot more of what goes on in this place than I have-I do not want everything to be decided by a referendum. The British people will not take that. They want Parliament to say, "These are important decisions and there will be a referendum, a debate in both Houses, or an Act and a vote," and the Bill makes such provisions. We can then choose whether to amend a measure so that it is subject to a referendum because we believe it to be so important. If we think that a subject is insufficiently important, we can decide not to have one. I am tempted by amendment 1, but I am simply unable to support it for those reasons.

I was tempted by amendment 1 because of the accession exemption, which the hon. Member for Caerphilly and a number of hon. Members mentioned. I tabled an amendment on accession to the EU that we will not decide on today, just as we will not decide on many amendments that have been tabled. Amendment 21 is exactly as the hon. Gentleman described it. It would mean that a 3.5% dilution of our voting powers on the European Council triggered a referendum. That is a catch-all-it is completely designed as such-so that we would have a referendum on the accession of big countries.

Given that, amendment 1 all of a sudden comes back into play and I am once again tempted. I would much rather have had a comprehensive and sensible debate on clauses 4 and 5 today or tomorrow or in extra time."

William Cash (Stone, Conservative)

"I understand where my hon. Friend is coming from, but there is a difference between significance and the opinion of the Minister on the one hand, and the question of exemption on the other. Clause 4(3) says that certain matters are forbidden territory. I am tempting my hon. Friend by saying that that whole category of exemption should clearly be removed, even if there will be a debate on what is or is not significant."

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry, Conservative)

"I understand what my hon. Friend says and I am quite sorely tempted, but my problem, as I described earlier, is the minutiae that might be sucked in under amendment 1."

William Cash (Stone, Conservative)

"I understand my hon. Friend's reasoning, but the specific exemptions are set out in clause 4(4)(a), (b) and (c). I understand that he would not want my proposal to go too far. The British people expect these things, which after all include matters such as Turkey and treaties of the type proposed by the French only the other day, not to be exempted. The British people would be left out and not taken into account on such decisions and treaties, yet they would have the most incredible impact on them. I shall explain that later"

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry, Conservative)

"I always appreciate the lessons that my hon. Friend can teach a humble new Back Bencher and member of the European Scrutiny Committee, and I very much look forward to receiving them, but he makes a salient point. This is about what the people who put us here expect. That is why I ask the Minister please to listen to what hon. Members say about the significance clause and amendment 11. The proposal is not against him; it is about enhancing Parliament and its transparency.

I stood in two European elections, in 1999 and 2004, and I think that when I got elected in 1999, more people voted to evict Bubble from the "Big Brother" house than voted in the European elections that year. There is a massive disconnect in relation to what people want to see, do and say about Europe and how they express their views, and the Bill will give them a reason to be more engaged and interested. I know that it is not perfect; as I have said before, I would very much like an in-out referendum, but that is not provided for in the Bill. However, I would say to those who are keen for us to maintain our relationship with the European Union that maybe, just maybe, a general education of the British people through giving them the power to say yes or no on various European matters would benefit all sides of the argument and could give us proper informed debate inside and outside the Chamber."

William Cash (Stone, Conservative)

"Amendments 1 and 3 stand in my name. My comments boil down to what I said in my interventions on my hon. Friend Chris Heaton-Harris and were somewhat anticipated by the Minister earlier. In a nutshell, I see no reason why clause 2 should refer to an exemption condition or subsection (3) should state:

"The exemption condition is that the Act providing for the approval of the treaty states that the treaty does not fall within section 4."

Without any further let or hindrance, clause 4(4) would exclude from those arrangements that would result in a proposal for a referendum:

"the codification of practice under"

the treaties already established

"in relation to the previous exercise of an existing competence",


"the making of any provision that applies only to member States other than the United Kingdom".

That is, I think, an incredibly important point. Also, as we have debated already, it would remove

"in the case of a treaty, the accession of a new member State",

which in this case would include Turkey. In the context of what the Government clearly want to exclude-in other words, their positive policy decision not to allow the British people a referendum on certain treaties of immense importance-they are disavowing the very intentions and principles that underpin the Bill.

I have made that point before over the question of sovereignty, where there is a massive contradiction between what is on the tin and what is in the Bill. I say again that those of us who spoke in favour of the sovereignty of Parliament won the argument, but that was not on the tin and it was not what the Whips-or, indeed, the Prime Minister-wanted, so it was voted down. That does not reflect particularly well-if I may say so-on our democratic system. We are faced with exactly the same point here. We are told on the tin that we will have a referendum on important matters-that is the general idea as explained in the Foreign Secretary's article in The Sunday Telegraph only a week ago-but on examination in Committee, it becomes perfectly obvious that certain kinds of treaty will be excluded. I have mentioned the example of Turkey, but I want to give another specific example of the kind of treaty that would be excluded....I want to give an example that deals explicitly with a matter of immense importance that is coming up in the lift. In fact, it is not merely in the lift; the lift has come up and the doors are opening. Monsieur Fillon, the French Prime Minister, came over to see the Prime Minister specifically about this issue, and I have here the exclusive interview in The Times with Monsieur Fillon. I also had the opportunity to meet the French Minister for Europe and discuss the matter with him personally and privately.

There is no doubt about what they want or what they intend, which is effectively a twin-track treaty, which is a treaty entered into between us and the rest of the European Union-that is, with all 27 member states, in order to legitimise it within the framework of the treaty arrangements-so that, on the one hand, they get their treaty, and, within that treaty, an arrangement specifically designed to exclude the United Kingdom, even though we would be gravely affected by it. It would apply only to those other member states.

Clause 4(4) refers to

"the making of any provision that applies only to member States other than the United Kingdom".

They look like innocuous words, but what do they actually mean? That exemption condition-in other words, no referendum, to put it bluntly and simply-means that there would be no opportunity for a referendum if the other member states agreed to go down that route. They may well do that, despite all the protestations to the contrary, some of which were rather subtly indicated by the Prime Minister in his press conference, albeit without excluding the idea of any such treaty; rather, it was merely on the supposition that that might not affect us as much as we believe, or as I believe the British people would believe if they saw it in black and white. What do those provisions include? In particular, they include arrangements of that kind relating to fiscal, political, social and employment measures, not to mention other matters that would affect the relationship between us and the rest of the European Union. A massive juggernaut would be created, through a form of extremely enhanced co-operation between those member states, that would have an enormous impact on the United Kingdom.

I have been looking at the balance of payments between us and the other member states. The figures, which I got from the Library, only bring us up to 2009, before the catastrophe that hit Europe occurred, and they are alarming. The imbalance in the balance of payments between us and the other member states has been moving critically in the wrong direction. I could give the precise figures-I may do so later-but we only have to consider the following example, which was on the "Today" programme this morning. If one had listened to the programme, one would have heard about Belgium, which is in massive crisis, with protests and people on the streets, and no Government for 22 months. Greece is in absolute chaos, with protests and implosion, while Ireland, with its political crisis, is totally imploding. Spain has 4 million unemployed, with 40% youth unemployment and people on the streets on a massive scale today. Similar problems are also occurring in Italy, and there have been riots and serious unrest in France, too.

The bottom line is that Europe is not working according to the economic governance that has been prescribed. Yet under what is proposed, the opportunity to address the very kind of treaty that would enhance the ability to confront us with a massive juggernaut of policies that have been going wrong-policies that would undermine the opportunity to grow from our 45% to 50% investment in Europe-would be severely depleted. That would be the most damaging kind of treaty that could be entered into. Indeed, as I said in The Times on the day that the French Prime Minister came over, it would be the kind of treaty that I would expect our Prime Minister to veto on behalf of the British people. However, we cannot have confidence that that would happen, because of the argument being presented. This Bill was introduced on 11 November, when we know that treaties of the kind that I have just described were already being anticipated, however damaging and disastrous they would be for the very people of this country who, if they knew the facts, would say, "I insist on a referendum on any treaty relating to arrangements of this kind."

It would be an abomination for us to be confronted with the kind of arrangements that are being put into place-arrangements that would be so damaging to our growth and our relations with the European Union. That is why I say that this exemption provision has to be taken out of the Bill, for precisely the reasons that I have given. I do not need to enlarge on that point, but I absolutely insist that these provisions should be taken out. I look to the Minister, if he thinks that I am wrong, to give me a reasoned answer as to why.


William Cash (Stone, Conservative)

"In supporting amendment 11, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he is aware, as I became recently when the Finnish delegation came over, that Ministers in Finland-and certain other member states-have established a very good practice whereby they must appear before the Finnish Parliament's equivalent of the European Scrutiny Committee to ensure that there is compatibility between what goes on in Parliament and what the Minister decides on such important matters?"

James Clappison (Hertsmere, Conservative)

"With his great experience, my hon. Friend makes an important point, and there are similar arrangements in the Danish Parliament. The House should seek to have the best arrangements possible. I welcome right hon. and hon. Friends' movement in the right direction, but if they do not move on this point, they leave a significant gap in future. Briefly, I will try to explain how big a gap that could be.

There are only two clauses that cover a statement of significance by a Minister and to which the significance test applies. The others all concern competences or changes in the voting procedure. However, these two clauses are very important, as they cover the transfers of power that are apt to be made under the simplified revision procedure of article 48(6) referred to in clause 4. I will give way to the Minister for Europe, who is looking very interested in these points, if he disagrees with me. The powers on which Ministers will say whether they are significant enough to warrant a referendum, if they are transferred to the European Union, are those that will come to the House as a result of the simplified revision treaty. That important procedure was introduced specially by the treaty of Lisbon. I will give way to any Member, including my right hon. Friend Mr Dorrell, who wants to disagree. That procedure made it easier and quicker to make constitutional change, and to bring about a transfer of power from nation states to the European Union.

We have spent some time debating whether we should have had a referendum on the treaty of Lisbon, the treaty of Maastricht, the treaty of Amsterdam or the treaty of Nice. However, under the simplified revision treaty, a treaty in those forms is not required. There is no requirement for a convention and all the other lengthy procedural steps that preceded the treaty of Lisbon. It is simply a matter that can be agreed between the member states at a Council meeting, and then approved by the individual Parliaments. The whole point of the simplified revision treaty was to make it quicker and easier to integrate powers in the European Union. It is a sort of "speeding up of European integration" provision. The provisions that are subject to a ministerial test of significance are the ones that will ensure that these matters are brought before the House. They embody the procedure of simplified treaty revision. There are only two of them, but they are very important. All the other provisions-or at least the preceding ones, which deal with competence-would require a full constitutional process under the ordinary treaty revision procedure with which we are all so familiar."


William Cash (Stone, Conservative)

"Although the Committee has rightly said that a judicial review might be considered unlikely in certain circumstances, the key question is what has Parliament said about the circumstances in which a referendum should be required. We should bear mind above all else that we in Parliament should decide what is in the interests of our own constituents. We are here to give them the opportunity on these matters-that is part of the Government's overall case which, regrettably, fails on a number of tests as we go through these proceedings. The object of the exercise is to ensure that the people of this country have the right to decide on matters relevant to their daily lives. Regrettably, the fancy franchises being thrown up by these exemption conditions and significance arrangements are invading the central question, which is whether the people of this country should be allowed to decide after we have made our judgment on their behalf."


Charlie Elphicke (Dover, Conservative)

"I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is highly knowledgeable and skilled on European matters, for making the point far better than I could. I was about to make it myself. Yes, of course schools, hospitals and the economy matter, but what also matters is our sense of nation and our independence as a member state in the European Union, not as a state in a federation. That is essential, and it is essential that we were not in the euro, for the exact reasons that he set out.

Had we been in the euro, we may well have found ourselves in the predicament that we see across the Irish sea or in southern Europe, given the reckless borrowing that took place over the previous decade, which brought our country to the brink of bankruptcy. I, for one, am glad that we did not join the euro. It is the one thing on which I congratulate the new shadow Chancellor and the former Prime Minister-preventing Tony Blair, when he was Prime Minister, from going into the euro. It was the only spark of light and quality in that Government. I am hard pushed to think of any other.

I return to the Bill, having been led astray by those gentle and generous interventions. I shall begin by focusing on clause 11. My hon. Friend Mr Clappison made a series of powerful points about the primacy of Parliament. His argument was that we cannot trust the Ministers of the day because they have their own agenda. If they do not consider a matter significant, they will certify it as not significant. Some check and balance is needed. There must be a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.

When I first thought about that, I found it attractive, but on reflection, my concern is that if the Minister considers a matter not to be significant, he will toddle down to the Whips Office and have a chat to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury. He will say, "Look, chief, this isn't significant. Let's just whip this vote through the Commons, whip it through the Lords and push it through." That is what would happen."


Charlie Elphicke (Dover, Conservative)

"I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. My central concern with clause 11 is that a Minister could say, "This isn't significant," and sign over some massive power. The Act of Parliament will then be whipped and rammed through both Houses. An individual, perhaps a constituent of mine in Dover, might then take issue with that because they think that it is significant. How will that constituent have a say? The Bill's current protection is judicial review, but if we had a whipped vote of both Houses and a resolution that the matter was not significant, that would weigh in the minds of the courts.

I will go further: on this matter I am a renegade among many of my hon. Friends who say that the courts have no place interfering in the business of this House. I am an old-fashioned lawyer, and I take the view that the courts are an important check and balance in our democracy. Perhaps it is just me, but in respect of our political system wishing to ram something through and take away our rights, I always thought that the purpose of the rule of law was to hold back the Executive and act as a check and balance. The purpose of the rule of law-I think this started with Magna Carta, and it has continued in legal documents written since-and the purpose of the courts is to hold back that express, overweening Executive power and ensure that the subject has their say and stands up for their rights. I do not seek to oust the jurisdiction of the courts in determining whether a significant condition has or has not been met, which I think is an important part of the Bill and an important check and balance"


Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby, Labour)

"All I can say is that David Blackburn must be more naive than I thought.

I was giving the example of the CFP, which was sold to us as harmless. We were told that it would lead to effective conservation because everybody would be involved, everybody had access to our waters and everybody would make decisions collectively. However, it led to the decimation of our fish stocks and the looting, frankly, of about £3 billion-worth of fish and jobs. There is nothing that we can do about that, because it happened under Ted Heath, who used to come down to the House in every fishing debate and justify his mistake. It is all in the past, and we discovered the problem only later. That is what happens.

My hon. Friend Nia Griffith argued that people are not interested in the details, which is certainly true. We in Grimsby are perhaps more interested than people in Wales in all matters European, particularly to do with fishing boats, but people are not interested in details. The consequences of what happens are interesting, however, because they cause the loss of jobs and employment.

There was a provision in the Lisbon treaty-was it article 121?-stating that aid could be invoked by majority vote in the event of threats to the euro from natural disasters. It has now been invoked for aid to Ireland, which will drag us into making huge contributions not only to Ireland-the Chancellor of the Exchequer projected that as a one-off-but to the other states that follow in the domino-like collapse that will happen. The consequences of concessions that are said to be of no damage, of no great moment and unimportant become clear only later. The Bill provided an opportunity to resist that process, but disappointingly, it is not strong enough.

When we consider the amendments, we should view the European situation with a certain amount of scepticism. The committee referred to in new clause 9 would be controlled by the Whips and by Government, whatever we are told about the intentions behind it. I am suspicious of proposals to modify European powers that come from Euro-enthusiasts such as my party's Front Benchers. What is in it for them? They want Europe to have its way, and the new clause is a way of allowing that while appearing to protect us.

I support amendment 11 and shall certainly vote for it if there is a vote-I hope there is, because I want to support it. However, we cannot be sure that, if the House were faced with a choice of whether to reverse a Minister's decision that an issue was not worth a referendum, it would take the decision independently. Debates such as today's give a clue as to what would happen. We happy band of Eurosceptics, including most of the Members present, have argued consistently, been right all along and warned of the consequences of what has happened. Those disastrous consequences have emerged, but nobody has said, "Oh, my God, we should have listened to the Eurosceptics on this matter." People have constantly abused us for rocking the boat and as dissenters and just a nuisance, but we are right, and we are right to fight.

However, we cannot be sure that we will win the fight. Should a matter be referred to the House under amendment 11, the House would be whipped as always and Members would see their careers relying on voting with the Government. They would think, "I shall get a powerful position even more quickly, as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister for Bathing Pools, or I shall be given a junior ministerial job in charge of seeing that library books are returned promptly"-if any libraries are left open under the Government's proposals. Ambition, love of the party and support for the party will always whip people into line. Amendment 11 would not put a roadblock in Ministers' way; it would erect another hurdle that they would be forced to jump. That would be salutary for them, because the more hurdles they jump, the more exhausted they will get and the greater the chance that we will eventually prevail."

Neil Carmichael (Stroud, Conservative)

It is a great honour to participate in this important debate.

Members have mentioned the number of people who come into their constituency surgeries to talk about Europe. I am not overwhelmed with European issues in my surgery, but I do hear a lot of concern about Europe when I go to businesses and large organisations in my constituency. They are getting concerned about regulation, excessive interference and so on, and they think-and are sometimes right to think-that it all emanates from the European Union. It is therefore important that we give due consideration to the need to allow the electorate as a whole to speak about Europe. That is why the Bill is so important. It will, once and for all, stop the disgraceful situation of a Government promising to have a referendum on a significant change-the treaty of Lisbon-and then failing to do so. The Bill will prevent that, and quite right too.

The Bill will do a few other things as well. It will encourage a better understanding of Europe, because we will discuss it more often and engage the electorate with the issue more comprehensively. They, in turn, will learn more about Europe and our relationship with it. That will be good not just because it will deal with the incorrect assumption that the electorate will not be able to understand a referendum question, but because it will ensure that they become much more interested in what we are doing about Europe.

The same applies to the situation in Parliament. The Bill means that we will pass a lot more Acts of Parliament if and when changes are made to our relationship with Europe. Those processes, taken together, will make us less reactive to what happens in Europe and much more proactive in ensuring that Britain's interests are properly discussed, represented and promoted. The Bill will be really important for that reason.

New clause 9, tabled by the Labour Front Benchers, is a blatant attempt to look good without being good. They are attempting to suggest to everybody that they want referendums, but they are actually suggesting a deliberate mechanism to ensure that they would not necessarily need to have them. That is what it is, that is what it would do, and that is why we must not accept it.

Let us consider the discussions that we had about the treaty of Lisbon versus the Giscard d'Estaing constitution. The Labour Front Benchers attempted to say at the time, and repeated earlier today, that the treaty of Lisbon was not anything like the Giscard d'Estaing constitution. Absolute piffle-that was just not the case. The treaty was a fundamental change, and it required a proper referendum. If Labour cannot get that right, how would the committee that it suggests make any progress? How could it resolve the problems? That answer is that it could not and would not, because it would be subject to the pressures of Government, the whipping system, which my hon. Friend Charlie Elphicke mentioned, and so on. The committee would not have enough teeth, or be cohesive enough, to enforce the approach that we need when it comes to deciding whether we should have a referendum.

To make matters worse, we would be asking Parliament to decide what was substantive and what was not. That is also the problem with amendment 11, which would lead us into trouble and is also unnecessary. As I have said, Parliament will have to pass Acts if there are substantive changes, or any changes at all that affect our relationship with the European Union. New clause 9 is slightly misleading. The Opposition want to look as though they wanted referendums, but the new clause would make it possible not to have them at all, which is wrong."

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham, Liberal Democrat)

"There has been some discussion about the risk of votes being whipped. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a greater risk of a vote in Committee being whipped under the system that Labour Members propose, because the Executive can handpick the membership, than there is for a vote on the Floor of the House?"

Neil Carmichael (Stroud, Conservative)

Yes. My hon. Friend the Member for Dover went through the possible Members who could serve on the proposed committee, obviously with a slant towards those who are participating in the debate and are interested in the European Union. The point is much the same-the committee's membership would matter. The shadow Minister has not explained how it would be formed, managed and so on. However, we can assume that whipping would take place. That is not helpful.

I am also concerned about the role that new clause 9 would give the House of Lords, given the events of the past few weeks. We need to put that down as a marker when considering how the Bill would unfold if new clause 9 were accepted.

My hon. Friend Mr Buckland is concerned about timing. He is absolutely right. He is a lawyer, and lawyers love time. [Interruption.] I have watched the clocks tick by myself. New clause 9 does not deal with that.

I tabled an amendment to get clarification on what constitutes a decision in the context of the outcome of a European Council meeting. That is important, and I hope that the Minister, when winding up, will explain what sort of decisions we should consider following a European Council or a meeting of the Council of Ministers, and when a decision is actually a decision.

We must acknowledge that the Bill will be seismically important to our relationship with Europe. It will also make a dramatic difference to the way in which the House and the Government deal with Europe in connection with the electorate. Far too often, people have found out about decisions some time afterwards. They have not felt included in that decision making, and consequently and because of their concerns, they have felt angry about the decision.

I am convinced that we will shape a much better relationship with Europe if we have the courage to explain more and to engage people more effectively. The Bill will do that without new clause 9 and other amendments that would stop us from ensuring that Parliament is the first port of call for the necessary key decisions, and that the people are always consulted when those decisions are pivotal."

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North, Labour)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak and I apologise to hon. Members for being unable to be present throughout the debate. I was delayed elsewhere in the House on European business.

I want strongly to support amendment 11, which Mr Clappison tabled and to which I was pleased to add my name. He made a powerful speech, which I want to echo and support.

It has been suggested that we might be governed by committees and that big decisions should be taken by a committee. I do not want a committee to make decisions about what is significant and what is not. Parliament should make those decisions, particularly this House. I am a unicameralist and therefore not so concerned about the other place. I believe that we should make the decisions in this House and be accountable to our voters because they clearly and rightly have strong feelings about the European Union.

I do not wish to be governed by judges, either. I worry about the constant reference to matters going to judicial review. I want the House, not judges, to make the decisions. As judges in the Supreme Court in America die, they are replaced by judges appointed by the President. If several judges die or retire at the same time, and a President of a particular persuasion appoints people in his own image, one has, for a generation or two, a Supreme Court that takes a particular view. Let us suppose that Tony Blair had had such a power. He would not have appointed lawyers with my views, but Euro-enthusiasts to a Supreme Court. For a generation, we would have been bogged down by a Supreme Court dominated by people who took a particular view of Europe.

Lawyers are supposed to be independent and to make balanced judgments, but one lawyer commented to me about the European arrest warrant, "Oh well, it's part of the European project, so we just say yes." We should not act in that way. We should consider matters individually, not say, "The euro's part of the European project, let's say yes to it", or, "The CAP's part of the European project, let's just nod it through." We do not do that. Britain has taken a strong position on many things that relate to the European Union, and we should continue in that way.

I agree with my hon. Friend Nia Griffith on 90% of politics, but not on Europe. Portraying Britain as the naughty boy or surly youth of Europe, who is always being difficult, is wrong. I think that we are right and they are wrong. We have taken stands on subjects such as the euro, which is now in serious trouble. We are not being anti-Europe. We take a particular view about how economies should be run. I believe that separate currencies are necessary shock absorbers for running economies.

Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex, Conservative)

"The Maastricht treaty was pushed through the House on the basis of our having an opt-out from the euro, and therefore that it would not affect us. Yet, even though we are not in the euro, we are deeply affected by the disaster that that treaty is inflicting on our continent."

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North, Labour)

"The hon. Gentleman is right, and I apologise for momentarily forgetting the name of his constituency-Harwich and North Essex-earlier. I agree with him. We have been right so often. When I argue about the European Union, I do not do that in nationalist or theological terms. I ask people to consider the effects on the European economy, which has grown more slowly than it would have done without the euro."

William Cash (Stone, Conservative)

"Does the hon. Gentleman agree that those who take our position-the Euro-realists-are the pro-Europeans because the people who promote the extraordinarily damaging policies create the massive unemployment, riots and protests that are happening?"

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North, Labour)

"Indeed. The hon. Gentleman is right again. Many of those who protested most strongly against matters in the European Union are people of the left-trade unions, working-class people, the unemployed, minorities and so on. We should not portray a right-left divide; the debate is about democracy and what works."

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham, Liberal Democrat)

"Is not the lowest unemployment in the European Union in Germany? Last time I looked, it was in the eurozone. Are not the countries that are particularly vulnerable those with large structural deficits? The problem is not particularly to do with their membership of the euro."

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North, Labour)

That is interesting. We could have a long debate about the strength of the German economy relative to other countries in Europe. One thing that Germany wanted from the European Union was to get rid of barriers to its exports, particularly to France. Germany focused its efforts over generations, from Erhard onwards, on wisely ensuring that it had a massive and strong manufacturing base. We have not done that. If we had shown more of an Erhard approach to our policies-and Erhard was no socialist, but a Christian Democrat-we might have had a stronger economy.

As part of the post-war settlement, it was important for the west that West Germany-like Japan-succeeded, so it was allowed for a long time to have an undervalued Deutschmark, which gave it a competitive edge, behind which it built massively strong industries. That is the history. If one looks at the documentation-I used to write and read a lot about such things-one will see that the German surplus was a problem even in the 1970s. It has managed to sustain that for all that time, which was wise. Had we been a bit wiser, we might not have been in quite the weak position that we are in now. Every second car driving along the road is made in Germany, but where has our motor industry gone? We still have some of it, but it is nothing like Germany's. Germany has been very clever, and I cannot blame it at all.

Anyway, we are not debating that tonight. My concern this evening is to ensure that this Committee decides what is significant when it comes to deciding whether to hold a referendum. Ministers are parts of Governments, which are always under pressure. Many Ministers are fine people, but in the end, they must go along with what the core of the Government decides. Ever since I was a student more than 40 years ago, the two things that I have criticised are secrecy and the excessive centralisation of power, particularly in the Prime Minister. I read a book when I was a student called, "The Elected Monarch", which is about the position of the British Prime Minister. We must rebalance the power of the legislature relative to the Executive, which is why the House of Commons should vote on whether a matter is significant enough for a referendum. That should not be decided by a Minister, a Committee or a series of judges."

Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne, Conservative)

"What does the hon. Gentleman say to the idea that even if amendment 11 were made, it would not bolster parliamentary sovereignty, because Government Whips will just whip through decisions about what is significant?"

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North, Labour)

"The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that everybody does what the Whips tell them, but that is not the case. If he looks at the history of the 13 years of Labour Government, he will find that there were rebellions-significant differences of view between certain Back Benchers and the Whips-on many serious votes, the most important of which was perhaps the Iraq war, when 139 Members, including me, voted against the Government, despite the Whips."

Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne, Conservative)

"What was the result?"

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North, Labour)

"The decision in favour of going to war was made with Conservative support. In the end, we are accountable not to the Whips. Clearly, we have a party system, and we are elected as party politicians, which I understand. By and large, on most things, we are guided by the Whips, but on some matters of fundamental principle, such as giving further powers to the EU or going to war, we must say, "What I believe and what I believe my electorate want is more important even than what the Whips advise." I hesitate to say that while my Front-Bench colleagues are listening, but in the end, we must occasionally take a stand."

William Cash (Stone, Conservative)

"On the anniversary of Winston Churchill's death, will the hon. Gentleman accept what he said, which is that country comes first, constituents second and party third?"

Link to thisHansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 24 January 2011, c88)

Link to thisHansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 24 January 2011

Monday, 24 January 2011


Sometimes someone points something so obvious out to me, that leaves me so astonished that I should have seen it before. I am kicking myself that I did not see the simple truth of the information in this video before, especially as I am so interested in art and history.