Newsletter Edition 40
Last Thursday at Strasbourg set something of a record. Members voted on 1000 or so amendments and clauses relating to the REACH proposals by the Commission. REACH is an acronym for Regulation, Evaluation and Authorisation of CHemicals and is all about environmental health and safety. There are something like 100,000+ chemicals in industrial, medical and domestic use and, to date, many of them are not registered or tested, especially those used in closed chemical procedures. We take a number for granted after centuries of use – the salt that we use on the table, the gas with which we cook, the alcoholic beverage we consume and so on – but increasingly the effects of chemicals and their production on daily life are potentially more damaging. Add to this the rising number of animals used for safety and effectiveness testing and the whole issue becomes fraught with political controversy. So MEPs have been bombarded with letters, e-mails and telephone calls from lobbyists and constituents and the entrance to the Parliament this week was surrounded by demonstrators, banners, leaflet distributors and the like. The difficulty throughout this whole exercise is finding the right balance so that the industry can continue to manufacture vital products without putting humanity at greater risk. Sounds simple, put like that, but, as always, the devil is in the detail. Remember, our bodies are a mass of chemicals and everything that surrounds us is as well. The Greens want to stop anything that “pollutes” on the basis of the ridiculous “precautionary principle.” If we abide by that we would never advance a millimetre. On the other hand, some companies and their political soul-mates want to let rip and the Devil take the hindmost! That too is unacceptable. Time will tell, of course, but we hope that all the voting was worth it!
Women’s Institute Lobby
The Prime Minister visited Strasbourg last month, in a further attempt to win over Parliament to the British Government view of the development of Europe. Despite the charm and eloquence, he did not succeed and the general consensus amongst Members and Member States is that the British Presidency has been a waste of time and little effort. That is a pity in many respects but not least because what Blair said at the beginning of the 6-month Presidency in June resonated with many on the Centre-Right – reform of CAP, reform of the Budget, restructuring of the legislative and administrative operation of the EU and so on. But, as I predicted at the time, Blair is all mouth and trousers. Fine words but no delivery.
Blair with Commission President Barroso in the EP.
Tony Blair did break with precedent, however, in agreeing to a private meeting with Tory MEPs. In a polite but congenial discussion, we left him under no illusions about the failures of his Government at home and in the EU and he departed with the comment that we are “a force to be reckoned with.” Compliment indeed!
I visited Bolton 6th Form College recently to give about 30 students the benefit of my wit and wisdom and, as always, it was a challenging event. Some 60% of the audience was of Asian origin and much of the questioning had an Islamic flavour. The pros and cons of Turkey’s application to join the EU, the problems in France, the Iraq war and its aftermath and so on. But also a perceptive interrogation on the future of Europe and concern about the “media-driven hostility” (as they put it) against all things European. I came away quite heartened by the interest and awareness of the students.
Bolton 6th Form College
Comments about the situation in France made me think that the European Parliament building in Strasbourg would be surrounded by burning cars and rioting young hooligans. But all was sweetness and light and my hotelier told me that the newspapers had greatly exaggerated the situation. I am not so sure but there was certainly no evidence of recent troubles.
Magistrates from Lancashire came to visit North West MEPs this week and I recognised some familiar faces. They had the full tour of Parliament, a long chat with we three Tory Members and were then intending to enjoy the delights of the ancient city of Strasbourg. Understandably, they were concerned at aspects of the EU’s social legislation – some of which they have to interpret on the Bench – but problems in our region were of just as much importance, especially in rural areas.
Pat Arrowsmith JP and her Grand-daughter’s “Good Luck” Token.
I was privileged to speak at another huge Tatton Association Dinner recently, this time a farewell to Michael Howard as his Leadership draws to an end. Warm feelings and grateful thanks were expressed to Michael – and, of course, Sandra – for getting the Party back into shape and making us electable again. His stalwart efforts during the General Election were praised by George Osborne, Tatton’s MP, who was effusive in his congratulations. We must build on Michael’s legacy and ensure that we win the next election.
The Party Conference was one of the most fascinating that I have attended for years. Not only was there a feeling that the Blair era was coming to an end but the rival attractions of the (then) five Party Leadership Candidates were on show for all to see. Speculation was rife, betting – real as well as imaginary – was prevalent and the various hotel bars were agog with gossip, rumour and predictions. I thought all the candidates performed creditably although there were some excellent speeches from non-contenders, notably William Hague. We are now very near to a final resolution of this long-running saga and the time has come for me to declare my preference. I am voting for David Cameron.
Chairing the Cameron NW meeting.
I do have some grave doubts about his proposals for the future of MEPs in the European Parliament and have sent him a personal copy of my letter to regional Conservatives. I am puzzled as to why he should have announced this particular specific policy – without consulting MEPs – whilst, rightly, keeping his options open in every other policy area. As an aside, it might interest you to know the REACH proposals, to which I referred earlier, have been guided and amended by three Parliamentary Committees, on which British Conservatives are very influential – namely, Industry, (Chairman, Giles Chichester), Internal Markets (Leader, Malcolm Harbour) and Environment (Leader, John Bowis). If we were to leave the EPP-ED, these positions would be removed and British influence would be confined to shouting uselessly from the sidelines.
However, everything else that David Cameron represents appeals to me. I have written before that I believe the time is ripe for a new, young, contemporary Leader, assisted by experienced senior colleagues in the important Shadow Portfolios. If Gordon Brown becomes Prime Minister, then a fresh approach from an articulate and modern Leader of the Opposition will make the staleness and deviousness of this Labour Administration all the more apparent.
A word of caution, though. David Cameron will make mistakes, will upset some people in and outside the Party and may appear new to the game of politics. If we all understand that from the beginning, make the necessary allowances and offer counsel and advice where helpful, then I am persuaded that the virtues of this man will shine through to the electorate, far outweighing any disadvantages. That is why I support him. He is the future of the Conservative Party, not the past.