“People are fed up with politics and politicians because they know that their vote has little impact on how they are actually governed,” says Owen Paterson.
Writing with 13 other authors in the Cornerstone Group’s manifesto, published on 30 September, Owen has contributed four essays, the first on “Who governs Britain?” the other three respectively on Defence, Agriculture and Fisheries, and finally the Environment.
The Cornerstone Group, comprising 20 Conservative MPs, has set out to restate Conservative principles, challenging the Party leadership campaigners to back their view of how the Party should win the next election. For the full text of Who Governs Britain?, see below and for the full Cornerstone Manifesto, go to http://Cornerstone.blogs.com
In it, Owen writes that, “Whether its local government services, policing policy, health services or European directives, people have learned that their vote does not matter.”
There is, he adds, “simply too much government, resulting in vital decisions being delegated either to civil servants or the growing number of agencies and quangos, none of whom need fear an election.”
“To reverse this decay in the democratic principle,” Owen writes, “Conservative policy should be driven by a simple ideal. No organisation which supplies a citizen with services should be exempt from the citizen’s ability to change that supplier either by voting or by spending his money differently.” He continues:
“In order for local authorities to act independently and be responsive to their local voters, they should be given clear areas of policy which they would have to fund themselves. This would give responsibility to Council candidates to present a programme of activity that they would have to finance and justify to their electorate. The current revenues from VAT are approximately the same as the central government funding to local authorities. VAT should be abolished and replaced by a local sales tax, paid to local authorities. This would create a virtuous circle of tax competition between local authorities driving local taxes down. This would free local authorities from central government interference.”
Central to ensuring that people are properly served, Owen adds, Parliamentary supremacy must be restored and Parliamentary scrutiny functions improved and strengthened. We must get back to the Conservative concept that the State exists to serve the people and that the people are genuinely sovereign.”
Owen says: “A Conservative government cannot delegate its law-making powers to any other organisation or institution,” a proviso that must also apply to the European Union and internally, “where currently so much effective law is made by officials without political input or control.” He continues:
“It is ludicrous that over 60 per cent of the laws imposed upon the fourth largest economy in the world are created by people who have not been elected and cannot be removed in elections. A Conservative government should regain the power currently vested in the European Union by a fundamental renegotiation of all the existing treaties. Central to this would be the removal of the supremacy of the European Court of Justice and other international courts, including the Court of Human Rights. This would entail the withdrawal from the Convention on Human Rights and the repeal of the Human Rights Act, which give excessive powers over British citizens to those who have not been elected. All existing EU legislation should be reviewed, and unless an overpowering case can be made for its retention - in which case it should be re-enacted as British law - it should be repealed.”
On Defence, Owen recognises that the military is currently undergoing a major restructuring but does not believe it wise to expend considerable sums to achieve a unique British capability. He believes it would be more economic and militarily advantageous to work closely with our US ally to produce a common system. His views on Agriculture and Fisheries reflect his experience as shadow minister covering these issues. He calls for return of the policies to local and national control.
Finally, in a ground-breaking essay on the environment, he disputes that this is an issue which should be left to the EU and argues that “pressure for environmental improvement depends on the wealth of individuals and local communities.” The role of the State, he adds, is best devoted to minimising barriers to prosperity – which arise most often from its own activities.
He concludes by taking up one of the environmentalists’ mantras, that we should “think globally and act locally”. With this, he agrees. The UK “should develop its own solutions which benefit the nation and as a good citizen of the world, benefit the community of nations as well.” That, he believes, could well apply to the whole of Conservative Party policy.Who Governs Britain?
People are fed up with politics and politicians because they know that their vote has little impact on how they are actually governed. A vote in a local government election will have little bearing on the level of council tax or the manner in which refuse is collected because most of local government finance and the tasks imposed on local government are decided by central government.
Victims of crime cannot change their local policing policy or their Chief Constable because these are decided by central Government which dictates national policies. No vote in any election will elect politicians capable of changing the Working Time Directive, the most expensive piece of legislation ever imposed upon the British people. The European Commissioners are effectively a one party state; no Commissioner can ever be removed by a popular vote.
The other great problem of contemporary government is that there is simply too much of it. Central government has taken on so many responsibilities that it is not possible for the politicians to discharge their responsibilities adequately, with a result that vital decisions are delegated either to civil servants or the growing number of agencies and quangos. Again those that run these quangos spending huge sums of public money run no risk of losing their jobs in an election.
Conservative policy should be driven by a simple ideal. No organisation which supplies a citizen with services should be exempt from the citizen’s ability to change that supplier either by voting or by spending his money differently. Privatisation has given citizens unprecedented choice and the power to change suppliers of telecommunications and energy supply.
The State has a lousy track record as a supplier of health and education services and these can be returned to the market. Under a voucher system, patients and parents would have the power to choose between state, private and charitable provision as in every other successful Western country. The whole costly paraphernalia of centrally directed targets and bureaucracy, requiring providers to satisfy political objectives laid down by national politicians rather than the demands of individual patients and pupils, would disappear at a stroke. Huge sums would be released from unproductive bureaucracy to satisfy customers.
At local level, it is essential that we return local accountability to police forces by introducing elected chief constables to take charge of each force and dictate local policy in accordance with the wishes of the people they serve.
In order for local authorities to act independently and be responsive to their local voters, they should be given clear areas of policy which they would have to fund themselves. This would give responsibility to Council candidates to present a programme of activity that they would have to finance and justify to their electorate. The current revenues from VAT are approximately the same as the central government funding to local authorities. VAT and uniform business rate should be abolished and replaced by a local sales tax, paid to local authorities. This would create a virtuous circle of tax competition between local authorities driving local taxes down.
This would free local authorities from central government interference to provide services in accordance with the wishes and the purses of their electors, instead of being subject to targets or any other performance indicators set by central government. Councillors would be accountable to their electors. Services would conform to the wishes of local people expressed at a local election rather than being imposed by European directives or central government dictats over which local government electors have no control whatsoever.
There is a strong case for returning local services to delivery by county authorities. Counties have a long track record of showing that they are small enough to be trusted by local people, that they can be represented by genuine locals but that they are large enough to have the momentum to deliver. Returning real power to these units would be true devolution and would render the current, totally imbalanced, devolution settlement void. The devolution referenda excluded 85% of the population i.e. the English but the disgracefully wasteful talking shops in Edinburgh and Cardiff are supported by a preponderance of English taxpayers’ money. This is wrong and there should be an all UK referendum on the issue of abolishing the existing devolution settlement and replacing it with real genuine devolution to county units.
Other functions should be devolved to elected local authorities or other bodies. These would include sea fishing, with the establishment of regional marine management authorities and agriculture, which could be managed at county level.
For those functions retained by central government, Parliamentary scrutiny should be improved and the system of Parliamentary Select Committees strengthened. Members should be elected by MPs and chairmen should be drawn from opposition parties or independent members. There is much to be learnt from American Congressional Committees. Inquiries should be properly funded and staffed, with trained researchers. The Committees should have power to summon witnesses and to demand evidence under oath, with criminal sanctions for perjury.
There is a common feeling of helplessness that officials, more than elected politicians, run the country. This must change and Parliamentary Select Committees should have a role here. Employment terms of public servants must be revisited. The perception is that, in far too many cases, when large amounts of public money are wasted or there have been serious failures of duty, no one is found responsible, or those responsible are not punished and in some cases are actually promoted. Governments, whether central or local, must also have the power to terminate the employment of those who fall short of the standards set and should be prepared to exercise that power.
We must get back to the Conservative concept that the State exists to serve the people and that the people are genuinely sovereign. It should therefore be a central tenet of a Conservative government that it cannot delegate its law-making powers to any other organisation or institution. This applies to external bodies such as the European Union and internally, where currently so much effective law is made by officials without political input or control. Law-making must remain in the hands of politicians directly elected by the British people to serve their exclusive interests, affording the people an opportunity to remove legislators if they do not approve of their actions.
It is ludicrous that over 60 percent of the laws imposed upon the fourth largest economy in the world are created by people who have not been elected and cannot be removed in elections. A Conservative government should regain the power currently vested in the European Union by a fundamental renegotiation of all the existing treaties. Central to this would be the removal of the supremacy of the European Court of Justice and other international courts, including the Court of Human Rights. This would entail the withdrawal from the Convention on Humans Rights and the repeal of the Human Rights Act which give excessive powers over British citizens to those who have not been elected. All existing EU legislation should be reviewed and unless an overpowering case can be made for its retention - in which case it should be re-enacted as British law - it should be repealed.
Parliament should not only be supreme but in respect of the actions of British citizens or legal entities in the UK, no institution other than a British court should have jurisdiction over them. In the application of law, British courts should be supreme, headed by the House of Lords which should be the sole, final arbiter of law. Furthermore, no British institution should have the power to levy fines or other penalties on citizens, without their having recourse to a court of law. As to our relations with other countries, we should look to normal government-to-government treatiesAn Agriculture and Fisheries Policy for the UK
One of the first ambitions of Commissioner Sicco Mansholt, the creator of the Common Agricultural Policy, was to reform the very policy he had delivered. In fact, so far was it from his free-market ideal that, at one point, he considered committing suicide. Since then, virtually every European politician of substance has called for its reform and despite multiple attempts to improve it, it remains wholly unsatisfactory.
The current reforms arising from the “mid-term review” have gone a long way but they still fail to address the underlying and inherent failures in the policy and it is time to call it a day. Agricultural policy, in its entirety, should be returned to the UK.
The central tenet of our new “repatriated” policy is that keeping farming healthy is important to the nation. We also believe that the first and primary task of farming is to grow food. Freed from the central direction of the EU, however, we would expect farmers to reduce their dependency on commodities and look to producing more high-quality finished food for the market.
To assist in this process, we would make the market more “transparent” by ensuring that there was clear and unambiguous “point of origin” food labelling. We would also reduce or simplify much of the burdensome regulation which stifles enterprise. By this means, we would encourage farmers to focus on “added value” such as meat processing and cheese-making. This would lead to a restoration of the support infrastructure and processing industries, and a network of small slaughterhouses.
The abolition of food production subsidies will encourage the move towards finished food production by eliminating market distortions. We accept that there is no case for subsidising food production; nevertheless, there are valid reasons for continuing taxpayer support to farming and rural enterprises.
The essential reason for this is that it makes economic sense to do so, as farming in the UK produces much more than food. There are other “products” which farming produces or could produce: scenery and facilities for countryside activities; a sound environment; energy crops and electricity.
As to the scenery, although the farm-gate value of food produced is in the order of £12 billion annually, the value of rural tourism and countryside activities, which is reliant on the scenery that farmers produce, is in the order of £13 billion. In other words, the amenity produced by farmers as a by-product of producing food is worth more than the food produced.
Yet, while farmers are paid by consumers for producing food, there is no mechanism for rewarding them specifically for maintaining or improving the scenery. Thus, we will have a simple system of “amenity payments”. These would be based on contributions made to the beauty of the countryside.
As for the environment – the second “product” - we recognise that much of the flora and fauna which we value has relied on the action of farmers. While we expect farmers to maintain their land in a responsible way, there are good precedents for additional “environmental payments” where they suffer losses or incur direct costs in providing “added value” to the environment.
The current reality of environmental schemes is that farmers face a nightmare of complex regulation, especially under the new regime of “cross compliance”; the essence of our policy would be to minimise the bureaucracy and maximise the value.
Energy crops provide the third exciting product. Technology improvements now enable farming to make significant contributions to the UK energy demand. Yet, while some environmentalists are critical of farming support, they are happy to see huge subsidies given to wind farms (one 2.2 MW turbine attracts nearly £500,000 in subsidy, annually). Re-balancing support to encourage farmers to grow energy-producing crops could yield higher net gains without the visual and other damage caused by wind farms, at less overall cost.
One key crop is biomass such as the environmentally friendly miscanthus. However, biomass need not be just another commodity crop. With the construction of small generators on-farm, this gives farmers the opportunity to produce electricity as a brand new finished product on their own land – the fourth of our “non-food” products.
Devoting land to energy production would have an important side-effect. Currently there is a world surplus of food but in the year before last the world consumed more grain that it produced.
As demand from China increases, there is a real danger of a period of global food deficit. Land planted for energy, while not necessarily strictly economic as an energy producer, could be quickly returned to food production should the need arise, effectively giving the nation a strategic food reserve. Given global uncertainties, energy crop subsidies are, we believe, a price worth paying to keep land in production when there is no demand for the food that could otherwise be produced.
If farmland is allowed to decay or be covered by concrete, we could be storing up serious trouble. We should never rely entirely on the rest of the world continuing to supply us with cheap, plentiful and healthy food.
We would take seriously the needs of the wider rural economy, the benefits of farm diversification and the reintegration of farming with local economies. In addition to emphasising local food production and marketing, we will permit sensitive relaxation of the planning regime for on-farm diversification, to encompass such activities as non-intrusive light manufacturing, warehousing, office parks, activity centres and transport businesses.
When drawing up our national policies, we will also take into account the issues of rural infrastructure and the problems of delivering public services in thinly populated areas.
Given the devastating impact of animal and foodborne diseases on the health and prosperity of agriculture, we will upgrade disease surveillance and port security. We will also improve the management and elimination of disease in animals, in close co-operation with industry bodies. We will consider proposals for delegating control functions, either to industry or delegated authorities, under the supervision of central government.
We will not be cowed by urban activists when determining priorities for disease control. We also recognise the economic, employment and environmental benefits of country sports. We will stop further encroachment on these pursuits and repeal the hunting ban.Fisheries Policy
The Common Fisheries Policy is a biological, environmental, economic and social disaster; it is beyond reform. It is a system that forces fishermen to throw back more fish dead into the sea than they land, it has caused substantial degradation of the marine environment, it has destroyed much of the fishing industry, with compulsory scrapping of modern vessels and has devastated fishing communities.
Fisheries cannot be managed successfully on a continental scale; they need local control. That is the reason why Michael Howard and previous Conservative leaders have stated that the Conservatives will return our fisheries to National and Local Control. This accords completely with our instinct for small government. Issues should be tackled on an international basis only when justified, at a national level when appropriate and otherwise locally.
Experience from the Falklands, visiting numerous British fishing ports and successful fisheries in Norway, the Faeroes, Iceland, Canada and the USA, backed by extensive discussions with scientists, experts, fishermen and environmentalists provides a policy framework tailored to suit the specific requirements of the UK. It is based on the following principles:
• Effort control based on “days at sea” instead of fixed quotas
• A ban on discarding commercial species
• Permanent closed areas for conservation
• Provision for temporary closures of fisheries
• Promotion of selective gear and technical controls
• Rigorous definition of minimum commercial sizes
• A ban on industrial fishing
• A prohibition of production subsidies
• Zoning of fisheries
• Registration of fishing vessels, skippers and senior crew members
• Measures to promote profitability rather than volume
• Effective and fair enforcement
However, simply exchanging a bureaucratic system run from Brussels for one run by the bureaucrats in London and national centres is no panacea. It must be accompanied by a local management system, which has the confidence and trust of the nation and the fishermen who work within in it.
The essence of our policy, therefore, is National and Local Control. National government will set the strategic framework in which the priorities will be the restoration of the marine environment and rebuilding the fishing industry; new local bodies will take day-to-day responsibility for managing their fisheries.A Defence Policy for Great Britain
Traditionally, defence policy is predicated on the preservation of the territorial integrity of the nation and its possessions against actual or potential invaders. However, with the end of the Cold War, there is no significant threat of invasion, against which major forces need to be earmarked, nor is there any likelihood of any such threat materialising in the short to medium-term.
Instead, we are faced with the more diffuse, so-called “asymmetric” threats, including failed and “rogue” states, and state sponsored terrorism. Those threats, and long-term humanitarian crises, fuel global instability and create conditions where domestic security is threatened directly by terrorism.
However, the diffuse nature of the threats requires a global reach which is beyond the capacity of the United Kingdom, and requires a flexibility of response that we are not always able to provide. We are no longer a world power and are neither willing, nor able economically to take on the role of “world policeman”.
We have, therefore, found it more advantageous to work with allies in coalitions, either bi- or multilaterally, or through organisations such as the United Nations, Nato and the European Union, affording ourselves only a very limited capability to act entirely independently.
It makes sense to continue to work within the framework of coalitions and therefore to construct defence policy on the basis of equipping ourselves to work with our allies.
Naturally, these will tend to be those with whom we have a shared “world view” – or at least the greatest degree of commonality. To this extent, there are developing divergent views, stratifying largely between that of the Europeans and the United States and her many allies.
In the past, we have sought a “bridging role” between Europe and the United States, while maintaining good relations with Commonwealth nations such as Australia, New Zealand, India and others. However, it is undeniable that a polarisation of views is developing to such an extent that it is no longer possible to keep a foot in both camps, and a strategic choice will have to be made between one or the other.
At the moment, the choice is being made by default, through gradual doctrinal and technical harmonisation with our European Union partners, based on focusing our actions through the deployment of the European Rapid Reaction Force (ERRF), outside the Nato framework. We believe that this is not in the national interest. The main force for global stability, through the promotion of democratic self-government, is the United States, acting either in coalition with willing partners or with Nato.
Therefore, we believe that, since a choice has to be made, that our defence efforts and the emphasis on structuring our armed forces should be on developing our ability to work effectively in concert with the United States and her allies. This should be the focus of our procurement policy and the doctrinal development of our forces.
However, as part of a community of nations with the shared interest of maintaining peace and prosperity, safeguarding the lives of those individuals who are less fortunate than ourselves, protecting the weak and the innocent, we accept the European nations have a valuable and necessary role in helping to maintain global stability.
We will use our influence to encourage European nations to abandon attempts to develop an autonomous European Union military capability, and channel efforts through Nato in accordance with the Washington Summit Agreement of 1999, supporting the Strategic Concept and the Defence Capabilities Initiative. In particular, we would see Nato as the primary mechanism for securing doctrinal and technical interoperability, without which coalition forces – whatever their composition – cannot be truly effective.
Inexorably linked to the execution of any defence policy is the nature of our Defence Industry Policy. It shapes our ability to share technology with our allies, and to benefit from technological developments, especially those of the United States – some of which are delivered by British-owned companies. In this context, we cannot expect free sharing as long as our home-based industries and our government is working with other governments and industry partners which are major suppliers to strategic rivals and potential enemies of the United States.
Therefore, we intend to refocus our industry and government partnerships, and our own arms sales policies, to mesh with our own strategic allies, to prevent the leakage of technology into potentially hostile hands.
We also intend to refocus our procurement policies and abandon the de facto “Europe first” policy, aiming to purchase equipment from sources which offer true value for money and which guarantee interoperability with our main allies. Further, we do not intend to pursue the line of favouring domestic programmes where it is not in our economic interests to do so, but will seek partnerships with like-minded nations, or offset deals where appropriate.
This notwithstanding, we accept a need to maintain security of supply, either by holding sufficient stocks of essential materials or, where more appropriate, maintaining a domestic manufacturing base, the combination sufficient to permit independent operations, should the national interest require.
In terms of the main component of our forces – the personnel – we are concerned to see that the recruitment of high quality men and women continues and that establishment numbers are maintained. Here, we do not see that this can be achieved if the military is treated as a body separate and distinct from the rest of society.
In order to do their jobs properly and to reflect the values of our society, soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen and women must be valued, respected members of our broader society and have close connections with it. We would rebuild the relationship between schools and the military, reintroducing combined cadet forces into schools, with good links also with universities and industry. To the same effect, we would rebuild the Territorial Army, and Reserve Units of the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and The Royal Marines.
Overall, we recognise that the military is currently undergoing a major restructuring with the adoption of what is known as a “Network Enabled Capability” (NEC) which amounts to a revolution in military operations.
We support this transformation but do not believe it wise to expend considerable sums to achieve a unique British capability when it would be more economic and militarily advantageous to work closely with our US ally to produce a common system.
Nevertheless, we believe also that we must retain the skills for which British forces are so highly regarded, and support the traditional structures, such as the local Regiments, which give them their strength and continuity. The pursuit of technology is not incompatible with the maintenance of the finest traditions of our Armed Forces and should not be seen as a replacement.
Furthermore, while the adoption of NEC is necessary to enable “rapid reaction” expeditionary forces, and particularly the development of highly sophisticated, medium armoured forces, we do not believe this should be at cost of sacrificing our heavy armour capability, which we believe still has and will continue to have a central role in the British Army and should be upgraded.
As regards the Royal Navy, we believe it should still be the Service that maintains our nuclear deterrent through its fleet of missile submarines. These, we believe, should be renewed to maintain a credible deterrent against “rogue” states which might acquire or have acquired nuclear weapons and be tempted to use them.
For the rest of the fleet, we believe that it should progressively be reconfigured to support expeditionary warfare, with the focus on ships to support amphibious actions, including at adequate carrier vessels. The Royal Marines should form a central part of this capability. Not least, this would give the United Kingdom the ability to mount rapid and effective humanitarian and relief operations. Our capability should be configured to provide also for these tasks. We should also work alongside the United States and our other maritime allies to maintain a strong capability which will enable us to protect our trade routes.
For the Royal Air Force, this should be also be configured to support expeditionary warfare, reducing the air defence component to the minimum. It should be focused primarily on providing a strategic airlift and effective tactical ground support/strike, with a strong reconnaissance capability, including space assets and unmanned aerial vehicles
Beyond this, we need to consider to what extent the UK is prepared to join in coalition missions and what capabilities we are willing to afford. Clearly, the defence budget must be limited but in the post-Cold War world, limits are set by our willingness to pay more than they are by our capability.
Yet, in the public arena, those limits, in contrast to America, have never really been discussed. Therefore, for the longer term, we need to open a public debate on the shape and size of our armed forces so that government policy can better reflect the wishes of the people. In particular, we must also decide for the future whether we want or need to retain a full range of capabilities or whether the national interest would be better served by limiting ourselves to certain specialist functions, deployed in concert with our allies.I think so.