Last week the Daily Mail published this article, which suggested that the European Parliament could ban certain children’s books which reinforced gender stereotypes from British schools. This is very misleading. I therefore wrote a letter for publication to the Daily Mail to clarify their report.
Below is my letter to the paper, followed by the response from the letters editor and his explanation for refusing to publish it:
Mary Honeyball MEP
4G Shirland Mews
7 November 2012
RE: Now Brussels takes aim at the Famous Five! Books portraying ‘traditional’ families could be barred
The article by James Chapman (Mail 7/11/2012) claiming that the EU could be planning to ban books portraying stereo typical family values is misleading in the extreme. It was incorrect to suggest that such books could be barred from schools.
Brussels does not have legal powers to intervene in which books are available in UK schools; it is a matter for the UK government.
The European Parliament committee report to which your article refers does not suggest banning books- and in any case this is certainly not something which would be legally binding.
Even in areas where the report does call for EU level action and where such action would be legislatively possible, it could only be done if the European Commission makes a formal proposal. In addition, the European Parliament as a whole and also a large majority of Member States must then adopt it.
I hope this important point clarifies the inaccuracies I refer to in your report.
Mary Honeyball MEP
Labour spokesperson in Europe on culture media and sport and gender and equality
The Daily Mail responded to my press officer, Sarah Mackinlay, with:
I’m guessing James Chapman knows a bit more about the byzantine workings of the European Parliament and its committees than Mary Honeyball does.
readers’ letters editor
When my office attempted to clarify whether he intended to print the letter he offered the following explanation:
I eventually decided against it on the grounds that it is by no means incorrect that such books could be barred from schools.
Brussels may not have direct legal power to intervene on which books are available in UK schools – but you would have to be very naïve not to appreciate the way in which such a thing might become a matter of no choice for the UK government.
The European Parliament committee looking at this subject definitely exists and has published a report. It may not have suggested in so many words banning books (that might make it look very unpopular) but it has criticised them – and we’re not unfamiliar with the way in which such things begin as criticism and move on towards calls for a ban. After all, to these MEPs, what else are their criticisms for?
It may, of course, be something which isn’t legally binding today – but tomorrow? And that’s all our story warns about.
We’re well aware that this discussion may be at an early stage and ‘EU level action’ would require ‘a European Commission formal proposal’ etc, etc, but we like to warn people well in advance just what those underemployed ‘representatives’ are getting up to in Brussels: forewarned is forearmed.
I am publishing this because I was surprised and annoyed by the response I received to my letter – a response full of prejudice which demonstrates how little the Daily Mail understands the European Parliament and how the EU makes its decisions.