Oral Answers to Questions — European Secondary Legislation

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd November 1975.

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3.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of the First Report from the Select Committee on Procedure, Session 1974–75, on European Secondary Legislation (House of Commons Paper No. 294).

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

I have to inform the House that I have not selected the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), but I have selected the amendments, in the name of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) at the bottom of page 12661 of the Order Paper, to the Motion dealing with Standing Orders.

If it suits the convenience of the House I propose that we should have one debate on all the Standing Orders, which are as follows:

That Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) be amended as follows:—

Line 17, after 'provides', insert 'and proceedings on Commission Documents'. Line 43, at end insert 'In this paragraph, and in Standing Orders No. 60 (Constitution of standing committees), No. 62 (Nomination of standing committees) and No. 73A (Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c), "Commission Documents" means draft proposals by the Commission of the European Economic Community for secondary legislation and other documents published by the Commission for submission to the Council of Ministers'. That Standing Order No. 60 (Constitution of standing committees) be amended as follows:—

Line 8, after 'instruments', insert: or Commission Documents as defined in Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business).'. That Standing Order No. 62 (Nomination of standing committees) be amended as follows:—

Line 12, after 'instruments', insert: 'or Commission Documents as defined in Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business).'. That Standing Order No. 73A (Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments) be amended as follows:—

Line 3, after 'Instruments', insert 'etc.'.

Line 5, after 'instruments', insert: 'or Commission Documents (as defined in Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business))'. Line 23, at end insert: 'or(iii) notice has been given of a motion relating to a Commission Document.'. Line 27, after 'instrument', insert 'or Commission Document'.

Line 35, after second 'instrument', insert 'or Commission Document'.

Line 37, after 'instrument)', insert '(or Commission Document)'.

Line 47, after 'instrument', insert 'or Commission Document'.

Line 50, after '3(ii)', insert 'or 3(iii)'.

Line 52, after 'instrument', insert 'or Commission Document'.

Line 55, after 'thereon;', insert: 'and, in the case of a motion relating to a Commission Document, where an amendment is offered to that question, the question on that amendment'. At the end of the debate I shall allow the hon. Member for Newham, South formally to move his amendments and there can be Divisions if necessary.

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

In asking the House to take note of the First Report of the Select Committee on Procedure on European Secondary Legislation, I must first thank the Chairman and members of the Committee for the work which they put in between November last and March this year on preparing their report. The new Session will be upon us very soon and I have brought forward today proposals to amend Standing Orders in respect of a number of matters discussed by the Procedure Committee.

Before turning to the Select Committee's report, I should like to make a general comment. In the White Paper "Report on Renegotiation" (Cmnd. 6003) we accepted the need to make the arrangements for scrutiny and debate of proposals for EEC secondary legislation more effective. A great deal has been done already to make these arrangements work—as much as and probably more than in any other member State of the Community. The number of EEC documents deposited in the House since May 1974 when the Scrutiny Committee was set up is well over 900. On each of these, except for a few self-explanatory factual reports, the Government Departments concerned have prepared detailed explanatory memoranda which have been approved and, again with a few exceptions, signed by Ministers for the use of hon. Members and the Scrutiny Committee.

On 16 occasions Ministers have attended the Scrutiny Committee to give evidence on proposals before the Council of Ministers. Every month the House has been given a statement and the opportunity to ask questions on the business going before the Council in the following month. Finally, on 24 occasions Ministers have come to the House to explain the line they are proposing to take on particular proposals in negotiations in the Council and to hear the views of hon. Members in debate. The Government, like the Scrutiny Committee and other hon. Members who take a particular interest in these matters, have put a great deal of effort into making the parliamentary scrutiny arrangements work. However, we are still rather feeling our way and we recognise that there is scope for further improvement. That is why we are proposing these changes today.

I come now to the recommendations of the Select Committee. One matter to which the Select Committee on Procedure has drawn attention is the arrangements made for the consideration of EEC documents on the Floor of the House. The Select Committee refers in paragraphs 20 to 22 to the limitations on the time made available for EEC debates and in particular the number of these debates which have taken place after 10 o'clock at the end of our normal business. Of course, this applies also to our own United Kingdom secondary legislation. There has also been need this Session to devote a great deal of time to other EEC business more directly related to renegotiation and the referendum.

It may interest the House to know that this Session some 67 hours have been spent on European affairs, including 11 days when they have been the main business. I recognise the importance of finding a time for these debates commensurate with their importance. I have taken note of the Select Committee's suggestions for the use of the six days per Session which we and the Opposition have undertaken to devote to EEC debates.

The Procedure Committee has criticised the absence of any provision in the procedure for the consideration of EEC business to ensure that the Question is put at the end of such business so that the House can have the opportunity to embody its views in a resolution. Indeed, on occasion the debate has stood adjourned without the Question being put.

I recognise that this situation is not an entirely satisfactory one. The Select Committee on Procedure has provided the House with a suggested remedy for this in the extension of Standing Order No. 3, and in particular paragraph 1(b) of that Order, to cover proceedings on Commission documents. The Government agree to this recommendation in the interests of improving the scrutiny arrangements. The necessary amendment to Standing Order No. 3(1)(b) is on the Order Paper for decision today and I commend it to the House. In effect it would give motions on EEC documents the same treatment as is given to affirmative resolutions on domestic statutory instruments.

I now turn to the recommendation in paragraphs 36 to 43 of the report that Standing Orders should be amended to provide for the appointment of a Standing Committee for the consideration of some EEC documents which have been recommended by the Select Committee for debate in Standing Committee. As the Procedure Committee recognises, I submitted this proposal to it on behalf of the Government and it was supported by a number of other right hon. and hon. Members who gave evidence. The model here as I see it is the procedure which we have evolved for our own statutory instruments which is set out in Standing Order No. 73A.

I am sure the House will agree that the introduction of that Standing Order, which provides for statutory instruments to be referred to Standing Committees for consideration, has been a very valuable addition to the House's procedures. This Session, for example, about four-fifths of all affirmative resolutions on statutory instruments have been taken upstairs in Committee. The saving of time on the Floor has been the equivalent of about 20 sittings. It seems eminently sensible, and I am glad that the Procedure Committee has endorsed this proposal, to make similar provision for discussing some EEC documents.

As I have said, the Scrutiny Committee may on occasion, in reporting on an EEC proposal, suggest that it would be an appropriate matter for debate in Standing Committee. I want to make it absolutely clear, however, that it would, as in the case of statutory instruments, be for the Government, in consultation through the usual channels, to decide whether to table a motion in Standing Committee or on the Floor of the House.

In practice, some of the debates recommended by the Scrutiny Committee are bound to be taken on the Floor of the House. Obvious candidates, I should have thought, for committal to Standing Committee would include, first, debates on documents at an early stage which may attract further debate at a later stage; second, debates on proposals having no legislative effect; third, proposals for legislative instruments identified as being of lesser importance but still worthy of debate; and, fourth, Private Members' motions. This would usefully extend the range of procedures open to the House for dealing with these documents and would in particular provide for discussion of EEC proposals of special interest to private Members. Whilst the Standing Committee would be appointed in the normal way, any hon. Member would be able to attend and speak, though not to vote, in the Committee.

To implement this proposal, I have tabled amendments designed to bring Commission documents within the scope of Standing Order No. 73A. If these proposals are accepted, the procedure for referring Commission documents to a Standing Committee, the scope for hon. Members to object to the reference, by standing in their place, to the composition and procedure of the Standing Committee, the form of their discussion and report and the subsequent decision of the House would all be identical with that for our own statutory instruments, with which hon. Members are familiar.

I should explain that the inclusion of Commission documents in the scope of Standing Order No. 73A would mean departing in two fairly minor respects from the recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure. First, the Procedure Committee has suggested that there should be unlimited time for discussion of EEC documents in Standing Committee, although there is an hour and a half time limit in our Standing Orders for considering statutory instruments other than those relating exclusively to Northern Ireland, which, I think, have two and a half hours. As the many hon. Members who serve on Standing Committees know, there is considerable pressure on Committee time as well as on hon. Members' time.

In the Government's view, the time limit of one and a half hours which we apply to statutory instruments would be adequate for the Standing Committee discussion of the kinds of proposal which are likely to be referred upstairs which I have just mentioned. I mean not the ones of first importance but those of secondary importance, because in the main that is what they would be. We have accordingly made no special provision in the proposed amendments to Standing Order No. 73A, and I suggest that we treat these in the same way as our own secondary legislation, particularly as these are of secondary importance.

Secondly the Select Committee, in paragraph 42(a) of its report, has recommended that, unlike Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, the new Standing Committees should consider EEC documents on a substantive motion—for example, to take note of or approve the documents, which should be amendable in Committee.

The Government's view, which I am sure will commend itself to the House, is that the statutory instrument model is the right one to follow, and that a formal motion That the Committee has considered the document is the appropriate basis for debate in Standing Committee.

There is a very important principle involved here. It is the House as a whole to which the Government are responsible for the conduct of affairs, and it is the House as a whole which alone can charge the Government to take one course or another on pain of withdrawing its confidence—not a Committee, but the House as a whole. It would be quite inappropriate, and contrary to the precedents to which the House has adhered in establishing other Standing Committees, to delegate the authority which belongs to the whole House to a small and inevitably less than representative number of hon. Members in Committee.

On the other hand, it is important that the House should be able to express its views on EEC proposals recommended by the Scrutiny Committee for consideration. The amendments to Standing Order No. 73A which have been tabled would accordingly allow for a substantive motion to be tabled here in the House before the documents are referred to Standing Committee, for amendments to be tabled and for this motion to be put to the whole House without further debate when the Standing Committee has reported that it has considered it. Therefore, the Standing Committee could consider a substantive motion and amendments which had been tabled to it and could report back to the House that it had considered it, but the vote on that motion and on the amendments would take place in the House itself without debate.

Photo of Mr Douglas Jay Mr Douglas Jay , Wandsworth Battersea North

Since my right hon. Friend has rightly emphasised the responsibility of Ministers to the whole House, will he also confirm the Government's undertaking that, where the Scrutiny Committee has recommended consideration by the House of a legislative instrument, the Government will not assent to the passage of such an instrument in the EEC until this House has had an opportunity to discuss it?

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

That undertaking has already been given on behalf of the Government. It has been quite firmly given by me and, I think, by a Foreign Office Minister as well. I hope I have made clear that there would be an opportunity to table amendments and to vote on them in the House without Division in the Committee but with a Division, if required, in the House itself.

We have added a provision to ensure that any amendment to the motion which you, Mr. Speaker, might select would also be put to the House. Although this diverges to some extent from the report, it achieves exactly the same result. The House would be able to make its views known.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify a point in what he has said, which he will agree was rather complicated? I understand him to have said that before an instrument is referred to the Standing Committee there could be tabled a motion—and amendments thereto—which, when it was reported back by the Standing Committee, would then be decided forthwith by the House. Do I take it that those are the only circumstances in which such a motion would be tabled, or would it also be possible, when the Standing Committee had reported in its formal manner, of course, for a motion then to be tabled, with or without amendments? The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is quite possible that after studying the proceedings in the Standing Committee hon. Members might wish to offer for decision amendments which would not necessarily have occurred to them before the instrument was sent to the Standing Committee. I hope that my point is clear.

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

Without notice of that question, I think I am right in saying that it would not be possible to table a motion afterwards, but it would be possible to do it before the instrument was referred to the Standing Committee. [Interruption.] Quite clearly, it would be possible to do it before the debate took place.

Photo of Sir Albert Costain Sir Albert Costain , Folkestone and Hythe

With regard to this unusual procedure of a vote without debate, will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that the House will not be asked to vote until the Official Report of the Committee proceedings is available?

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

I think that that would be reasonable, but I repeat that any hon. Member may attend the Committee.

Before leaving the subject of the proposed amendments to Standing Orders I should say a brief word about the procedures for the reference to Standing Committee of Private Member's motions on EEC documents—or EEC Prayers, as it were. At present there is no effective provision for a private Member to draw to the House's attention an EEC proposal which is not recommended for debate by the Scrutiny Committee but in which he has a particular interest, other than perhaps a half-hour Adjournment debate.

The Procedure Committee has recommended that provision should be made to enable Private Member's motions on Commission documents to be referred to Standing Committee on the analogy of Prayers against statutory instruments. The amendments tabled to Standing Order No. 73 implement this recommendation. On the analogy of Prayers, however, the Government cannot guarantee that time will always be found for debate of all such motions. Nevertheless, I trust that this new procedure will be of value to hon. Members, and I commend it to the House.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

Although you did not select my amendment on the principle, Mr. Speaker, may I ask my right hon. Friend to comment at some point on the discrepancy between the House of Lords and the House of Commons terms of reference? As I understand it, the Select Committee in this House, and therefore all the rest of us, can consider only Commission documents. My right hon. Friend has spoken of both Commission and EEC documents, and they are not entirely the same. I understand that the House of Lords can consider all EEC documents, including those emanating from the Council. This is a vital matter, as matters emanating from the Council at present are those relating to political union. It would be rather odd if the House of Lords could consider political union while we were restricted to matters of transport and the price of butter.

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

The last thing I would attempt to do at this moment is to interpret the Standing Orders of the Committee of the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies), but I shall consider my hon. Friend's point.

I turn to the Select Committee's recommendations in paragraphs 17 and 18 concerning the timing of debates and the provision of information to the House on amendments of substance which affect the United Kingdom. The Procedure Committee's recommendation in this area ties up with the suggestions put forward by the Select Committee on European Secondary Legislation in its Second Special Report for the current Session—and the same points have been made by a Select Committee in another place.

What these various recommendations together amount to is that when EEC proposals have been deposited in the House, and recommended for debate by the Scrutiny Committee, the debate should normally take place at a fairly early stage in the discussion of the proposals in the Council of Ministers, so that the House has an opportunity to put its views to the Government while matters are still at a formative stage. Both Committees recommend that thereafter the Government should, before the proposals go forward for final adoption, inform the House of any substantial amendments of interest to the United Kingdom which have been made in the course of discussion so that the proposals as amended can be subjected to a further scrutiny and, if so recommended, a second debate.

This proposal for two-stage scrutiny and debate would not call for any amendment of the formal procedures of the House. But there are serious practical difficulties to be overcome in providing the House with the sort of information on which second-stage scrutiny would be based. The proceedings of the Council are akin to international negotiations. Bargaining points are often made and withdrawn, and reservations are maintained on particular matters from one side or another, often up to a late stage in the Council's deliberations. It is not therefore always possible to identify amendments which have been agreed.

Moreover, negotiations in the Council are often confidential between the member States, and must remain so if compromise between purely national interests is to be achieved. Uncertainty about whether parliamentary scrutiny procedures are complete can be an added difficulty in negotiation in the Council. Furthermore, the provision of information on the up-to-date state of proposals which have already been through the scrutiny process will significantly increase the burden of paper work flowing between Government Departments and the House, at a time when we are all looking for economies—in money, time and manpower.

Notwithstanding all these difficulties, the Government accept that two-stage scrutiny will be justified in respect of those proposals which involve major policy developments. We accept that it would be appropriate to provide the House with the necessary information on amendments to such proposals agreed in the course of Council discussions in such a form as the confidentiality of Council proceedings permits. I think the House will recognise that this partial acceptance of the Committee's recommendation represents a major step forward in our scrutiny arrangements.

I turn briefly to the recommendations which the Procedure Committee has made in paragraphs 8 to 10 of its report about the presentation of documents. The Committee's principal recommendation is that consideration should be given to the practicability of laying Commission documents upon the table as Command Papers. The Committee recognises that the practical difference which this would make over the present arrangements by which documents are deposited informally in the Vole Office is very small. There would appear to be some disadvantages from the House's point of view in extending the concept of Command Papers so widely as to embrace all the documents emanating from the Commission. I am giving the matter consideration in consultation with the House authorities, but I would not hold out much hope of major improvements in the presentation of these documents.

The Procedure Committee has also recommended the publication of a periodical list, similar to the Public Bill list, showing the progress of each Commission document on its progress from presentation to the House to its approval by the Council. I can see some merit in this suggestion if it would be of real use to hon. Members. If such a list is to be of use, however, it must be kept to manageable proportions. I believe that a list containing 700 items will not be of much help to anyone. We are discussing this proposal with the House authorities. I shall be glad to hear the views of hon. Members as to its likely value.

Finally, I turn to the question of the budget. The Procedure Committee's recommendations about the way in which the House should consider the Community budget are closely tied up with the problems arising from the Community's own budgetary timetable. In the debate on the 1975 Community budget on 4th July my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury explained that proposals for altering the Community's budgetary timetable were under discussion in the Community. The difficulties we encountered this year, to which the Scrutiny Committee rightly drew attention in its Third Special Report, will no doubt strengthen the case for changes in the timetable, and we are pursuing this matter. But it does not seem to us to be sensible to make final decisions on procedure until the timetable question is sorted out. There seems to be little need for any change in the terms of reference of the Scrutiny Committees. The House will debate the 1976 budget on Thursday of this week, when the timetable aspects can be pursued.

It remains for me once more to thank the Select Committee for the excellent work it has done on the subject of European secondary legislation and to commend to the House the amendments to the Standing Orders which I have tabled so that these necessary improvements in our procedures for considering European Community documents can be made without further delay.

4.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Davies Mr John Davies , Knutsford

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to intervene at this stage. Those on both sides of the House who are interested in this subject will wish to thank the Leader of the House for the careful consideration he has given to the report of the Select Committee on Procedure and will also wish to thank him for coming forward with a series of recommendations to facilitate this work in the House of Commons. On behalf of the Scrutiny Committee I say that we are grateful to him for what he has done. There are, however, certain points which still give cause for concern following the right hon. Gentleman's remarks and the amendments which have been tabled. I will define what these are.

In answer to business questions last week, when the right hon. Gentleman was asked by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) about the form of the debate today, he said, I made it clear last week that this debate will be based on a number of motions to amend the standing orders in accordance with the recommendations of the Select Committee of which the hon. Member is a member."—[Official Report, 30th Oct., 1975; Vol. 898, c. 1765.] The right hon. Gentleman has told us today that in a number of respects he has not been able to do that and that the amendments tabled do not reflect the recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure. To some of these, at least, we shall need to give further attention. In some ways the basis of concern arises from the fact that the Leader of the House, in what he has said today, has continually equated secondary legislation as related to the European Community with statutory instruments as they relate to legislation, when in fact there is no good analogy.

The fact is that the only primary legislation in the Community sense is legislation referring to the treaties. All the rest is secondary legislation. That embraces an enormously wide range of subjects, including matters of the greatest substance which certainly if treated as domestic matters by the House would be treated to all intents and purposes as primary legislation. There is a danger in using that analogy and drawing from it the inference which the Lord President has drawn from it in bringing forward these amendments. It seems that because of the nature and scope of the legislation involved there is an importance in looking with new eyes at the nature of the legislation going through the Community and at how this House is to deal with it.

There is the important and difficult problem of reconciling the traditional methods of handling matters in this House with the quite new—to us—system of legislative activity which is prevalent in the Community. It is a new system not only in the sense that the constitutional position is different in that we have groups of Ministers meeting together without having to subject themselves to the duress of parliamentary scrutiny of the details of their legislation and able then to enact legislation without that degree of democratic control, but new also in that the very form of the legislation appears to a layman such as myself to be more intelligible than our legislation, though clearly less precise. It says what it means in terms which are perhaps open to more doubt with the result that there is a need for greater interpretation by the European Court.

We have, therefore, a basically different form and a different constitutional method. We need, therefore, to replace our own system of meticulous revision and improvement of legislation, to which the House is accustomed, by a method of influencing those who will enact without the form of democratic scrutiny to which we are accustomed. It is this reconciliation of the different methods of handling matters that is the all-important issue in this debate since it concerns how we are to cope in the future with a wide range of Community activity.

I do not resent the difference. I find that the proposition of bringing to bear the force of influence on Ministers at the point when they make decisions, but early enough to influence their minds before they are crystallised and made up, to be perhaps just as useful and ultimately as effective as our system, when we wait until Ministers have got into a deep-rooted frame of mind which nothing will shift and then try to amend details of the legislation. I do not object to the method. I simply say that it needs a new and intensive look at the way in which it is handled.

The Scrutiny Committees have been formed and the undertakings to which the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) referred have reasonably been re-emphasised by the Lord President. For that I am grateful. After a lot of initial difficulty these Committees are now doing the task intended for them and are, I hope, rendering the right service to the House in bringing before it those matters which seem to be important. As the Lord President has inferred, the deficiency has lain in the methods which the House could bring to bear in looking at these matters and then in seeking to use that influence to impress upon Ministers the anxieties and concerns which were felt. There have been all the objections of timing and form of debates, to which the Select Committee on Procedure has given careful attention.

The acid test of the Government's proposals will lie in their ability to reconcile the need for careful, ongoing examination and the creation of an ability to influence the minds of Ministers with a totally different form of legislation presented in a different way and subject to different constitutional methods. It is on those scores that the House will wish to judge what the Lord President has put before us today. That is the kernel of the problem—whether we are to have a means whereby we can influence and affect the course of legislation by the proposals that the right hon. Gentleman has made rather than the technicalities of the considerations that he has brought to our notice.

I am bound to say that although the right hon. Gentleman has given us considerable satisfaction through the amendments to the Standing Orders and the subsequent points made in his speech, there are still issues which leave me dissatisfied. I will mention these to him. It seems that the analogy with the statutory instruments consideration has led the right hon. Gentleman into a form of arrangement which still puts the weight entirely on the Government side rather than on the side of the House in trying to deal with these matters. It is the Government who are retaining the initiative in every respect. It is the House which has somehow or other to fit into the rather narrow straitjacket with which we are presented to try to express our opinion effectively.

I refer particularly to the form of motion and to the question of the duration of debates. The right hon. Gentleman has given us a careful explanation of the reason for the adoption of the form of motion. The truth is that a Standing Committee able only to discuss legislation but unable to express any view except that it has considered that legislation represents an unsatisfactory form of scrutiny. I am bound to tell the right hon. Gentleman that he will find great difficulty in attracting Members of Parliament—who are grossly overworked, as he says—to give attention to such things when they can make no expression of any valid kind. Hon. Members of such a Committee will consider a matter and then hope to goodness that other hon. Members will read what they have considered. It is a highly doubtful procedure.

In its turn it makes most suspect this method of trying to get the House to use its sole discretion only at a point after that formal report has been made and in respect of amendments which, as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has said, must have been tabled previously. I regard the Committee as conceived by the Lord President to be something of an emasculated operation. I doubt whether it will be the effective weapon we all hope it will be.

Referring to the duration of the debates, the Lord President thought that one and a half hours was adequate for debate on matters of secondary importance, and he returned to his analogy of the statutory instrument. Does the Lord President think that the consultative document on the subject of the treatment of multinational companies in the Community, with all the ongoing effects that that may have in terms of the restrictions and stimulations which may be given to such corporations, is a secondary subject? It is a consultative document. It is not a practical piece of legislation. Therefore, in the Lord President's view, it comes in for treatment by the Standing Committee and not on the Floor of the House. The debate will be limited to one and a half hours. Who can discuss the future of an organisation and the legislation related to multinational companies in one and a half hours? That would be inadequate. The Lord President's interpretation of secondary importance is a dangerous misunderstanding more than anything else, and he should reconsider it. Otherwise the Standing Committee will be further emasculated and diminished in its usefulness to the House.

I make the same expression of concern about the time which seems to be allocated to debates on the Floor of the House under the terms of the amendment. Unless the Standing Order is suspended, debates on the Floor of the House would be limited to one and a half hours after 10 o'clock unless they began before 10 o'clock. In that case matters which form the kernel of the issues, the most important matters, would be limited to one and a half hour's debate at a late hour. We sought to get away from that. I am concerned about that. Perhaps the matter may be explained—I may have misinterpreted the amendments—in which case I shall be greatly relieved.

I commend the Lord President for what he said about secondary scrutiny and secondary review. His remarks about Private Members' motions removed from my mind an anxiety which I had before this debate started. Some rethinking is necessary on the issues to which I have referred. Otherwise we shall have another valueless organisation in the House not making a valid contribution to its working, and simply offering a manoeuvre in dealing with the problems with which we are faced.

In view of the forthcoming attitude of the Lord President today, I feel sure that he will be prepared to consider my remarks. Otherwise we shall be obliged to complain bitterly about the inadequacy of treatment, which will cause dissatisfaction. The basis of our arrangements is sound and could so easily be brought into a meaningful method of examination and scrutiny of legislation.

4.14 p.m.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

I am grateful for the opportunity of following the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies). I well remember one of his earliest speeches in the House—of which he has been a Member as long as I—and my attempts to interrupt and disagree with him on that memorable occasion. We are not discussing a party matter. We are discussing a House of Commons matter. I agree with nearly everything that the right hon. Gentleman said, although I should like to emphasise some of his points, especially that of comparability with statutory instruments.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the accountability of Ministers. That is the heart of what we are trying to do. Ministers must account for themselves in Parliament as representatives of the executive to the representatives of the people. That is the heart of parliamentary democracy. Every Standing Order which we pass and operate must help to that end. That helps the Government in the long run, as unless they are in a position to be accountable they will not command the confidence of the people. That matter is equally important.

The accountability of Ministers is not clear. In paragraph 24 of its report the Select Committee indicated that if Ministers did not take to Brussels and render what the House said, they would act at their peril. That was the only reference to the subject which we could find. That is the way in which the procedure works now. Unfortunately we do not know what Ministers do in Brussels. We do not complain that the Council's proceedings are secret, but that may be part of the matter. The problem is that we do not have a final sanction such as that which is open to the House on domestic legislation.

The other major problem is the manner in which we are being asked to look at the motions. The Select Committee, of which I was a member, sat and brought out a report which was printed before the referendum, in May. We asked the Lord President to consider splitting this debate and the discussion of technical amendments. We know that amendments to Standing Orders are technical and difficult. However, we thought that it might be much better to obtain the general view of the House on the report before taking a view. The Lord President tabled the amendments but has departed from the recommendations of the Committee in two major respects. I deplore the fact that we are not able to consider these matters in two bites.

The second and more important point was also mentioned by the right hon. Member for Knutsford. On Thursday the Lord President, in reply to a question, said that he was tabling motions to implement the report of the Select Committee. However, this afternoon, for the first time, he said that in two important respects—the ability to table amendments and the question of the time limit—he was not following the Select Committee's recommendations. Those recommendations were important. They referred to two major matters. The Select Committee recommended that we should depart from the statutory instrument procedure. There is some difficulty here. My right hon. Friend may think that these are major changes, but it is clear from what was said that that view is not widely shared.

If the Lord President persists in moving these technical amendments as the next business, I invite him to consider whether some of his hon. Friends will support him on the supposition that he is moving the implementation of the Procedure Committee's report when he is manifestly not doing so, although he said that we could argue about it since it was important. Those two matters are very much to the point.

That brings me to the question of whether it is right to follow too closely the existing statutory instrument procedure. Our procedure under Standing Order 73A is relatively new. I believe that it has been in operation for 18 months, and we are not all necessarily familiar with it.

The main point is that the so-called secondary legislation documents of the European Community are not secondary. They are super-primary. If they are in sufficiently definitive form, they override our own legislation. In constitutional terms they are superior to any of our normal Bills, which go through a complex procedure. They are not inferior to Bills. That is the part played by statutory instruments.

Although I was not in a majority on the Committee, I doubted whether the analogy with statutory instruments was the right one. The Select Committee made specific recommendations. In paragraph 42(a) it recommended that the Minister in charge of the business in the Standing Committee should be entitled to make whatever Motion he considered suitable. Motions to take note or to approve, or to do either with reservations, would obviously be appropriate; there might well be other forms suitable in different cases. They also recommended that the Motion should be open to amendment. That is the Select Committee's recommendation, and those of us who have been involved in European secondary legislation see the great usefulness of that recommendation.

We know that the Lord President has in mind to move batches of documents to go to the Standing Committee. The Committee will wish to come to an opinion on each document or perhaps on a group of documents. The Committee may say that certain documents should have further consideration or be debated in the House. Under the Lord President's proposals, that would not be admissible. Therefore, in the one and a half hours available, the Committee would not be able to do even what we could do on the Floor and it could not do the work of the House.

The legislation would not be "committed" in the real sense of the word, to the Standing Committee, which has to do a specific job and report to the House. The Lord President is denying the Committee the tools for the job in that it can only discuss the legislation. A specific vote cannot be taken, specific amendments cannot be moved and a specific resolution cannot be reached. That is the first major lacuna in the proposals.

The second major lacuna is in respect of time. The wording of the Select Committee in paragraph 42(b) is even stronger: There may be a justification for these limitations in respect of Statutory Instruments, but your Committee can see no reason for applying them to European legislation. That is an under-statement. There is every reason for not doing so. The Committee may get its teeth into the subject with the help of the Scrutiny Committee's report and may wish to adjourn for two or three days to get facts or for its members to consult outside bodies to find out how the legislation will affect people. That is what we do on Standing Committees. For it to deal, for example, with lorry weights in one and a half hours would be impossible. I ask my right hon. Friend to concede that "minor changes" is not a happy description of the changes he is proposing in the Select Committee's recommendations.

Although I am a member of the Select Committee, in my view the recommendations do not go far enough. They provide a route back to the House but not a satisfactory one. I said so in Committee but I was not in the majority. When the Standing Committee has voted and come to a conclusion, if necessary there should be an opportunity for a debate in the House even if only for half an hour. That proposal is not included in the Select Committee's recommendations or in my right hon. Friend's version of them.

The general recommendation that EEC documents could be tabled as House of Commons documents is valuable. Difficulties might arise, but if EEC documents which have legal force in this country cannot appear in the Journal of the House something is surely wrong. The same applies to the lists. My right hon. Friend said of recommendation (2) that lists of 700 documents would not be helpful, but I am afraid that I have to disagree with him. Without lists, how are we to know what is going on? I know that that may cause staffing problems, but a strip index of the kind we use for our own documents in the Library would be helpful.

A similar procedure might be adopted for lists of up-to-date amendments of EEC documents. On one occasion I remember a long series of points of order arising on whether a document which was before the House was up to date. We found that it was not. The gentleman in the Chair at that time changed the rule on the selection of amendments because it was proved that amendments had been made to the documents before us. I hope that more efficient arrangements can be made for amendments.

I had hoped that it would not be necessary for me to refer to my amendments which appear on the Order Paper. I still hope that it will be unnecessary for me to move them formally. I shall not need to do so if my right hon. Friend will consider not moving his proposals. If some of my hon. Friends who are not in the Chamber support my right hon. Friend in the Lobby, they may be a little surprised afterwads to discover what they have supported. Although my amendments are not altogether satisfactory, they are an attempt to repair the damage and put into effect some of the Select Committee's recommendations. Instead of interlarding the amendments into Standing Order No. 73A as my right hon. Friend proposes, I have provided two new paragraphs, Nos. 74A and 75A. The effect of the amendments is to make possible a debate of more than one-and-a-half hours in Committee on a motion which is amendable. A report would come forward to the House after voting in the normal way.

My amendments do not entirely meet the case because we need a completely new Standing Order dealing specifically with European legislation. It is not right to include in Standing Order No. 73A matters relating to statutory instruments which are sub-primary and EEC legislation which is super-primary. I hope that it will be possible to agree on a new Standing Order dealing only with European legislation.

It has been said that this nation does not have a written constitution. At present there is disturbance in the country about parliamentary democracy, the reputation of the House and how we go about our business. Indeed, my right hon. Friend has some thoughts on that subject. I therefore hope that he will think carefully before pressing on us Standing Orders which do not even put into effect the Select Committee's recommendations. The Standing Orders of the House are, in effect, part of our constitution. They safeguard the liberty of the subject and the rights of back benchers who are the representatives of the people as against the Government. We have Standing Orders, "Erskine May" and the Treaty of Rome. If my right hon. Friend presses his proposals to a Division, we shall be changing what little written constitution we have. We may have to do that at some time, but it is not right to press amendments which were tabled only on Friday and the implications of which were outlined by my right hon. Friend less than an hour ago.

I am sure that all of us, including my right hon. Friend, have the same object in view. We want to make the procedure of the House for dealing with EEC documents as efficient and as effective as we can. That is common ground between my hon. Friends the Members for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) and Farnworth (Mr. Roper), the right hon. Member for Knutsford and myself. We may differ on merits but on matters of procedure we are at one.

4.28 p.m.

Photo of Cyril Smith Cyril Smith , Rochdale

I recognise that the subject we are debating is extremely important. Indeed, my constituents talk about little else than the way in which the House deals with European legislation, and I have long queues of people at my surgery all wishing to express their view on the matter. The issue I wish to raise is not to do with Standing Orders, because no amount of tinkering will alleviate the recognised inadequacies of our proceedure for dealing with European legislation.

I believe—and I want this on the record—that the only way we shall resolve the problem of European legislation is by a directly-elected Parliament for Europe, a Parliament which, I hope, will be more representative of the will and wishes of the people than this one is. The curtain will finally fall on the longest-runing farce in the West End when it stops playing to itself and realises that the disenchanted audience left many years ago.

I therefore welcome the assurance by the Leader of the House some weeks ago about the setting up of a Committee to review the whole procedure of the House. I believe that part of that Committee's remit will inevitably have to be to go over the ground over which we are now going—the relationship of this House to European legislation and the way it deals with it. Therefore, I suspect that what we are doing today is tinkering, tending to fiddle while Rome burns, and that everything we say and do today will again become the subject of debate and discussion when the right hon. Gentleman's Committee ultimately reports, which I hope will be very soon.

The Report of the Select Committee shows clearly that we are dealing in an inadequate way with EEC legislation. I said in my submission to the Select Committee that the only place where real control of legislation can be effectively exercised is at the level where it is initially drawn up and considered. I believe that this House will ignore at its peril the undemocratic and unrepresentative nature of both itself and the European Parliament as it exists. It will not be long before European laws will be challenged and flouted, as happened to recent laws emanating from this Chamber.

The authority of the House is undermined when two moribund and unrepresentative parties come and go like yo-yos between one election and the next and both completely ignore the rights of minorities in the country and in the House. Only when this House is representative will it be able with authority to exercise its right to scrutinise, amend and oppose legislation.

We have this year had a referendum on Europe. That referendum mandated the House to play its full part in Europe. It is not doing so. It does not even send a representative delegation to Strasbourg. It denies the minority parties their proper rights within that delegation. That is why I say that the House in what it is doing today is tending to fiddle while Rome burns.

I can only say, therefore, that, as far as I am concerned, I am prepared to support the Government's proposals in this matter but only because I believe that they are a temporary measure. I am certain that what the country will demand, and what the House will be debating, is a directly-elected Parliament for Europe so that the Parliament of Europe can deal with its own legislation in a way which demonstrates that it has been directly elected by the people and is therefore representative of them.

That must be the ultimate aim of this Parliament. I believe that it is the only way in which European legislation can be satisfactorily dealt with. So long as we continue to bring before this House European legislation and couple with it the weight of legislation which the House has been asked to deal with over the last few years—and I do not blame any individual party for that, since I do not believe that the present Government's legislative programme has been any greater than that of their predecessors—we are trying to do too much in too small a place.

What we should be doing is debating a directly-elected Parliament for Europe to deal with European legislation while this Parliament deals with legislation appropriate to it. I only ask that, when this House decides to support a directly-elected Parliament for Europe, as I believe is inevitable, we ensure that that European Parliament is more representative of the will of the people than is this one.

4.34 p.m.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) took up the limited time that we have for this important debate to deal with his pet subject. It would have been more appropriate on other occasions. Whatever the future, we have a duty to find effective ways of dealing with this legislation now, legislation which is of great importance to our constituents.

We are considering the first of the four Reports which the Select Committee, of which I am chairman, has completed this Session. The Committee started work when there was a huge backlog of such documents, and, as has been pointed out, when we were in the run-up period to the referendum. I am glad to say that the backlog has been disposed of. I believe that it is tribute to the members of the Committee and to the Select Committee system that while the membership contained, from both sides of the House, hon. Members who were very strong protagonists in the controversy, that situation did not intrude in any way into the Committee's deliberations, although, of course, the issues were never far from the minds of any of us. The Report shows few scars of the strains we were suffering at the time.

The Select Committee was concerned with two matters—first, to secure improvements in the consideration given to the large number of documents coming from Brussels, which, as we say, could be as many as 700 in any single year, and, secondly, to reduce the pressure on the time taken on the Floor of the House.

As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House indicated, the Select Committee, in pursuing these objectives, proposed the setting up of a Standing Committee similar to that of the Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments. The Scrutiny Committee would recommend a third category of document, some of the documents which are already discussed on the Floor of the House would be referred to that Committee, and some documents which are not discussed at all now would get discussion in it. The Committee could be attended by back benchers who would have the right to speak but not to vote. The Committee would take a great deal of pressure off the Floor of the House and enlarge the opportunities of back benchers in dealing with these documents.

As in the case of the Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, there would be a blocking mechanism whereby 20 Members could ensure that the documents concerned stayed on the Floor of the House. I congratulate the Government on accepting this recommendation although, as my right hon. Friend has said, they have departed from our recommendations in two other respects. The first is from the Committee's recommendation that the new Standing Committee should be able to debate amendable motions—in other words, to have an expression of opinion. The second is in the Government's proposals for an automatic closure of one and a half hours on the work of the Committee.

Some members of the Select Committee will find it difficult to go along with the Government's decision in this respect. I take perhaps a less tragic view than does my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) on this. It is understandable that the Government should wish to treat these documents in the same way as statutory instruments. There is validity in the view that, if the Government are to be instructed, they should be instructed by more than what could, perhaps, be no more than eight Members and perhaps the casting vote of the Chairman of the Committee. But that is as far as I can go, as it is at this point that the analogy with the statutory instruments procedure breaks down.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) intervened to ask about the procedure on return to the House. On return to the House, the original trigger motion could be moved—although I agree with my right hon. Friend in his interpretation of his amendments. No motion other than the original trigger motion could be moved—but that motion could be amended. We are therefore left with the situation that hon. Members could move, amend and vote on a motion but could not debate its proposals. That is an unsatisfactory position.

In the case of an automatic closure after one and a half hours, there is an analogy with the statutory instruments procedure, although I believe that the passage of time would have enabled us to discuss these matters with less passion than over the past few months and with less suspicion, and the result would probably have been similar to that in the statutory instruments procedure, where most of the statutory instruments are disposed of in perhaps less than half an hour. The Government should look again at that proposal.

The Committee was concerned to facilitate the work of hon. Members in dealing with what it described as the "vast and voluminous" papers coming from Brussels and made a number of suggestions to which my right hon. Friend did not refer. It said that the papers should be in standard format, numbered systematically, so that they can be clearly identified, listed and indexed, and that they should have explanatory notes giving an indication of their genesis. Also, an attempt should be made to make the documents available to the public in time for them to make representations to hon. Members before decisions are taken. I hope that my right hon. Friend will find it possible to consider those suggestions seriously—the Committee did not feel that they should be put in the form of firm recommendations —but I hope that something like this can be done.

My right hon. Friend talked about the second stage scrutiny. He did not make it clear—perhaps he will later—who will take the initiative in dealing with this matter, whether the Scrutiny Committee, the Standing Committee or the Government or whether it will be open to any other hon. Member. As the right hon. Member for Down, South made clear, the document coming back on its return visit may be very different in every respect from the one originally considered by the House, the Standing Committee or, earlier, the Scrutiny Committee.

I express my appreciation to the members of the Committee for their support. I would especially like to thank the Clerk of the Committee, Mr. Willcox, for the enormous amount of work he did and for his help to me, as Chairman, to the Committee as a whole and to individual hon. Members who consulted him about various problems. I am most grateful to him. No Committee could have been better served.

4.42 p.m.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to have caught your eye immediately after the speech of the right hon. Member for Dart-ford (Mr. Irving), who was Chairman of the Select Committee of whose Report we are taking note. It was, he knows, a matter of personal disappointment to me that I was not able to remain a member of the Committee, but I have been greatly honoured by the attention which the Committee gave to such propositions as I laid before it by way of evidence.

This debate takes place upon an agreed basis. It is an agreed basis which was referred to earlier in the debate and was confirmed as agreed by the Leader of the House. It is the proposition, which has been accepted, I think, by all parties for nearly two years now, that Her Majesty's Ministers should not assent in the Council of Ministers to changes in the law of this country which have not been approved, in some form or other, in some way or other, by this House, except in case of emergency or great urgency.

I still am of the opinion, as I always have been, that this rule, this basic agreement, is of such fundamental constitutional importance that it ought not simply to rest upon ministerial assurances but ought to be given the precision and the permanence of a resolution of this House, which can then itself be dovetailed into the Standing Orders which give effect to it.

There would be this additional advantage of such a resolution being made part of our constitution—the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) was right in saying that in a sense the Standing Orders of this House are a part of our constitution—namely, that it would ensure, first of all, that any substantial amendments made after prior consideration of documents came back to this House upon the initiative of the Government and, second, that subsequent approval was obtained in cases of emergency or urgency when assent had to be given by Her Majesty's Minister to changes in the law not previously approved by this House.

Still, what we are considering this afternoon is not the fundamental principle, which is broadly agreed though not yet enshrined, but improvement in the ways in which we can best give effect to it. I believe that the Leader of the House helped the House in doing this by tabling the actual amendments to Standing Orders which in his view were required. That was very helpful and certainly enables hon. Members to sharpen their minds, but I hope that he will be persuaded before the end of the debate not to move some or all of his motions, so that he can take account of what is said in the debate. After all, as he said, we are almost at the end of a Session and there will be little loss of time for him or anyone else if a little more consideration is available for him and for others of the precise form in which we are to amend our Standing Orders.

There are three instruments which the House has available for giving—or, as the case may be, withholding—its approval of proposed changes in the law to be made in the Council of Ministers of the EEC.

The first is the Scrutiny Committee, the second is the Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, as invoked by amendments of the sort that the Lord President has laid, and the third is the House itself. I should like to consider them in that order.

So far as the Select Committee is concerned, no problem arises. It seems to me to be generally accepted that, where the Scrutiny Committee, which is now working fairly smoothly and efficiently, does not report a proposal as requiring the further attention of the House, that proposal could very fairly be regarded, ipso facto, as carrying the approval of the House and calling for no further procedures.

Then we come to consider the Statutory Instruments Committee and to ask how far, and in what way, that Committee could best relieve the House while helping it to perform its function of giving or withholding approval on its part. It is when we envisage the Committee as doing that, as providing a kind of Committee stage in legislation, that we are forced to recognise that the Report of the Select Committee was wiser than the amendments to Standing Orders which we have before us.

Certainly I support the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) and others in saying that there is no serious analogy between secondary legislation under United Kingdom statute and secondary legislation in the sense in which we speak of Community legislation.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

There is a minor reservation, perhaps, on that, in that Northern Ireland statutory instruments come before the Statutory Instruments Committee and they are, of course, primary legislation.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

Yes, indeed. The right hon. Gentleman has literally taken the words out of my mouth. I was about to remind the House that the Lord President had very fairly drawn attention to the fact that, in recognition of the special nature of statutory instruments relating to Northern Ireland, an extra ration of time was given by Standing Order, because those statutory instruments would otherwise be the legislation of at least a subordinate Parliament, if such a Parliament still existed—a subject which may be detaining the attention of the House in months to come. If we feel that in these circumstances an allowance of more than one-hand-a-half hours is essential, how much more must that be so when we consider the comprehensive scope of the legislation that will come forward from the European Community in the years to come.

I wish to put my argument to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, not so much by way of contradiction, but on the ground that he himself, as the person in charge of the Government's business, has much to gain by adopting the point of view espoused by the Select Committee. Whenever there is a proposed reference to the Standing Committee it can always be defeated by 20 hon. Members rising to their feet to object. The better the procedure in Standing Committee, the more the procedures of the Standing Committee give satisfaction to the rest of us who are not privileged to be on the Standing Committee, the more the Standing Committee can be regarded as a substitute for debate and decision in this House, the more ready will hon. Members be to permit legislation to be referred to it.

I believe that by insisting on the narrow letter of 73A as it now exists the right hon. Gentleman is gravely damaging his own interests as manager of the business of the House. Of course we share, within our respective limitations, the desire that, so far as possible, time on the Floor of the House should be reserved for the more important matters. So I beg the right hon. Gentleman to understand that if he will see his way to accept the advice of the Select Committee on the two matters on which he has differed, he will find the means of relieving pressure on this Chamber which, with general concurrence, will facilitate the business of the House.

We are trying to use the Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments as a means of delegating the giving of approval, or at any rate all but the formal giving of approval, on behalf of this House. If that is to be realistic, the Standing Committee must be able to debate and come to resolutions in the proper manner. Otherwise it would almost be like sending a Bill upstairs to Standing Committee and then considering it on Report in the House without the Standing Committee having been able to make any amendments, or alternatively without our having any access to the decisions taken by the Standing Committee. It is necessary in my view that the Standing Committee should be able to debate substantive motions and, if it desires, to consider amendments to those motions, so that its decisions on those questions will be available for the guidance of the House when the Standing Committee has completed its procedure.

Obviously the form of the questions will vary, and here I can see yet another advantage to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House if he takes the advice of the Standing Committee. In many cases the instruments considered by the Standing Committee will turn out to be instruments not for early implementation—instruments which it is important should at that stage be examined, but not instruments which in that form are likely to be turned into law by the Council of Ministers. There is every possible advantage in instruments of that kind being debated at leisure, and every possible advantage in the Select Committee being able to indicate by the form of its resolution what importance it attaches to the present form of those instruments in view of the stage of gestation they have reached. I fear that, if that is not done, Members of the House, when they hear that an important matter involving a voluminous document emanating from the Commission is proposed to be referred to the Standing Committee, will in numbers more than 20 rise to their feet, to ensure there and then that they have a discussion of that matter in the House.

So it seems to me essential that the procedure of the Select Committee should admit of substantive questions and amendments to those questions. From that it surely follows that the Standing Committee must be master of its time. It would be impossible for this House to expect to receive from a Standing Committee decisions, and the consideration of possible amendments to those decisions, and at the same time to tell it that it was to come to a conclusion within one-and-a-half hours. The length of time spent by the Standing Committee, if it is to relieve this House, must vary according to the importance attached by the Standing Committee to each document that is before it.

The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House will have much more co-operation from the House if there is evidence that an important document submitted to the Standing Committee has had lengthy consideration than if the House finds itself confronted with a self-evidently important document on which the Standing Committee has had to conclude consideration within one-and-a-half hours. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman in his own interests, in the interests of Government business and in the interests of the House, to reconsider his decision.

I come to the third instrument for giving or withholding approval—namely, this Chamber itself. Many such matters may be capable of being dealt with either by accepting silently a report of the Standing Committee or by the summary procedure in paragraph 5 of Standing Order 73A, although I should like to say a few words about that presently. However, there will be those matters which the House will have reserved to itself by either refusing permission to send them to the Standing Committee, or else by the Government laying the relevant resolution before the House in the first instance. Again, it seems to me that the same two requirements are present; first, a specific resolution, whatever it may be, and, secondly, adequate time. If it is the principle that prospective legislation before being assented to shall be approved by this House, then we all know what is meant by the approval of this House. This House gives its approval by passing resolutions with or without a Division, and that is just as appropriate to Community legislation as to any other type of decision.

I do not believe it is satisfactory either for the House or for the Government that there should be a standard one-and-a-half hours for what by definition are the most important issues of Community legislation, unless on any particular occasion the Government take part of the time before 10 o'clock to add to the hour-and-a-half after 10 o'clock. On the contrary, the proper course is not to set ourselves in advance any fixed maximum time for this purpose. Perhaps I am not in agreement with many hon. Members in my belief that we sometimes do very good work in this House after 10 o'clock at night. I do not think it is necessarily a condemnation of our procedure if we find ourselves debating important matters until 11 o'clock, midnight, or even one or two o'clock in the morning. Some of the best and most fruitful debates I have attended in this House in 25 years have taken place at those hours, and I believe that has been the position not only in the recent past but throughout many centuries in the life of this House.

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is right concerning the quality of the debating and about our capacity to indulge in these debates. However, is it not a fact that debates taking place at these late hours do not have the same impact upon public opinion, because the Press are very often not present in sufficient numbers?

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

I quite agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that the Press are surprisingly careless in failing to discover that some of the most interesting things to report and some of the most exciting political events take place after they have closed their notebooks and gone to bed.

However, what we are considering here is approval given by this House to EEC legislation. Rather than, for the convenience of ourselves or the Whips, attempt to compress that work into the hours before 11.30 p.m., I should much sooner—and there is probably no ideal answer—leave this at large for the more subtle pressures and arrangements we all know to do their work. After all, even in this class of the most important EEC legislation, there are bound to be differences between some subjects which can be disposed of fairly smartly and others which call for more protracted discussion; and I am sure it has been the experience of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House and of the Government Whips that, however great has been the strength of feeling on the EEC, there has been absolutely no disposition to use debates on EEC legislation as part of the means, however legitimate, of bringing pressure to bear on the Government by the use or misuse of time.

Finally, I want to refer to the work of this House upon EEC legislation which has been through the Select Committee, because I do not believe that we have got this right, with respect, either in the Report of the Select Committee or, even less, in the amendments to Standing Orders tabled by the right hon. Gentleman.

It seems to me that two things must be possible. It must be possible and right for the Government themselves to secure—if they can—what they consider to be the right conclusion upon the particular legislative proposal; that is to say, there must be an appeal to this House from the Select Committee, from the point of view of the Government. But then surely there is something grotesque about the Government telling the House that it must reconsider and perhaps reverse the result of the intensive work of a few of its Members without allowing itself or anyone else the opportunity to put the reasons why or examine those reasons, however briefly. Perhaps this is a case in which the one and a half hours rule might be appropriate and might help us, but I simply cannot think it right that there should be an instantaneous decision whenever the Government consider that an instrument which has been through the Select Committee should be put before this House for decision. So much for the Government.

Then there are private Members, whether official Opposition or groups or indidivuals. They ought to have the opportunity to "have a go". After all, on legislation of any kind we can "have a go" on Report and, if six of us put our names down, on Third Reading. We can always have individually the last word where there is debated legislation. I believe that there needs to be provision whereby a private Member—and this perhaps is a case where decision forthwith would be appropriate—could secure a decision of this House, a vote of this House if necessary, upon legislation which has gone through the Standing Committee.

I am sorry that I have detained the House for so long. I end by saying once again most strongly to the right hon. Gentleman that he has nothing to lose and everything to gain from reconsidering the two points on which he has parted company from the Select Committee; and I say that out of an equal tenderness for his own duties towards the dispatch of Government business as for the rights of the House.

5.5 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Roper Mr John Roper , Farnworth

I think that I have followed the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) in a number of the debates that we have had after 10p.m. on European Community legislation in the last 12 months. All I can say is that there has been no occasion on which I have disagreed with him less than I have today. Although he will find, particularly when we come to deal with the question of the Standing Committee, that I am less convinced than he is that our procedures are right, certainly with much of the rest of what he said I am totally in agreement. In particular I hope, as he does, that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will consider very carefully again before he moves the detailed amendments to Standing Orders, which he has tabled today.

I should, perhaps, declare an interest in that I have served on the Secondary Legislation Committee since its creation 18 months ago. At times it has indeed been a trying business, but I believe that under the guidance of the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies), and with some assistance from the Government, the Committee has made a significant amount of progress in serving this House and the people of the United Kingdom.

In coming to the debate today and to this carefully prepared report, for which we are grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving), I have to ask myself why at this stage the House should be considering again the methods which it uses to consider Community draft legislation. Is it because the Scrutiny Committee, the Secondary Legislation Committee, has failed so miserably? Is it because the referendum is behind us? Is it because the Government are not living up to their pledge to withhold their approval of proposals in Brussels until this House has had a chance to consider them?

I do not think that it is any of those reasons but the answer given by the right hon. Member for Down, South—the simple notion of convenience, both for the Government and for hon. Members. I must state plainly that I have not a great deal of sympathy with that notion of convenience, whether it applies in this context either to the Government or to hon. Members.

From the point of view of the Government, I appreciate the difficult problem of the Leader of the House. He has a large legislative programme to bring forward. To ease this process he would clearly like to remove items which compete for time and do not require the normal procedures of the House. But we have to ask whether—as has been said frequently today—the items relating to the Community that we are considering in the House so far and those which we shall probably consider in the months to come are likely to be considered less important than other items that come before the House. I can put it another way. Can it be claimed that the Secondary Legislation Committee has abused the undertaking given by the Government to provide opportunities for the debate of important Community draft legislation? Have we put too much forward for debate? I do not believe that the answer is "Yes".

I think that hon. Members should know that in certain instances—quite rightly—the Committee has withdrawn its recommendation for a debate when a case has been made by the Government that the document in question is no longer a matter for serious Community consideration. My right hon. Friend and his successors must continue to shoulder the additional burden of providing time on the Floor of the House for consideration of Community matters.

Again, as has been said by the right hon. Member for Down, South, for hon. Members the convenience relates to the time and the length of sittings. I do not want to criticise any of my colleagues in the House, but I feel obliged to say that I am a little tired of hearing speakers in almost every Community debate carping about the timing of the debate. The House of Commons is not a mere gentlemen's club. It is a collection of men and women who are meant, among other things, to look after the welfare of the British people. If that requires late night sittings, so be it. If it requires debates on Fridays, so be it.

Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley

I should like to point out to my hon. Friend that Members of this House are also human beings, and they have the intellectual and physical limitations of human beings. In certain circumstances an excessive strain is put on the physical stamina of men and women if they are expected to be in this House for 15, 16 or 18 hours a day.

Photo of Mr John Roper Mr John Roper , Farnworth

I realise that that is a problem, but I do not think that the British public will tolerate Members who on the one hand complain about their political impotence and who then, on the other hand, are not willing to suffer minor discomforts in order to perform what is expected of them. Therefore, the argument about the convenience of Members of the House is not one on which we need spend a great deal of time.

I make these points at the outset because they undermine the prima facie case for moving EEC matters from the Floor of the House to a Standing Committee. The analogy which has been drawn with statutory instruments does not apply, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing).

A second question, which is equally important for us to consider is: what is the essential difference between Community draft legislation and British legislative proposals which should underlie any analysis that the House makes of Community affairs? There are several differences, some of which have already been referred to. I believe that the most important as regards Members of the House, particularly back benchers, is that, unlike proposals coming from the executive in this House, when Community proposals come before us they are not the proposals of Her Majesty's Government, at least not at the stage that they come before us initially. When an EEC Commission proposal is deposited in the Vote Office it is not put forward with the support of the Cabinet. Often it is months or years before a Cabinet position is taken.

The significance of this point is important. The parliamentary system as it normally operates is generally dominated by the position that the Cabinet adopts on a matter. On most matters party allegiance—the support or opposition of the executive—is the determining factor in the position adopted by hon. Members. However, on Community matters the situation is quite different. Until such time as Ministers have taken a view on Community proposals, those proposals are open for discussion and analysis by all hon. Members in a quite different way from ordinary United Kingdom Government legislation. Partisan political points may arise in this analysis, but not at the expense of the Government or at the advantage of the Opposition. Anyone who has read the minutes of evidence at the sessions when the Secondary Legislation Committee has taken evidence will bear me out on this point. We have not debated the matter as supporters of the Government or of the Opposition. We have tried to analyse the merits of a proposal which at the point of time that it comes before us still has not the blessing or the opposition of the Government.

It follows from this that the concept of ministerial responsibility, which is a good one in our general debates in the House, has a different connotation when it is applied to European Community matters. True, once Ministers have taken a firm viewpoint the distinction is no longer valid, but until that time no one can rightly claim that back benchers should be excluded from policy making. I have some sympathy with—although I do not altogether agree with their argument—those right hon. and hon. Members who say that we cannot have Select Committees for each Department to examine departmental affairs because such Committees would undermine ministerial responsibility. However, Community legislation is not analogous with the activities of United Kingdom Government Departments. We can have detailed analysis of such proposals without infringing on the right and responsibility of the Government to govern.

That brings me to the third question: what is, therefore, the right format for such analysis? Beside the Floor of the House which I have accepted initially as being important, the obvious alternatives are a Select Committee and a Standing Committee, or a combination of the two. I have stated my objection to a Standing Committee as an obvious alternative to the Floor of the House. I see certain difficulties arising from the suggestion of the Select Committee on Procedure. The Select Committee has suggested that Ministers should decide which matters should be taken up in Standing Committee. As I understand it, neither the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Lord President nor the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South would allow a private Member to refer a matter to the Standing Committee.

Again, Ministers are to decide the form of motion to be debated. Presumably a Minister would lead the debate, provide the information, and respond to the debate. That is a perfectly appropriate format when a statutory instrument is being considered or when a Standing Committee is considering a Bill. However, Community matters are different at this stage. Therefore, a different approach is needed.

I believe that Ministers will suggest the minimum number of debates on the Floor of the House. They will probably postpone debates until the last possible moment because they will not want to discuss proposals on which they have not yet taken a stand. They will be reluctant to tell hon. Members the attitudes of various interests outside the House to the proposals.

This is not to argue that Ministers will act as if they are contemptuous of the House. Rather, they will act in the traditional pattern, which is not appropriate to draft Community legislation at the stage it comes before the House.

There is the additional problem of information. On many of the Community proposals which have come before the Secondary Legislation Committee hon. Members have depended heavily upon outside interests to indicate problems. This is as it should be, because Members of the House are expected to attempt to redress grievances. However, outside witnesses could not be called in Standing Committee.

Finally, I believe that there is the problem of duplication. The Select Committee on Procedure is not recommending that the Select Committee and the Standing Committee carry out precisely parallel tasks. My experience of the practical problems found on the Scrutiny Committee in trying to come to grips with EEC matters convinces me that members of the two Committees will find themselves covering much of the same ground. This will mean a squandering of scarce resources, by which I mean not merely monetary resources but also the time of right hon. and hon. Members.

Having therefore found that neither the idea of a Standing Committee alone nor the idea of a Standing Committee in conjunction with a Select Committee is acceptable, I believe that there is much to be said for the House considering whether the idea of a Select Committee could not be expanded to do the job more adequately than at present, combined of course with the continuing right and responsibility for debate on the Floor of the House on the Reports submitted by the Select Committee.

This is an option which I believe is preferable, not merely because I believe that the present Select Committee has worked tolerably well but also because from the work of the Committee we have learned lessons on which we can build. In short, I should like to turn to one or two improvements which could be made to our existing Select Committee procedure so that it can do its job much more satisfactorily.

First and most importantly, I believe that the Select Committee needs a change in its terms of reference to allow it to carry on a closer analysis of important Community documents. The Committee announced its intention in its Second Special Report of this Session to examine in more detail certain draft Community legislation. I note that the Select Committee on Procedure welcomes this in its Report.

We must remember that the Government motion establishing the Select Committee on European Secondary Legislation gave as its major function the sifting of Community documents. That was a departure from the original recommendations of the Foster Committee but one to which our chairman has rightly held us. We have been precluded from commenting on the merits of individual instruments coming before us.

No doubt the sifting of documents remains a task to be performed, but it does not need to be the primary task of the Committee. Other methods of sifting suggest themselves, the two most notable being that used by the European Communities Committee in another place whereby the chairman with the assistance of her clerks separates the wheat from the chaff, and the method used in the Bundestag—I understand that we are to consider this later this month—whereby the proposals that the clerks in consultation with the Committee chairmen deem to be of minor importance are presented to the committees en bloc for consultation and odbjections from members.

I believe that our Committee has benefited also from the advice of our Clerks and that something similar to the German system would work well. What is needed is a change in the terms of reference so that sifting is of secondary importance while analysis and assessment by the Select Committee of important documents should be our prime task.

In addition to this expansion of our functions, a restructuring of the Committee might also be in order. As constituted, the Committee has one sub-committee, and that only for sifting. If the proposal which I have suggested were accepted, that sub-committee would be obsolete and in its place we would need to look at the possibility of setting up a functioning sub-committee, its work to some extent parallelling the functions of a Select Committee in another place. It would deal, for example, with agriculture, fishing, trade, energy, industry, employment, economic and budgetary affairs.

I have no time now to go into detail about the way in which such a Committee would operate, but I think that the House, before it accepts the proposal submitted by my right hon. Friends for moving to a Standing Committee procedure—which has some merits because it would ease his burden on the Floor of the House—ought to consider whether such a procedure would be appropriate for the House of Commons for dealing with this new problem with which we are faced in contemplating, analysing and influencing the formation of policy of the British Government in relation to the Community.

I have already spoken for a long time, but this is an issue about which I feel strongly. My attitude on the rôle of Britain in the Community is no secret, but I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that this House should play an active part in making EEC policy choices. Perhaps the most successful debate we have had in this House on Community affairs in recent months was on 17th October on the Community's stocktaking report. That was possible because that for the first time the Scrutiny Committee went much further than it had done before and produced the sort of report which provided a basis for the debate. I hope this is something that we can use in future.

I point to that debate to allay the fears of right hon. and hon. Members who believe that careful analysis in Select Committee and proper expression of the feeling of this House through debate in this Chamber are mutually exclusive. They can work together. We must have both in dealing satisfactorily with Community draft legislation.

5.23 p.m.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Oxon Mid

The House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) and to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) because they took us back to the constitutional principles which underlie this debate. It is natural that in a debate of this kind the burden should be carried by people who have served, in this case, on the Scrutiny Committee and on the Select Committee on Procedure and who have lived through all the arguments and are masters of the details.

I believe that I am the first Member to be called who has not, as it were, served that apprenticeship. But I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I feel passionately about the importance of this subject and I wish that we were able to interest a larger band of our colleagues and a larger section of the public in its overwhelming importance, not just as part of the pattern of a developing Europe but also as part of the older pattern of the history of this House.

If the founding fathers of the European Community had been with us today they would have been rather startled by the debate. They would not have been startled by the fact that Britain is a member of the Community, because that is something which they always expected, but they would have been startled by the fact that this House at this time should have been anxious to assert its authority over Community matters and should be looking for ways of doing so. In their concept, the Community would by now have developed on the lines of a European Commission which would gradually have grown into being something indistinguishable from a European Government, and, on the other hand, a European Parliament which would have gradually grown through direct election and increase of powers into an Assembly which effectively and democratically controlled the Commission and thus the executive of Europe.

They would have felt, therefore, a tremor of sympathy with the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) because they, like him, would have been in ignorance of what has happened to Europe since the founding fathers left the scene. The Community has developed in quite a different way, like a tree which almost imperceptibly starts to grow in a different shape from that which one expected when it was planted. The growth of the Commission has been checked.

The Council of Ministers has held on to and is now developing its own power and its own sense of being the centre of decision making. This fact has enormous implications for us in this House. If it had been true that the Commission was developing as the executive, one would have had some sympathy with the views of the hon. Member for Rochdale in saying that what mattered was the democratic nature and powers of the European Parliament because the Commission, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) pointed out in his evidence to the Select Committee on Procedure, does not feel any responsibility to this House.

If the Commission were what mattered, it would be only the European Parliament which mattered when we were thinking about a democratic check. If the Council of Ministers is what matters—and I believe that this will emerge from the work that Mr. Tindemans is doing for the future—it is important that we in this House should find the best means of controlling the Ministers who go from this country to all the different meetings.

These Ministers are our creatures. They come when we call them. They are not in the same way responsible to the European Parliament. That is where the hon. Member for Rochdale completely misunderstood the present situation. What we should aim at is a pincer movement of democratic control. I agree that the Members of the European Parliament should be directly elected and should operate as effectively as they can on the central machinery of the Community.

However, if a Council of Ministers is what is important, this House must be jealous and assertive of its own rights as it has ever been.

Against this background I ask the Leader of the House to think again about his general attitude to the subject. We know that he has done his best. He has behaved towards these matters rather as a parent has behaved to a child guest whom his own children have invited to his home for the holidays. He has restrained his irritation. There has been a knife and fork laid for the visitor, but all the time he has wished that the holidays would come to an end and that the visitor would go away. There have certainly been no second helpings of parliamentary time for European business.

But the situation has changed. The referendum has changed that. The visitor is, in fact, no longer a visitor but an adopted member of the household. We must ask—this has been the tenor of many speeches—the Lord President to think again about his attitude. The whole analogy of secondary legislation in this House has been criticised by almost every speaker. It does not stand up to the most elementary examination. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to be helpful, but the spirit in which he has approached this matter has failed to rise to the level of the importance of the subject.

It is important to realise that this will be a developing business. We shall not work out in this or the next Session the exact answer to the problem which will last perhaps for a century. For example, if we have directly elected Members of the European Parliament, there is the problem of what their relationship should be to Members of this House. It is a problem to which the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) has given careful attention and about which he has made suggestions. The noble Lord, Lord Chelwood has done the same. It is an important problem in the next chapter for the next four or five years. We should accommodate this problem within the structure which we are discussing today—not now, but we must keep it open.

The directly elected Members who would not be Members of this House should nevertheless be able to take part in discussions in the Standing Committee which we are considering. That is one way of accomplishing the important meshing together of the work of British representatives in Strasbourg who are directly elected, once those representatives are no longer Members of this House.

I think worth noting and underlining one change which I have perceived over the past year in listening to debates on these matters. In all our discussions we have been grateful for the contributions made by experienced and energetic hon. Members on both sides who have been strongly opposed to British membership of the Community. I think it not unfair to say that, at the beginning, some of those contributions were principally directed to showing that the task which we have been discussing was futile, that there was no way of reconciling British membership of the Community with effective control by the House of Commons over the decisions of our representatives at the Community.

However, I think that I have detected both today and previously a change of approach. Our constituents have told us that this task has to be accomplished, and therefore the energy and skill which we have admired is now being devoted to accomplishing it. Some right hon. and hon. Members told us in the past that it was an impossible task. Now that it is clearly a task which must be accomplished, they have realised the truth of the old saying that what is difficult can be done at once and what is impossible just takes a little longer.

5.31 p.m.

Photo of Mr Bryan Gould Mr Bryan Gould , Southampton, Test

I join the hon. Member for Mix-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) and other hon. Members in regretting that the Government have not fallen in with the suggestion made by the Scrutiny Committee and by others that we should have a "take note" debate this afternoon and we should decide the substantive issues on the precise amendments to Standing Orders at another time. I regret that decision because this is an extremely important issue and we must get it right. As matters stand, the form of the debate and the conclusions we may reach are very much determined by the Government's motion. In my view, it might well have been in the Government's own interest to inform themselves of the views of back benchers before moving any substantive amendments to Standing Orders.

The Government's cavalier attitude on this issue is seen not only in the form of the debate but also in the substance of what is proposed. Here, I believe, we are paying the penalty for sloppy terminology. We constantly refer to Community legislation as European secondary legislation, and that sloppy terminology has inevitably led to a sloppy conclusion in the form which the Government's proposals have taken.

The truth, as so many hon. Members have made plain, is that Community legislation is not secondary legislation at all. The only similarity it bears to statutory instruments is that in a purely technical sense it depends on an Act of this Parliament for its force as law. There the similarity ends. Statutory instruments must yield to Acts of Parliament if they are repugnant to those Acts. Community legislation, by contrast, prevails over Acts of Parliament. Statutory instruments are made within limits prescribed and established following debate in the House. Community legislation, by contrast, need never be even debated in the House, and it takes its place within a context determined not by an Act of this Parliament but by the Community Treaties.

Furthermore, statutory instruments are made solely by Ministers as representatives of the British Government, as my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) pointed out, whereas Community legislation is made by or within a process of legislation in which our Minister plays merely a contributory part, that part being well beyond, in any normal sense, the control exercised by the House, the process being one in which negotiation and bargaining play a large rôle.

Photo of Mr John Roper Mr John Roper , Farnworth

Will my hon. Friend agree also that when these instruments come before the House it is unlikely that our Ministers have taken any part in their formulation, since they are purely the product of the Commission?

Photo of Mr Bryan Gould Mr Bryan Gould , Southampton, Test

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reinforcing the point. Given the unique nature of European legislation and the fact that it is in no sense analogous to subordinate legislation, save in a purely technical way, we must try to adapt our procedures or adopt new ones. In the light of the loss of control which we have suffered as a result of our membership of the Community, we must make good that loss as best we may.

The first and essential step in that effort is to have adequate scrutiny and an adequate procedure. I take pleasure here in agreeing with the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) when he suggests that, despite some continuing problems, the Scrutiny Committee is now able to identify those measures and proposals which are of substantial political or legal significance. However, it is what happens after that scrutiny which is important and which is the subject of today's debate.

What happens at that stage, I believe, will depend on a number of elements which may come together to make up a proper system of control by the House over the executive. Those elements include the need for provision for debate on proposals on the Floor or by a Committee of the House. There must be a mechanism for initiating such debate. There must be adequate time for debate. The debate must take place neither so early that the proposals are still only vaguely formulated and may be substantially changed after the debate nor so late that the proposals have reached a final stage and will be unaffected by our debate. Moreover, the debate must be capable of determination by a decision of the House or its Committee.

We come here to the crux of the matter. If this chain of control is to be maintained, it is essential that the House be able to form and reach a decision and be able to inform or instruct Ministers on what that decision is.

I do not believe that the Government's proposals, as it were dividing the power to debate but not vote in respect of the House from the power to vote but not debate, as will be the case in Committee, will achieve the results which we desperately need, especially when the vote will be on a motion or amendments which will have been tabled before the Standing Committee has been able to reach a view. Nor do I accept that opinion which the Lord President expressed in answer to a question when he gave evidence to the Select Committee. He said—this is Question No. 176— The Government can get the views of Members of Parliament from the contents of the debate, I should have thought, rather than counting heads with about 26 people there at 11.30 at night". The traditional, orthodox and conventional way of determining the view of the House or one of its Committees on a proposal for legislation has served us well and ought not to be abandoned. It cannot be maintained that the lateness of the hour or the number of Members present, save for the provision of a quorum, has ever determined the validity of decisions of the House of Commons on legislation.

After consideration of these matters by the House or a Committee, the Minister must in some sense be bound by what the House or the Committee decides. I was pleased to hear the Leader of the House reiterate the assurance that Ministers would not, at least in most cases, agree to legislation before the proposals had been discussed by the House. But I should have liked him to go further and accept that Ministers will not assent to legislative proposals which run counter to a resolution or the expressed will of the House, and I hope that we shall hear a word about that in the winding-up speech from the Front Bench.

The whole process of control over Ministers rests on the veto, and that also must be maintained. There must be a mechanism for reporting back to the House about what Ministers have been able to achieve in the light of the views and decisions of the House. There must be the possibility—I agree with what other hon. Members have said here—of reviewing what has happened, especially when what has happened has in an important respect departed from what the House has been able to debate or decide. Ideally, I should like it to be possible for the House to be able to withhold the force of law from proposals which depart in that substantial way from proposals which it has endorsed.

Many of these elements in the chain of control are to some extent beyond the ambit of this debate, but when we turn our attention to those elements which fall within the present ambit, what is the answer? How satisfactory are the Government's proposals to meet the requirements which I have outlined? It will probably come as no surprise to hon. Members to learn that I do not consider the Government's proposals satisfactory. I believe that they are based essentially on the false analogy with statutory instruments.

For my part—I believe that other hon. Members feel the same—I welcome the proposal that there should be a Standing Committee, and I depart here, I believe, from my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth. I welcome it because I believe that it deals with the practical problem which the Scrutiny Committee encountered, namely, that of dealing with proposals which are important and which therefore ought to be brought to the attention of Members of Parliament but are not so important as necessarily to require time on the Floor of the House. In my view, the Standing Committee system will deal with that practical problem quite well.

I support the proposal also because our Standing Committee procedure is inherently preferable to the Select Committee procedure when we are concerned with special proposals of a legislative character. Because we are dealing with proposals which are not yet in their final form—Ministers will still have to negotiate and perhaps even the Government might not have taken a view—it is right that a Standing Committee should be able to reach conclusions and take a view. It is regrettable that the Government's proposals have ignored the Select Committee's recommendations in these matters, particularly the referring of the Standing Committee's conclusions to the Floor of the House.

Our job of controlling the executive and scrutinising legislation is difficult enough. The derogation from our powers has been substantial. The House must adapt itself and strain its every nerve to develop new procedures to bring the executive back within our control as much as possible. We have done it in the past and we can do it again, but we cannot do it on the basis of these Government proposals.

5.42 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East

I agree with many of the points made by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) in his excellent speech. I sensed an enormous amount of agreement in the House with much of what he said. He has been a member of the Scrutiny Committee and speaks with a great deal of knowledge and experience. I particularly agree with him that the Select Committee approach would not be as suitable for what we shall be trying to do as a Standing Committee.

This has been a relatively harmonious debate as we have grappled with trying to make Parliament work better and to improve our scrutiny of legislation. There are deficiencies in the Lord President's proposals which have disappointed many hon. Members. Following the publication of the Select Committee's Report in the summer, there were noises emanating from the Lord President's offices and elsewhere indicating that the recommendations and key suggestions in the Report would be accepted. The Lord President has failed to accept two of the most important recommendations. I regard the question of preparing a list of Community instruments in passage as extremely important and vital for the proper servicing of the House. One wonders who the Lord President consulted before reaching the decisions on timing and the inability of the Committee to make motions or amendments to substantive motions. This is a disappointing announcement. It will not do. Even if the right hon. Gentleman's will prevails, the House will have to return to this question. The idea that a Standing European Committee should start off hog-tied is unacceptable to all parts of the House.

It was a little cool for the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith), who could be described, if it is not too much of a contradiction in terms, as a Liberal Patronage Secretary, to come to this debate to make a speech that was totally irrelevant. Presumably it had already been printed, with a duplicate copy for the latest edition of the Liberal News, circulation 1,000. He left the House immediately afterwards and his remarks were in no way related to the central substance of this debate. Admittedly, the hon. Member may have had a previous engagement outside, but it is too much for a Member of the Liberal Party, particularly a senior Member, to come into the House and subject us to a display of ignorance which, I suppose, is inflicted on his constituents at his surgeries. He suggested that Liberals have a monopoly of concern for the Community and the way in which the House deals with these matters.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. Perhaps I may prevent the hon. Member from falling into the same trap if he will return to the Orders under discussion.

Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East

I not only note what you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I immediately obey it. It was a pity that there was confusion in respect of the speech of the hon. Member for Rochdale about the way future developments of the European Parliament will have a repercussive effect on national legislatures, including our own. I think I am the first Member of the European Parliament to speak in this debate. The idea that, once directly elected, a European Parliament could replace this House in the scrutinising of European instruments is nonsensical and ludicrous as long as the present political structures in the Community continue, which, I imagine, will be for a long time. A directly elected Parliament would be a useful supplement for this House, but no more than that, in the to-ing and fro-ing and dialogue about Community instruments and legislation. I hope we can avoid all the disagreeable accidents of timing in these matters being considered by the two assemblies.

I hope that elected European Members of Parliament will be given institutional access to this House in due course and to the Standing Committee if it succeeds, as I hope it does, despite the Lord President's disappointing response to some of the Select Committee's suggestions. This access could be anticipated now. It has been said that it would not be right to consider how elected Members of a European Parliament could be slotted into existing arrangements. Of course the question does not arise yet because, at present. Members of the European Parliament are also Members of this House or another place. However, one could anticipate their dual rôle in at least semi-institutional terms in advance of the direct elections. It is important for the Standing Committee to succeed vis-à-vis the executive and vis-à-vis the very great pressures on the time of the House, so that the House can consider Community legislation in a proper and rational way.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) got a bit mixed up when referring to Council documents rather than Commission documents. From our point of view, there is only one kind of document—originated by the Commission on behalf of the Council of Ministers or by the Commission exercising its own initiative. Later, the House will be considering the recidivist aspect of documents as they come back from this latest process in the Community. This is still very strange to us in this House. It has been difficult in the past, though once again I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davis) and his colleagues on the Scrutiny Committee, for the House has had to jump on the moving roundabout of European legislation and instruments at different stages in the preparation of the documents. It will be important for the Standing Committee to debate these matters at the latest stage possible, commensurate in practical terms with being able to influence the executive as it approaches decisive meetings of the Council of Ministers. But in that respect I would propose, by way of modification and as something which could be considered later, that the aim should be to combine the potential effectively to cover everything the Community sends to this House and to the executive for consideration with a ruthless but highly practical selectivity about those things which the Standing Committee should debate.

If the existing procedure is maintained so that the Scrutiny Committee makes its selective suggestions to the Standing Committee on European matters, presumably the fact of having a Committee upstairs and not relying on debate on the Floor of the House after 10 o'clock will mean that more things will be proposed by the Committee for consideration upstairs.

It is not essential for this House to be worried about everything but the most minor matters. I hope that the Standing Committee will pass over rapidly a large number of less than minor matters upstairs so that the House can once and for all concentrate effectively on the important issues. If the quid pro quo of the fact that Section 1 of the European Communities Act was sweeping, comprehensive and grandiose is that our scrutiny procedure must be sophisticated and elaborate, this will be undermined not by the executive but by a House which is too ambitious in trying to cover everything, either on the Floor of the House or upstairs in Standing Committee.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) was right in saying that in that context the Lord President has the opportunity to be courageous this time to reconsider the fact that he has left out these key elements of the Procedure Committee's report. On European legislation the executive here will not be under attack in the traditional parliamentary sense, defending its exclusive individual position against a Parliament where often nowadays there may be a vigorous opposition from their own benches.

There was a skilful article in the Financial Times on Friday by that newspaper's political correspondent which said that in these matters the Government in Brussels was like a lobby or pressure group seeking the best place and position for the United Kingdom. In that context therefore the Government do not have to worry that this House is seeking to embarrass or defeat them by conventional votes on these matters. The House must be able to agree that it is seeking the best results for the country without adopting the normal positions in Parliament which characterise all our internal legislation.

We shall do this in a way which is new and to some extent rather alien to us. We have had several years' experience, groping on many occasions, and this House, having come late on the European scene, still has a scrutiny system which most other European Parliaments have abandoned. However, we can attempt to create a model for all other Parliaments which the member States could begin to emulate with enthusiasm.

Photo of Sir Albert Costain Sir Albert Costain , Folkestone and Hythe

If a Minister were putting up an argument in Brussels, would it not help his arguments against the other ministers if he were in a position to say that this House was unanimously against such a proposal?

Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East

I entirely accept what my hon. Friend says. He comes back to the vital importance of having substantive motions or amendments to them. Certainly on many occasions it will be necessary to reinforce the Government in that way, and I hope that that fact will encourage the Lord President to reconsider at least these two matters and perhaps some of the minor matters as well.

The harmony of this debate is a reflection of Parliament's anxiety to try to get it right this time after many glottal stops. None of us will prove to be effective—apart from the two points which have concerned hon. Members this afternoon—unless there is a substantial back-up. Hence the significance of the lists. I was amazed when the Lord President said that the executive did not wish to trouble the House by publishing long lists of Community measures. About 150 directives come out of the Community every year. Most of them are of critical importance to vital groups in the United Kingdom. The Lord President's suggestion is treating the House too casually.

The other back-up which would be needed concerns the quality of the documentation produced. I hope that this House has seen the last of the out-of-date drafts of Community instruments, the documents which have to be reproduced later and where the drafting emanating from official sources, was totally out of date. If that point is not dealt with, even though the quality of the debates upstairs is outstanding and magnificent, the work of this House will remain inefficient and ineffective.

5.57 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Mackintosh Mr John Mackintosh , Berwick and East Lothian

There has been a great measure of agreement throughout the debate on both sides that we must get the proposals right this time, and that is due to the great deal of experience that we have accumulated on various aspects of Community legislation.

It is a great pleasure and privilege to have served on the Scrutiny Committee under the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies). He has conducted these matters with the greatest skill. It became clear to all of us on that Commitee that simply having the power of scrutiny and to divide all Community proposals into two categories—either they went by on the nod or they came to the House for full debate—was inadequate. The problem was what to do with those items which were coming to the House from the Community which did not merit a full-scale debate on the Floor of the House. I refer to items which are not sufficiently controversial to excite a busy House, but which require adequate scrutiny, not just within the two-sided party framework, but in order to find out what the items are about. The people who would be touched by them could then be informed and the professional Press could know what was going on. It could draw a response about what British Ministers should say when the proposals come up before the Council of Ministers.

The impressive aspect of this debate is that everyone has seized upon the point that what is coming before us is not legislation in the traditional sense. We are dealing with a proposal for what we might call a Green Paper. We must therefore devise a method of bringing the views of the House, of the British public and of the interests concerned to bear on a policy document on which the House or the Government have taken no position. It is in that respect that the Select Committee procedure is not a happy one to use.

I disagree with the most able speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) in one respect. I agreed with him on the characterisation of the problem but I was surprised that he should say that the best technique was a Standing Committee technique involving two sides, where speakers go at each other, and where the Minister takes one position and other Members take another position.

What are the characteristics which our procedure ought to have in dealing with this kind of policy proposal or legislative proposal? The first is that we want to know the views of outside bodies. We want to know what are the views of those closely affected. We cannot find that out in a Standing Committee. The way to get those views is to invite people to come and give evidence.

Secondly, we need expertise. May I say to the Lord President that one of the things that worried me was his proposal to have, I gathered, a different ad hoc Standing Committee for each proposal or bunch of proposals. If we have learned one thing on the Scrutiny Committee, it is that it takes a long time to understand what it is all about, and if we are continually standing down and being reappointed and doing different jobs, we cannot expect to understand it.

To understand the detailed regulations relating to the common agricultural policy requires a great deal of specialism. It means having the same people to go into them week after week and month after month, so that they may realise precisely what is going on, and what attention needs to be drawn to which proposal. Again, the evidence of outside bodies is needed. There is a need for expertise, for persistence in the matter, and for time. In these circumstances a period of an hour and a half is quite insufficient.

We need to have a situation into which party feeling does not enter. It might be a matter of disentangling a problem, and one cannot attack the Government when one does not know what they are saying. One might want to back them up. One does not always want to criticise. One might want to urge the Government to bargain in Brussels from a particular basis, making a number of points.

One can add to these criteria. Another is that if Ministers do not put the case well on one instrument, one will want them to take it back again. One cannot do this without having the sort of continuing body which can say to the Government that the last time they went to bargain about the matter they made a mess of it and did not get what was wanted, and that this time they ought to do something better.

These criteria are not available to a Standing Committee but they are available to a Select Committee, which is able to call evidence and to get the Ministry's officials to state what will be the likely impact of a particular course of action. It can hear the evidence of outside pressure groups, it can recall the Minister and it can make positive proposals. I feel that the correct intermediary body is not a Standing Committee, reproducing the Floor of the House situation, but a Select Committee which can act in the positive manner that I have outlined.

There are two methods of doing this. One is the method suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper). He said that we ought to extend the Scrutiny Committee, letting it work like a Committee in another place, with sub-committees to deal with the merits of questions concerning agriculture, transport, regional policy, industrial policy and so on. The other method is to set up separate Select Committees of this House to deal with these matters. But we shall never be able to do this work properly unless the Select Committees are able to have an on-going interest, not only understanding what is proposed but sometimes saying what ought to be proposed, and what the British Government should be asking for in Brussels, as opposed to reacting always to the Commission's initiatives.

Photo of Mr George Cunningham Mr George Cunningham , Islington South and Finsbury

Would the best course not be to have a Select Committee dealing with agriculture, for example, or transport, which would be responsible for keeping an eye on the Government concerning the domestic aspects of policy and also European policy. Is that what my hon. Friend is suggesting?

Photo of Mr John Mackintosh Mr John Mackintosh , Berwick and East Lothian

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. That is precisely what I am suggesting. It is the only way in which it can be done. There is such an interlock between domestic policy and what is coming from Europe that the two cannot be divorced. Unless we know the detail of the domestic situation we cannot look at, scrutinise and properly comment upon proposals coming from the Community. We need to know the areas in which the Community ought to be making proposals, even if these proposals are not coming forward. It is in this way that we get advantage out of membership, as well as by merely reacting to proposals which come to us from the Commission.

It seems to me, therefore, that we should either expand the Scrutiny Committee and let it look at the merits, appointing sub-committees, and so on, or set up Select Committees as on-going parts of this House. Only three or four would be needed in order to cover the main areas of Community activity. This would be a positive way of doing it, adding to the efficiency and effectiveness of the House, not only in dealing with European legislation but in dealing with proposals emanating from the Government on similar topics which are still purely under the control of Westminster and Whitehall.

I have the greatest good will towards the Lord President, because I support him so strongly in some of his other policies on which he is battling at the moment, and I do not wish to add to his difficulties. I must say, however, that one thing is evident. Every speaker in this House has asked him to reconsider and to think again. I can only add my voice to theirs and hope that he does so.

6.5 p.m.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

I want to follow very closely what the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) said. He has almost taken the words out of my mouth, because I was going to say that it has emerged from this debate that, to deal with the merits of European secondary legislation, neither the Select Committee, as we know it at present, nor the Standing Committee, according to our Standing Orders, is satisfactory.

I do not think anybody could pretend that the Standing Committees dealing with Statutory Instruments have been a grand success. When I have intervened—as I have when matters of validity of orders and legal matters concerning orders have been involved—I have found the Standing Committees almost deserted. They have not attracted the attention of hon. Members of the House. I cannot, therefore, feel that it is really a good precedent to use for the very important primary legislation with which we are dealing, although it happens to be called European secondary legislation. My hope is that we shall be a little bolder and devise a Committee specially for this work.

A Select Committee has the advantage that it can take evidence. It is also a continuing Committee, as the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian has said. It can make any report it chooses. It is not bound as to the sort of report it makes to the House. But it has the disadvantage that, under our rules, its deliberations are in private, it is restricted to the members of the Select Committee, and other Members cannot join in.

The normal Standing Committee, as we know it under Standing Orders, has the benefit that other Members can join in its deliberations—they can join in, but they cannot vote. But it has the disadvantage as has been said, that it is unable to call evidence.

It has been said again and again in this debate that a Committee dealing with the merits of European secondary legislation would at that stage perhaps need further evidence. When we are dealing with European secondary legislation, after it has been processed through the Scrutiny Committee, there may be need, on occasions for additional evidence to be given. In short, as our rules stand at present, a Select Committee is very restricted in its deliberations; a Standing Committee, on the other hand, has the benefit of extended deliberation, by which I mean the attendance of other Members, but it is restricted in regard to taking evidence.

Can we not be a little bolder and devise a form of committee to meet all the points brought forward in the debate today? I feel that the Select Committee on Procedure, in its recommendations to the House, and the Government themselves, have been too hidebound by our present procedure. We are dealing with something entirely new in legislative form. There is no reason why we should not devise our own process for dealing with it.

The hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) suggested a Select Committee to deal with the merits. I do not think that a Select Committee, according to our rules, is satisfactory for that purpose, and I do not think that a Standing Committee is satisfactory, either.

Let us put those suggestions in abeyance for the time being and think again, to see whether we can devise our own special form of committee to deal with this new type of legislation.

Photo of Mr John Davies Mr John Davies , Knutsford

Does my right hon. Friend recall that the Foster Committee suggested that a novel type of committee was required? Is my right hon. Friend reflecting the views of the Foster Committee, that the special nature of European secondary legislation defies the normal format of committees to which this House has hitherto given effect?

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

Indeed, I had in mind that part of the Foster Committee's Report, I deliberately did not mention the report, because there were other parts with which I did not entirely agree, but certainly it accorded with what I had in mind in that instance.

6.11 p.m.

Photo of John Prescott John Prescott , Kingston upon Hull East

Having read the Report and looked at some of the amendments, I approach the debate feeling somewhat confused, particularly about constitutional matters and amendments to Standing Orders. But the principles of the issue involved are clear from the debate. Both sides of the House seem to be united in thinking that the Government proposals are not acceptable. The Government are being asked to review the situation, and it may be that at the end of the debate we shall come to some accommodation on that.

The Government proposals are not acceptable, for a number of reasons. The proposed time for debate of one and a half hours in Standing Committee or on the Floor of the House is not sufficient for the very important legislation and regulations on which we shall be asked to comment. Other matters, particularly in regard to the votes and amendments, are not satisfactory. One pales at the thought of the proposal that we should amend something before it is discussed and vote on it afterwards. That is not adequate for a proper analysis of the situation.

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

That is what we always do—put the amendments down before the debate.

Photo of John Prescott John Prescott , Kingston upon Hull East

I understood that we could have a document before us even at the consultative stages, and we should want to give it a proper examination before putting down amendments.

Photo of Mr George Cunningham Mr George Cunningham , Islington South and Finsbury

The equivalent would be putting down amendments for the Report stage before the Standing Committee stage, which no one would countenance.

Photo of John Prescott John Prescott , Kingston upon Hull East

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that analogy, which points out the minefields that we are entering when we consider this matter of amendments and proper procedures.

I am not a member of the Select Committee or the Scrutiny Committee, but as a member of the European Assembly I should like to deal in particular with one or two points made by the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) on the question whether this House should consider the rôle of its delegation to the Assembly in the shaping of the legislation we discuss here. The Select Committee stated: Your Committee accept that in general the Members of this House attending the European Assembly will take account of the views expressed by the House, but it would not be practicable (even were is desirable) to hold them accountable as Ministers are held accountable. Moreover, since this aspect of the matter is outside our Committee's Order of Reference, they think it proper not to pursue it That is unfortunate, because it is clear from the debate that we are talking about an essentially different type of legislative proposal. We are talking about documents—perhaps Green Papers—that are given to us to discuss so that we may pass on our view to the Minister concerned. I believe that the vote is by far the most satisfactory way of expressing that view. It is traditional for the House to reflect its opinion by a vote. By voting we can tell the Minister before he goes to the Council of Ministers that he should take account of the opinion of the House. We are expressing the accountability of the Minister and the Government to the House.

In the discussion so far we have tended to ignore the delegation from the House which acts on its behalf in the European Assembly. Perhaps that is because the delegation was outside the Committee's terms of reference. The delegation influences documents at the early stages, because the documents are formulated by the Commission and then given to the committees of the Assembly, which express opinions on them. There have been examples of the Commission taking note of a critical debate in the Assembly, and probably an adverse vote, and changing a document. Therefore, our delegation has an opportunity to influence documents which will later come before the House or whatever Committee we decide upon.

To that extent, the delegation is important. It is not just a body that can determine its own views and decide as it thinks best in light of the idea of European solidarity. This raises the important question of what European union is to be. I cannot enter into that argument in this debate, but it involves taking a view of what has happened since the formulation of the Rome Treaty. The hon. Member for Mid-Oxon said that the treaty was not having the results that were envisaged, in that the Commission was not becoming all-powerful but was very much circumscribed by the Council of Ministers. That is a particularly important development, whose relevance to this debate is that if Ministers are to maintain their veto, which will also be important in any European union, the delegation from this Parliament will become another instrument to attempt to influence decisions about legislation, documents or regulations in the Assembly. It will do so not necessarily as an instrument of the Government but on behalf of this House.

It is true that the House can dismiss the delegation. It appoints it, and therefore it can dismiss it. That makes the delegation, like a Minister, accountable to the House, and that raises the question of what it should be doing on behalf of the House. The delegation's important rôle is to reflect the opinions of the House in the European Assembly, and fight for them there.

Mr. Hard:

I find the hon. Gentleman's analysis very interesting, but is he not talking about a transitional phase? Under the treaty and in the view of the present Government, which is perhaps likely to be expressed more clearly in the next few weeks, the process by which the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are appointed from this House is transitional. In the next three or four years it is likely to be replaced by direct election, which will completely alter the basis of the hon. Gentleman's argument.

Photo of John Prescott John Prescott , Kingston upon Hull East

I do not know that that would alter the basis of the argument. It depends on how the direct elections are held. The Assembly has not yet determined that. The matter is being discussed between the Commission and the Assembly, and documents have been circulated. Even before this Parliament considers the matter the Commission and Assembly will be formulating policies on the dual mandate. There is the question whether there should be one election period for all Europe, which could create interesting anomalies, such as the possibility of a Labour Government here and a Tory delegation. That would raise some problems which the House would need to consider. There is the difficulty of electing people who are not Members of Parliament. We would need to define their responsibility to this House and decide whether we should change our procedures so that they could take part in debate. I cannot accept that that would be acceptable. The relevance of the direct election is at the heart of the matter. If there are to be people representative of this House and the Community, they should be representative of all the Community and part of this House.

I want to deal with the relevance of the vote. Whether on the Floor of the House or in Committee opinion must be tested by a vote. We must not wait until the Commission has formulated proposals and they are brought here. The committees in the Assembly are daily discussing Commission documents. They are asked to formulate the opinion of this House when there is no means by which that opinion can be ascertained. Such committees can pursue their own prejudices and their own views but they cannot ascertain the views of the House. It will be seen that the vote is not only of relevance in supporting Ministers but is also of importance to the delegation, in that it provides it with the views of this House.

There are fundamental decisions being taken concerning direct elections, European union and energy. Members who attend committee meetings ought to be aware of the view of the House on these subjects. The Select Committee has made it clear that the rôle of the British delegation was outside its terms of reference. I appeal to the Leader of House to examine the suggestion of the establishment of a Committee to look at the rôle of the delegation, how it is serviced, and the views it should be reflecting.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh)—probably for the first time in my life—over this question of Select Committees. This is a most important procedure. They can work closely with members of the European Assembly who specialise in certain areas. As a result, the House will be much better informed.

6.23 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Hammersmith Fulham

I had not intended to say a word in this debate, but I have listened to it with increasing fascination and noticed that everyone from every quarter of the House, whatever his views on Europe, feels that these amendments are not satisfactory. I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to consider what follows from that. He cannot write this off by saying that this has been an ill-attended debate. My experience over the years in the House is that progressively our debates are less well-attended but better-informed. There is good reason for this. It is that government has become so increasingly complicated that any Member who wants to be any use has had to decide to devote a good deal of his attention to one or two subjects so that he may know them well. That obliges him to deny himself the luxury of listening to what may be interesting debates on subjects which are not those he is determined to master.

More and more our debates—this is inevitable and in the nature of modern government—consist, except on certain great occasions, of limited groups of Members possessing a great deal of information. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have realised, as he has listened to the debate, that none of the speeches has been petulant. None has been motivated by a desire to score off the Government. They have been genuinely concerned to try to find the right answer to the question of the way in which the House is to handle European matters.

The remarkable thing is that there has been so much agreement among hon. Members whose whole approach to the European question in the past, and maybe today, has been so different. Surely my right hon. Friend must give some weight to this considerable measure of unanimity. I will mention the points about which hon. Members have been concerned. The arguments have already been well deployed.

There is the limitation of time, the proposed limitation on the powers of the Standing Committee and the limitation on the opportunity to propose amendments, on which the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) spoke powerfully. There have also been the remarkable speeches by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) and the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). From all of this has emerged the fact that we are talking about something genuinely new in politics. I have always thought it dangerous, when people were arguing about the European Community, to try to draw analogies from history and to ask "How far is it like the League of Nations? How far is it like the Swiss Confederation?" The answer is that it is not like any of those. It is a new creation. That means that we need certain new creations in our procedure in order properly to deal with it.

That is where the Government's proposals fall down. They represent an attempt simply to graft on a European piece of machinery to what is already familiar. They have not taken account of the extent to which we are facing a totally new problem. My right hon. Friend will remember, as I do, occasions when a Government have come to the House at the beginning of the day determined to do something but, after listening to a great deal of argument, have resolutely got up and said, "We agree. We will not do this now. We will take it away and think about it in the light of what has been said." That is what I am suggesting that my right hon. Friend should do. No one will feel they have scored a victory off the Government. We shall all feel that the House has made a real advance in tackling a major political problem.

On the few occasions when I have heard Governments accept the wishes of the House in that manner it has nearly always worked out for the best. My right hon. Friend is in a position to render the House—and it is no exaggeration to say Europe, too—a considerable service. I hope that he will take the opportunity.

6.29 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) on this question of the Select Committees. I have always taken the view that the major weakness in the procedures of the House lies in the lack of a coherent Committee system. Until we establish such a system we shall constantly be up against the kind of difficulties we are debating tonight, not merely in terms of European legislation but also in terms of domestic matters.

There is a curious contradiction in paragraphs 33 to 35 of the Report. In paragraph 33 the Report dismisses the possibility that we might use the technique of a Select Committee, and says: The process of investigation, deliberation and report on the merits of a subject, inherent in the working of a select committee, is not suitable for urgent matters. By implication, it regards all European legislation as urgent, which I do not accept, as there are many matters of general policy which evolve over years or months.

Having dismissed the Select Committee technique in paragraph 33, the Report says, in paragraph 34: Your Committee therefore welcome the intention of the Select Committee on European Secondary Legislation, &c, to examine documents containing instruments of legal or political importance in greater depth and to obtain evidence not only from Government departments but also from interested outside bodies and persons…. The Select Committee have in mind the possibility of setting up sub-committees to deal with various classes of instrument, especially those which they decide to scrutinise in greater detail. Having dismissed the technique of the Select Committee investigation in paragraph 33, the Committee appears to commend it in paragraph 34. In paragraph 35 it welcomes it even more strongly by saying that this technique will satisfy the need for a description and analysis, based on detailed investigation, of important and possibly complex issues in Commission documents. This description and analysis, together with the Minutes of the Evidence, will be of great value to Members and to the House generally in debating and eventually deciding on the merits of the documents. Paragraphs 34 and 35 of the Report accept the principle of the Select Committee technique for dealing with European legislation. I part company with the Report where it says, in paragraph 35: the Select Committee on European Secondary Legislation, &c, is pre-eminently qualified to carry out this task. With all respect to the members of the Scrutiny Committee, I suggest that other Select Committees are better qualified to discuss, for example, energy or agriculture. For example, the Select Committee on Science and Technology, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer), has long experience of studying nuclear power, North Sea oil, energy conservation and related matters. That Committee could make a far better job of studying the Commission's proposals on energy policy in a European context, in view of the detailed study it has given to energy problems in the United Kingdom. Therefore, I am not happy with the implication that the Scrutiny Committee would be the best body to deal with that kind of problem, taking into account the enormous range of subjects with which European legislation is bound to deal. Unless there is a coherent set of specialist committees covering the main functions of Government, we are not likely to be able to deal successfully with the problems with which European legislation will present us.

The recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure move away from the Select Committee idea and fall back on the statutory instruments procedure. I agree that the Government's proposals are inadequate, even within the terms of this report.

It is preposterous to suggest that a Committee of this House may debate a problem such as energy policy, agricultural policy or transport policy in one and a half hours'. The suggestion is ridiculous. We cannot possibly support it. The same applies to the weird proposal to propose a motion or an amendment, to send it to a Committee which is not allowed to do anything with it except talk about it, and then to return to the House and ask for a vote on it. That is the most curious idea of Committee procedure I have ever come across. That is a contradiction of the purpose of a Committee, which must be to arrive at a considered resolution or recommendation for the main body to consider.

It is clear that the members of four different political parties, with widely different backgrounds and views about Europe and European legislation, are united in the view that the proposals to amend Standing Orders are inadequate, and that the procedure on the proposed amendment is ludicrous by any standards.

I add my voice to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) in asking the Government to withdraw these proposals and to give them more mature consideration.

6.36 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

I support the Leader of the House—he seems to need it at the moment—in that I believe it is possible to reconcile with the proposals the views expressed in this debate by the majority of hon. Members. Many hon. Members have suggested what should be done in the future, and I agree with much of what they said. But that is not a good reason for retaining the existing practice of dealing with Community documents. The Leader of the House said that the matter was debated on the Floor of the House on one occasion. That debate was adjourned. The recommendations made are now floating in limbo.

I disagree with those who opposed the recommendations, saying that they should be delayed until the far future, when new Committees are created. The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) said that we should create a new kind of Committee. However, I believe that we should agree to these proposals and take up the other suggestions made in debate. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for saying that he would reconsider the point which I made earlier by way of intervention. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) is not present, as he said that I was wrong when I made that point.

I have looked up the Standing Orders of the House of Commons and the other place. The terms of reference of the body in another place, which is the equivalent of our Select Committee, are wider than the terms of reference of a House of Commons Select Committee.

Photo of Mr John Davies Mr John Davies , Knutsford

I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) had in mind the point now being made by the hon. Gentleman. My hon. Friend said that neither under the terms of reference in the other place nor under ours was it possible to have access to the working documents within the secretariat of the Council of Ministers.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

I understand that. However, the hon. Member for Harrow, East misunderstood me. The terms of reference of the other place are wider. It can consider documents emanating from the Council and going to other organisations, although I believe that it has never done so. However, it could exercise that power, just as Select Committees may consider documents emanating from the Commission. That is my point. I referred to the documents coming from the Council as distinct from those coming from the Commission. For example, an important set of documents is likely to come direct from the Council, without coming from the Commission. I refer to the proposals on political union.

Photo of Mr John Roper Mr John Roper , Farnworth

A committee in the other place is considering the Lomé Convention. That document does not come from the Commission. It is a Community treaty. It must be treated in this House not by the Scrutiny Committee but by reference to a Standing Committee or by debate on the Floor of the House.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that apt illustration.

The right hon. Gentleman said that all proceedings of the Council were confidential. It would be wrong to give the impression that, like the Cabinet, the Council is bound by rules of secrecy. The Treaty of Rome provides that it may meet in private or in public, as it chooses. Cabinets never meet in public.

Many people in Europe have suggested that for legislative, as distinct from executive, purposes there should be at least a stage in the legislative process of the Council of Europe which is public. Successive rulings of Presidents of the Council of Ministers have made plain that "confidential" does not mean what we take it to mean. It means that any Minister is entitled to repeat in full what he said at the Council of Ministers' meeting but must not repeat what anyone else said. In other words, the "leak" is legal as distinct from being a mechanism of politics.

I agree with much that has been said about the different forms of Committees. Our Standing Committees are accidents. The House resolved not to have them less than 100 years ago. Until 1947, Standing Committees had the power of Select Committees as well as of Standing Committees. We need not go into that. It can be considered when, in the next Session, my right hon. Friend sets up a Committee to resolve the whole procedure of this House. I do not like Standing Committees for any purposes, including legislative purposes. A Standing Committee is a ridiculous way of dealing with the Committee stage of a Bll. Let us deal with that and with this group of Standing Committees when the time comes. Meanwhile, these proposals are better than the arrangements we have had over the past 12 months. I suggest that we should support them, provided that my right hon. Friend is prepared to consider alternative proposals for the next stage of European procedures.

6.42 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

We have had an interesting debate, although it has not been a particularly happy one for the Lord President's proposals. The right hon. Gentleman said, at the beginning, that we were still feeling our way, and I should like to thank him for having put forward some proposals. They have at least served as targets for debate even if their inadequacies have been laid bare. The Lord President has earned the gratitude of the House for putting forward the proposals and—as the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) said—if at the end of the debate he should withdraw his proposals he will in no way be according a victory to anyone. No one will be scoring points; indeed, the reverse. He will be scoring a point by taking notice of what Parliament has said and showing that he is flexible and anxious to meet the demands of Parliament.

The House will be indebted to my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) not only for his speech but also for his helpful and constructive rôle in dealing with a problem which is new to all of us.

The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) earned the gratitude of the House for the way in which he dealt with his argument which was widely endorsed in the debate which followed. Both he and my right hon. Friend made two criticisms which have been echoed again and again. First, they require the Standing Committee to be enabled to do more than consider. They require it to be enabled to discuss a substantive motion which is capable of amendment. The second criticism, which I endorse, is that for the Committee to be limited in its powers to saying that it has considered matters of this importance is woefully inadequate. With great respect, the Lord President's suggestion that an amendment should be tabled in the House, that a discussion should subsequently take place in Committee, and that a Division, if required, should thereafter take place in the House, does not make much sense. I hope that, on reflection, the right hon. Gentleman will decide that that proposal does not stand up and will withdraw it.

Much the same can be said of the proposal that there should be a time limit of one and a half hours. The Lord President maintained that it was likely that the matters referred to the Committee would be of secondary importance. I think that he was largely led into that view by the false analogy that he has drawn throughout between "secondary importance" and secondary legislation. That analogy is invalid.

If the Standing Committee is to perform a useful rôle, from time to time it will consider matters of great weight and substance. To say that the Committee can have its fun for one and a half hours and no more is beyond what we should tolerate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford laid down the criterion which we should adopt, namely: does the Committee have an opportunity to influence events and to influence the thinking of the executive and perhaps those who are responsible for the framing of legislation inside the Communities?

As my right hon. Friend said, these proposals would result in the retention of power and initiative by the Government. Most of us have probably learnt by now that Governments, particularly when they are breaking new ground, are well advised at least to attempt to share power with Parliament.

I am obliged to refer briefly to the intervention made by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith), whose noticeable absence we all greatly regret. If I were to describe his speech politely, I could say only that it was hugely silly and wholly irrelevant to the subject we are discussing.

The right hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving), who is the Chairman of the Select Committee, at least earned the gratitude of the House by bringing us back to the discussion. I echo his plea that an attempt should be made to keep the papers—of which there is a great volume—numbered, marshalled and in some kind of order.

I think that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) carried the House with him when he said that ministerial assurances are not enough and that something more is needed when we are designing ways of changing the law. He was right in saying that the House should be grateful to the Lord President for tabling the amendments to Standing Orders, but I echo his counsel that, having tabled the amendments and having heard what the House has to say about them, he would do well to withdraw them. The right hon. Gentleman was right in saying that by doing so, in the long run the Lord President would be doing himself a service, in that the better chance that the new Committee has of doing its work properly the better chance has the Lord President of avoiding having the matter thrust back on his hands again and having to find time for debate on the Floor of the House.

The hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) expressed his preference, as did others, for a Select Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) rightly came back to the point that we are here dealing with a wholly new development, that European legislation is wholly new in the history of this country and of Parliament, and that it therefore really demands new attitudes and new arrangements. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) was, I think, a little unkind to the Leader of the House when he accused the Government of adopting a very cavalier attitude—at least, I think the attitude of the Government will be shown to be the reverse because I believe that the right hon. Gentleman will, in reflecting on this debate, withdraw his proposals. If he does, I am sure that we shall all be glad to acquit him of what the hon. Gentleman prematurely accused him of.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), having rebuked the hon. Member for Rochdale, returned to the point that the Standing Committee, or whatever body it is, should really have a chance to influence events. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) was in favour of a Select Committee. My right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) said that the right thing would be for the House to devise a special form of committee to deal with a special event. On the whole, I come down on that side. It seems to me that any analogy one raises is almost certain to be misleading, and that it takes one's feet into the same kind of quagmire as that in which the Government find themselves today.

I endorse what the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) said, including his interesting comment that our debates today are less well-attended but better-informed. I think that that last bit was over-generous about some of our debates, but undoubtedly today's debate deserves everything he said about it. I agree that it is unwise in these matters to rely too much on any analogy. The right hon. Gentleman said that hon. Members were forced to deny themselves the luxury of attending all our debates. I thought that that statement exceeded even his reputation for charm, good manners and generosity. Attendance at all our debates is not something which I would at any time be drawn into describing as a luxury.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) opposed the time limit as an unworthy affair, and I agree. The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), for reasons, I concluded, more of chivalry than sense, supported the Leader of the House. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and the Deputy Chief Whip, and anyone else who is listening, will at least see that the recording angel, if there is one in this place, takes note of the gallant conduct of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West.

One is left, after this very interesting debate, with the situation in which not one hon. Member has spoken in favour of the Government's proposals, except for the hon. Member for Nottingham, West, who gallantly was prepared to be the odd man out. I would be reluctant to advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the proposals, because I think that they are well meant, but that is a very slender, emaciated compliment.

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

It is a big one from the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

The right hon. Gentleman must get to know me better, and he must do a little more to deserve these things. I am giving him every opportunity to say that the Government make no claim to score anything in the debate. The Opposition make no such claim. Rather do we take the view that the right hon. Gentleman has served the interests of discussion well in putting forward these proposals, which at least serve as a target. But I think that he would be ill-advised to press them, bearing in mind that no one, until the last minute of the eleventh hour, could be prevailed upon from the back benches to say even one word in their favour.

I therefore plead with the right hon. Gentleman, for the sake of his own reputation in the House, which I know he wishes to serve, to withdraw the proposals, which, though useful material for discussion, would, I believe, in practice not work at all well.

6.56 p.m.

Photo of Mr Gerald Fowler Mr Gerald Fowler , The Wrekin

The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) said that we had gone further in this House and in another place with procedures for the scrutiny of EEC legislation than any other Parliament within the Community. I point out to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) that if the present Government have got themselves into a quagmire, the Conservative Government avoided it by not entering the terrain of scrutiny at all.

Many Members have said that this time we must get it right. I suspect that we shall never get it right in the sense of finding an ideal procedure. The question is whether we can improve and learn steadily and continue to improve upon our procedures for scrutinising this legislation. The hon. Member for Harrow, East said that the Government had accepted none of the key recommendations of the Select Committee. I do not think that he can have meant that. We take our stand today primarily upon the acceptance of the bulk of the carefully worked-out proposals put by the Committee. But I am not suggesting that they are perfect or that, in the light of this debate, we should not think again.

What I am saying is that, in the first place, there must be on-going observation of how our procedures work and on-going change, and in the second place, with regard to the time limit which has worried so many hon. Members, while we cannot withdraw our proposal, simply because the Standing Order to which it refers is also concerned with other matters, we undertake, if the House will pass it, to lay a further amendment in the near future to give effect to the general wish of those who have spoken in the debate.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

I am grateful that my hon. Friend has conceded the point about the time limit, in theory at least, but does not he agree that my amendment would deal with the situation, although it also relates to matters of motions as well, which perhaps he does not wish to concede?

Photo of Mr Gerald Fowler Mr Gerald Fowler , The Wrekin

No, Sir, technically my hon. Friend's amendment would not be perfect. In any event, I do not wish to concede the other point dealt with by his amendment.

Several hon. Members have stressed that real power in dealing with this legislation ultimately resides with the Council of Ministers and that therefore power to call our Ministers to account should reside in this House. I believe that the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) said, "We call Ministers. They are our creatures." That is why we are unwilling to allow Standing Committees to pass substantive resolutions on Commission documents which, in the absence of a further resolution taken on the Floor of the House, the Government would be expected to observe in subsequent negotiations in the Council of Ministers. The hon. Member is right. It is this House which calls Ministers. We are this House's creatures. But we are not the creatures of a Standing Committee of the House—least of all one of changing composition.

As my right hon. Friend said, it has to be the House as a whole to which the Government are responsible for the conduct of affairs and it is the House as a whole which alone can charge the Government to take one course or another on pain of the ultimate sanction—withdrawal of its confidence. That is why we must stand firm on that proposal.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

Surely the Minister must see that the same argument would apply against any other Standing Committee, that it would be equally valid against allowing Standing Committees to alter a Bill.

Photo of Mr Gerald Fowler Mr Gerald Fowler , The Wrekin

I was unaware that any Report from a Standing Committee on a Bill had passed through the House without the House noticing it. The difference is that every hon. Member has an opportunity, on the Report by a Standing Committee on a Bill, to express his view.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

I apologise for intervening again, but this is one of the crucial points of these debates. The Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments would report to this House, so that, if they desired, the Government or, subject to our arrangements, any private Member, could challenge it. It is exactly like a Bill being amended in Committee and no further proceedings being taken by agreement if it is willed that it should so remain.

Photo of Mr Gerald Fowler Mr Gerald Fowler , The Wrekin

We should be clear that what is proposed by those who wish the Standing Committee to debate, amend, to pass resolutions upon substantive motions is that all hon. Members may have the right of speaking but that only a select minority may have the right of voting. That is the proposal and that is why many hon. Members tonight, although they did not like the Government's proposal, did not much like the proposal of the Select Committee either.

Photo of Mr John Davies Mr John Davies , Knutsford

But then surely the inference must be reasonable, that in the event of a resolution to which the Government find themselves unable to give their accord, they should put down a motion in the House in order to reverse it. We should then have the opportunity of debating it—

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

It would be non-debatable.

Photo of Mr John Davies Mr John Davies , Knutsford

As it is, it is to be un-debatable on amendments put down before the discussion has taken place. That is surely the height of the ridiculous from the point of view of the work of the Committee and the House.

Photo of Mr Gerald Fowler Mr Gerald Fowler , The Wrekin

No, Sir. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the burden of the proposals before the House, which in essence came from the Select Committee, is that a substantive motion can be put down for decision in this House and that amendments can be put down to that substantive motion. What the right hon. Gentleman appears to be suggesting is that one substantive motion alone should have precedence—that emanting from the Standing Committee—and that the Government should put down their amendments to that motion. That, once again, gives too much weight to the views of a small number of hon. Members—

Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Gerald Fowler Mr Gerald Fowler , The Wrekin

I cannot spend all my time giving way—

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Gerald Fowler Mr Gerald Fowler , The Wrekin

Every one of my hon. Friends who is seeking to intervene—[Interruption.] I do not think that my hon. Friend spoke in the debate, did he?

Photo of Mr George Cunningham Mr George Cunningham , Islington South and Finsbury

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I have almost forgotten the point that I was about to put. Would he not agree that, in practice, what Members and the whole House will want to know is only one thing—did the Standing Committee find in favour of or against the proposal? If there is no difficulty in the Standing Committee, then Members may simply ignore the point, but it will spark off the Members of the whole House, just as a defeat of the Government in Standing Committee on a Bill does, if there has been a vote in the Select Committee.

Photo of Mr Gerald Fowler Mr Gerald Fowler , The Wrekin

I think that this difficulty arises because of the point with which I was about to deal. Many right hon. and hon. Members who spoke tonight criticised my right hon. Friend for comparing all EEC secondary legislation with statutory instruments. In fact, he did not do so. What he did was offer the House a procedure, based on the statutory instruments model certainly, to deal with items of secondary importance.

Here I come back to what my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) said in an intervention: it will be this House which will in any event debate matters of major importance and the Government's judgment of what are matters of major importance can be challenged by 20 hon. Members. Therefore, if issues of principle arise which should be debated in this Chamber, there is ample opportunity for those issues to be debated.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

But surely the hon. Gentleman realises from what he has just said that the effect of denying the Standing Committee the opportunity to come to a resolution will be to force more and more of these matters on to the Floor of the House. If anyone feels that there should be a debate in this House or a debate at all on such a subject, he will stand up and resist its going to the Standing Committee.

An Hon. Member:

Then put the amendments down beforehand to make sure.

Photo of Mr Gerald Fowler Mr Gerald Fowler , The Wrekin

I think here we should wait and see—[Hon. Members: "Oh."] I said at the outset that we must have an on-going review of this procedure. The right hon. Gentleman may be right. He has sometimes been right in the past, but not always. I should be surprised if the House showed such irresponsibility as consistently to challenge the referral to Standing Committee of matters which frankly are trivial, provided that issues of principle can always be debated in this Chamber.

I was fascinated to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) repeatedly stress the superiority of Community legislation over our domestic legislation and argue therefore that all that legislation should, apparently, not only be discussed but voted upon in a Committee of this House in such a way as to bind Ministers—

Photo of Mr Gerald Fowler Mr Gerald Fowler , The Wrekin

If the argument had validity, it was an argument for debating all Community legislation on the Floor of the House and for referring none to Standing Committee. That would ensure that most of the rest of our business went by the board.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

I must apologise. I do not think that I said what the Minister says I said. If I did, I did not intend it. What I said was that it would be ridiculous for a Committee to be appointed which could not consider amendable motions.

Photo of Mr Gerald Fowler Mr Gerald Fowler , The Wrekin

I was alluding to my hon. Friend's argument about the "superiority"—I quote his exact word—of Community legislation over domestic legislation. Yet his argument subsequently was that if such Community legislation were to be referred to a Standing Committee it must therefore be practicable for that Standing Committee to vote upon it and thereby, apparently, to bind Ministers. That seems to me to be an illogical argument—

Photo of Mr George Cunningham Mr George Cunningham , Islington South and Finsbury

Select Committees do not bind Ministers when they criticise them.

Photo of Mr Gerald Fowler Mr Gerald Fowler , The Wrekin

My hon. Friend says that Select Committees do not bind Ministers. This is not a Select Committee but a Standing Committee, and many hon. Members have argued that in some way resolutions should bind Ministers. I was asked for an assurance that the Government would not commit us to any EEC document until it had been approved by this House.

Several speakers mentioned the possibility of amendments to the Government's substantive motion. The Government's substantive motion would be tabled before the Standing Committee debate, but it will be possible to table amendments before the House reaches a decision. That answers a point that troubled several hon. Members.

With regard to the two-stage scrutiny, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving) asked who was to decide which documents would receive a two-stage scrutiny. We have undertaken to provide the House with information relating to the amendments agreed in the Council machinery in regard to documents involving major policy developments. The onus must be on Government Departments and Ministers to identify those amendments which should be reported to the House, but we shall need to keep in close touch with the Scrutiny Committee and with its thinking on important proposals.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) asked me to give an assurance that Ministers would not assent to propositions contrary to the express will of the House. I can do no more than to repeat assurances given by my right hon. Friend in the debate on 2nd May that the debate on any proposal which the Committee reported as being of extreme importance should take place before the Government assent to any Community legislation.

Photo of Mr Bryan Gould Mr Bryan Gould , Southampton, Test

The Minister has given an assurance on a point which is different from the quest on I raised. It is one thing to say that assent will not be given until a debate has taken place, but another thing to say that assent will not be given unless it is in accord with the express wishes of the House.

Photo of Mr Gerald Fowler Mr Gerald Fowler , The Wrekin

I take that point, but I cannot go beyond the assurance I have already given. It would be impossible in international negotiations if the hands of British Ministers were consistently bound behind their backs before they had entered into negotiations. We take seriously resolutions of the House on EEC proposals, and we shall ignore them only at the pain of withdrawal of the support of the House. But there is no point in giving assurances on such fundamental matters, which will mean that one should always have regard to every jot and tittle of every resolution of the House before entering into international negotiations.

I was asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dartford about the numbering of EEC documents. He suggested that the system should be more comprehensible. I have every sympathy with him in that the EEC system is difficult to follow, but he would probably be more confused if we were to add an additional numbering system on top of the other one. We shall examine that proposal, and continue our consultation with the authorities of the House to see how EEC documents can be made more readily available, and we shall also look at their form, but I would be unwise to give any specific assurance on that matter tonight.

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cyril Smith) made a largely irrelevant contribution to the debate, but he rightly stressed that only parliamentary reform of a comprehensive nature would enable us to ensure that we were giving due attention to EEC documents and not doing so at the cost of other business of equal importance to this House.

I believe that that is the answer to some of the points raised by my hon. Friend and Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). My hon. Friend's argument was essentially that the Select Committee procedure was best and that we would be wise if we were to refer EEC documents, not to one Select Committee, but to a number of specialist Select Committees. His adherence to the proposition that we should have such specialist Select Committees covering every element of Government activity is well known, and I have some sympathy with him. But it is a matter with which we cannot deal in the context of the scrutiny of EEC legislation. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House gave an assurance earlier this year that we shall be proposing the establishment of a Committee on parliamentary procedure as a whole. That is the right context in which to discuss such propositions. In the meantime, with the caveat I entered about time limits, I commend these amendments to the House.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have tabled an amendment to Motion No. 6. I take it that the first Question will be on the first Motion and that the Question on Motion No. 6 will not be put until later.

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

That is exactly what I intend to do. I shall first put the first Motion, Motion No. 2 on the Order Paper, then Motions Nos. 3, 4 and 5, which will be moved formally. Then Motion No. 6 will be proposed formally and the hon. Gentleman will be able to move his amendment formally and, if need be, there will be a vote. The hon. Gentleman can then move the second of his amendments, if he so wishes.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That this House takes note of the First Report from the Select Committee on Procedure, Session 1974–75, on European Secondary Legislation (House of Commons Paper No. 294).—[Mr. Edward Short.]