I beg to move,
That the following provisions shall have effect.
(1) In this Order, 'allotted day' means a day on which the first business is—
(b) proceedings on the European Union (Amendment) Bill, or
(c) a motion to vary or supplement this Order.
(2) On an allotted day proceedings shall be taken in accordance with the Table.
(3) Standing Orders Nos. 83D and 83E (Programme orders: conclusion of proceedings) and 83I (Programme orders: supplementary provisions) shall apply to proceedings to which this Order applies as if they were subject to a programme order.
(4) On an allotted day no debate under S.O. No. 24 (emergency debates) may take place until after the conclusion of proceedings specified in the Table.
(5) The rule of the House against anticipation shall not apply to proceedings specified in the Table.
(6) If a Minister of the Crown moves a motion to vary or supplement this Order (including, in particular, so as to make provision about Lords Messages)—
(a) if the amendment does not reduce the amount of time allotted overall to consideration of matters connected with the Treaty of Lisbon, the Question shall be put forthwith, and
(b) otherwise, proceedings on the motion shall be brought to a conclusion not later than three-quarters of an hour after commencement.
|Allotted Day||Proceedings||Latest time for conclusion|
|1||(A) Motion — 'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning the following matters: fighting cross-border crime; justice; policing; human trafficking; and asylum and migration policy.'||4½ hours after commencement|
|(B) Committee on the Bill: any selected amendments to Clause 1 and the Question, That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill; any selected amendments to Clause 2 relating to the matters specified in paragraph (A).||1½ hours after commencement|
|2||(A) Motion — 'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning energy.'||4½ hours after commencement|
|(B) Committee on the Bill — any selected amendments to Clause 2 relating to energy.||1½ hours after commencement|
|3||(A) Motion — 'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning human rights.'||4½ hours after commencement|
|(B) Committee on the Bill — any selected amendments to Clause 2 relating to human rights.||1½ hours after commencement|
|4||(A) Motion — 'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning the single market.'||4½ hours after commencement|
|(B) Committee on the Bill — any selected amendments to Clause 2 relating to the single market.||1½ hours after commencement|
|5||(A) Motion — 'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning foreign, security and defence policy.'||4½ hours after commencement|
|(B) Committee on the Bill — any selected amendments to Clause 2 relating to foreign, security and defence policy.||1½ hours after commencement|
|6||(A) Motion — 'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning international development.'||4½ hours after commencement|
|(B) Committee on the Bill — any selected amendments to Clause 2 relating to international development.||1½ hours after commencement|
|7||(A) Motion — 'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning the effectiveness of the EU institutions and EU decision-making.'||4½ hours after commencement|
|(B) Committee on the Bill — any selected amendments to Clause 2 relating to the matters specified in paragraph (A).||1½ hours after commencement|
|8||(A) Motion — 'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning climate change.'||4½ hours after commencement|
|(B) Committee on the Bill — any selected amendments to Clause 2 relating to climate change, remaining amendments on Clause 2 and the Question, That Clause 2 stand part of the Bill.||1½ hours after commencement|
|9||Committee on the Bill — Clauses 3 to 7.|
|10||Committee on the Bill — Clauses 3 to 7, so far as not completed on Allotted Day 9.|
|11||Committee on the Bill — Clauses 8, the Schedule, New Clauses and New Schedules.||The moment of interruption|
|12||Remaining proceedings on the Bill.||6 hours after commencement|
Notwithstanding your comments, Mr. Speaker, regarding the point of order by David Howarth, if he had been here for any of the previous European debates, he would know that we could certainly otherwise be here beyond 10 o'clock this evening and, potentially, 10 o'clock tomorrow morning, and not because of Mr. Cash. The fact that Simon Hughes is opening for the Liberal Democrats should guarantee—if we needed such a guarantee—that we will be discussing these matters up to 10 o'clock this evening.
"With the publication of the Bill" that legislates for the amendments to the European Communities Act,
"Parliament will now have an opportunity to debate this amending treaty in detail and decide whether to implement it. We will ensure that there is sufficient time for debate on the Floor of the House, so that the Bill can be examined in the fullest detail and all points of view can be heard."
I wonder whether I might be allowed to finish the quote, by way of introduction, before I take both interventions.
The last sentence of the quote from the Prime Minister was as follows:
"That will give the House the fullest...opportunity to consider the treaty, and the deal secured for the UK, before ratification."—[ Hansard, 17 December 2007; Vol. 469, c. 598.]
I shall now give way.
That is extraordinarily courteous and helpful, and I am deeply grateful to the Minister. I have studied the careful motion on the subjects to be discussed. May I ask him why transport is not mentioned in any form? He will be aware that Galileo, the railway packages and the creation of a European space agency mean that many aspects of the treaty involve a transference of powers from the House of Commons to the European institutions. We should be debating those, yet at no point in the motion are they even vaguely mentioned.
My apologies to my hon. Friend. On the substance of her intervention, perhaps I can reassure her about the important points that she raised. Those matters could be discussed entirely reasonably in our themed debates on energy, on the single market and on the EU institutions and decision-making processes—it would be appropriate at that time to have the conversation about the EU institutions, the single market and transport.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Does he accept that some hon. Members—certainly some Labour Members—feel a certain apprehension about the way in which the Government are approaching this? We know that they claim that the nature of the European Union (Amendment) Bill is not a constitution, but a treaty, and therefore we do not need a referendum. The Prime Minister told the country that this would be fully debated in the House of Commons, but we then realised that it will be debated for a set period of time only and the Whips are on.
We then see that the motion tabled by the Leader of the House and the Foreign Secretary has set topics only down for debate—my hon. Friend Mrs. Dunwoody has already raised that matter. We have to spend most of our time debating general things—motherhood and apple pie are rather good—but those of us who want to probe the terms of the treaty and move amendments only have the chance to do so at the end of the day. If there was a real consultation on this, we would begin by allowing people to move amendments, even if the Minister chose the topics that we could debate that day.
The points raised by my right hon. Friend—there is a theme developing here; like my hon. Friend Mrs. Dunwoody, I do not enjoy the elevated status that he enjoys as a member of the Privy Council, but let us put that to one side for a moment—are important. I hope that my comments and the way in which I argue our case will be able to persuade him that his concerns can be met by the structure of the motion.
Like Mrs. Dunwoody, I am grateful that the Minister is very courteous. He deservedly has a reputation for courtesy, but frankly this situation is not good enough. On a number of occasions I have asked the Prime Minister at that Dispatch Box whether we would have proper time for this series of lengthy debates without a timetable motion. I am not suggesting that the Prime Minister said that he would not have a timetable motion—he evaded the issue; he did not say that we would have one. The motion before us is so constricting and constraining that it will be impossible for the treaty to be properly debated in this House, and those who have a preference for parliamentary scrutiny over referendums, as some do, will be denied their proper opportunity to debate the issues.
Again, I hope that my remarks will convince the hon. Gentleman of the merits of the motion before us. In the quotation from the Prime Minister that I have already given, he said that there would be sufficient time for debate on the Floor of the House. The time available through this motion for debate is 12 days, which was the total time given to the ratification process for the treaties establishing the Single European Act, the Amsterdam treaty and the treaty of Nice.
After opposing a private Member's Bill on the issue tooth and claw, the Government were instrumental in ensuring that there was no agreement on a European directive on temporary and agency workers on
Of course, it is for you, Mr. Speaker, to decide which amendments will be in order on which day. However, the Government understand that the two themes that would lend themselves to the type of debate that my hon. Friend and others want are the debate on human rights, which will include the charter of fundamental rights, and the themed debate on the single market. Those would be the most appropriate opportunities to raise the issue of agency workers.
The Minister will realise that one of the most important debates that we had when he and the Foreign Secretary appeared before my Committee was on the charter of fundamental rights. It is clear that there is a wide divergence in the legal and political opinion of the posture taken by the Government and whether it is significant, sustainable or damaging to labour relations. In the interest of labour relations and many people in this country, the charter of fundamental rights deserves a separate day for debate. I notice that the amendment tabled by the Opposition includes a day on the charter combined with other subjects. The question whether the Government's position on the charter negates it or allows it to be applied in a way that would be useful to working people is fundamental.
On the question when the charter could be debated, I refer my hon. Friend, who speaks with great experience on such matters, to my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme. The fact is that the United Kingdom has neither sought nor achieved an opt-out on the charter of fundamental rights, which will apply in every member state of the European Union. The UK's position on that is clear, but I look forward to the opportunity to discuss that and other related matters.
The Minister has said that the timetable that the Government propose is longer than the debates on three previous treaties. Will he put on record that the time taken by the debates on the Maastricht treaty—some of us see a parallel with this Bill, because of the debate about a referendum, which the Tory Government of the day opposed—was longer than that allocated in this motion? How many days were given to that debate on the Floor of the House?
I was not a Member at the time, and the hon. Gentleman was, but I think that it was 23 days. The motion was tabled, withdrawn and then re-tabled. The lesson of Maastricht, for both sides of the House, is that it was an exercise that we should repeat at our collective peril.
In answer to my hon. Friend Mrs. Dunwoody, the Minister said that there would be ample time to discuss transport under various other headings, such as energy. Can he tell us when a Minister from that Department will answer the debate, so that our many concerns about transport at a European level can be answered satisfactorily on the Floor of the House?
I am certain that whichever Minister stands at the Dispatch Box during that debate will be able to answer the questions in great detail and with great authority. As the debate progresses, Government Members will take a whole-Government approach to making a positive case for Europe, which will involve different Ministers, including Cabinet Ministers, standing at the Dispatch Box making a passionate case for Europe. I give way to the shadow deputy Chief Whip.
"The manifesto is what we put to the public. We've got to honour that manifesto. That is an issue of trust for me with the electorate."
That is from
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman wishes to complete that sentence as he did last week, but I shall leave it there. I was asked soon after taking this job last summer whether we would guarantee the Commons an opportunity, during the consideration process, to debate and vote on a motion on a referendum on the treaty. We specifically designed clause 8 of the European Union (Amendment) Bill to enable that. There will be an opportunity for a referendum. I note in passing that the Government and the Opposition both propose a one-day debate on that subject.
Does the Minister accept that even those of us who are not unhappy about the treaty but do not believe in referendums are unhappy about the timetable for the same reasons as many who have doubts about the treaty? A series of subjects has already been raised with him that are not in the timetable. That must make it difficult to argue that we are providing proper parliamentary scrutiny. Can he not realise that this debate ought to be at least as long as the debate on the Maastricht treaty, and that we should have a proper debate on transport, not least because the environmental connections with transport are crucial to the next generation? If the European Union does not deal with those issues, it will not be dealing with the proper issues. For that reason, I should like to have a very long debate on transport.
I am certainly of the view, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich, that the themed debates on climate, energy and the single market will give hon. Members—and right hon. Members such as the right hon. Gentleman—the opportunity to discuss those issues.
Of course I will take some more interventions, but with your agreement, Mr. Speaker, not four simultaneously. I am still only a quarter of the way through page 1 of my brief, and all that I have done is to offer the introductory quote from the Prime Minister. I have another 12 and three quarter pages left. I give way to Mr. Jenkin.
I am most grateful for the Minister's courtesy and generosity in giving way. Will he confirm that if the Government were to lose a vote on a substantive amendment when we discuss the Bill in Committee, it would have an effect on the Bill, but that most of our time will be spent discussing Government motions? Even in the unlikely event that the Government lose a vote on a motion, that will have no effect whatever on the Bill. We are not actually discussing the Bill when we are discussing a Government motion. It is hardly the line-by-line debate that the Prime Minister promised.
As the debate progresses during the forthcoming weeks, we will have the opportunity to discuss both the Government's approach to Europe generally and specific proposals in the Bill and the treaty of Lisbon. The hon. Gentleman may wish to reflect on his observation as we progress in our proceedings on the treaty and the Bill; he will see whether it is indeed a fair criticism.
May I come back to the charter of fundamental rights, as it is peculiar that specific time has not be set aside to debate it? The Minister will recall that last week, I intervened on him and asked him about the fact that the previous Prime Minister had said that the charter of fundamental rights would not apply in the United Kingdom at all. However, the Minister told the European Scrutiny Committee on
"was a statement of how the Charter provisions will apply in the UK".
It is absolutely fundamental to the question whether the treaty is acceptable or not that we should debate whether the charter will take effect in the United Kingdom, and whether judgments by the European Court of Justice will have an impact on UK law or not.
Without wishing to repeat what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, there is an opportunity, both in the themed debate on the single market, and in the debate on human rights, which includes the charter, to have a detailed conversation about those matters. Again—in Glasgow, we would say for the umpteenth time—may I repeat that the UK has neither sought nor achieved an opt-out from the charter of fundamental rights, which will apply in the UK? The position is very clear indeed.
Under the Government proposals, we will debate Government amendments on a line-by-line basis for only an hour and a half. If those amendments are grouped, we would vote on them within that period. If we divide the House on three occasions, that would reduce the time for debating amendments to 45 minutes, although the subject may be as general and important as foreign, security and defence policy. Does that really discharge the Government's promise to scrutinise the treaty line by line—something on which I received personal assurances from two Foreign Secretaries and the previous Prime Minister?
May I make a little progress? I fully intend to deal with the points made by the right hon. Gentleman, and I will give way to him again at an appropriate point later. I hope that I can offer him some of the reassurance, at least on the surface, that he wishes to receive. I am not sure that I will convince him entirely about the approach we seek to take, but I will give way to him again a little later.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister for his courtesy in giving way. He will be aware that the real issue of concern to the British people is the extent to which the treaty transfers further powers to the European Union. May I put it to him that, given those concerns, the Government would be well advised to accept the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, in which he suggests that there should be specific discussion of
"the role and legal status of the EU institutions, including legal personality?"
That goes to the heart of the case that has been made on the continent for a united states of Europe, which the Minister will accept ought to be the subject for specific debate in the House.
Again, I hope I can reassure the hon. Gentleman on that point. We are simply taking a different approach in seeking the most effective way to scrutinise issues related to the institutional debate. The Government, in the motion, have adopted an approach that focuses on themed debates, and have taken a different perspective from Opposition spokesmen. With your agreement, Mr. Speaker, we expect the debates on the environment, climate and development to allow ample opportunity for debate about the European structures relevant to those themed policy debates. That is reflected in some of the amendments that have been tabled, and the same applies to the single market and human rights and issues such as co-decisions and moves towards qualified majority voting. All those important EU institutional issues can be captured within the debate about European structures. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way a second time, and I shall try to exercise restraint, because I am waiting to hear his arguments. My right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory has touched on the main point: the Government propose that a great deal of time should be spent on general debates and that one and a half hours should be spent on specific amendments, which is a radical change to the way in which we normally conduct a Committee of the whole House. We have lots of general debate on Europe, and if one allows four hours in which any comment on Europe or climate change is in order, the debate will go all over the place. We will then consider specific amendments, when we can address the detail. Just one and a half hours will be devoted to all the amendments on a subject, and most amendments will not be debated or voted on—I suspect that that will simply set off the upper House, which will debate them all over again. The Minister is having difficulty in moving on to his main argument, because he is finding it difficult to persuade us why we cannot have debates on amendments and why general topics chosen by the Government must take up the lion's share of the time.
As I have said, I will address the point raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman a little later. As we have said, this is a different approach to the scrutiny of a European treaty and the consideration of a European treaty Bill. This is the most effective way to scrutinise the Bill and the treaty, and I will reflect on how the new approach will work in practice later. The Government think that four and a half hours of open debate on themes and one and a half hours of debate on specific amendments is the right mix. Opposition Front Benchers have reached a different view, but according to a similar principle—they have suggested three hours of open debate and three hours for consideration in Committee.
Given the way in which Mr. Clarke framed his question, I shall also respond to the point raised earlier by the right hon. Member for Wells. In principle, the new approach commands a degree of cross-party support, and we will be flexible and judge whether, given that this is an innovation, the allocation of four and a half hours and one and a half hours respectively is the right mix. We will seek to do that as the process evolves, and I hope to add more detail when I formally move the programme motion—all I have done so far is move this motion.
The Minister has been generous in outlining when certain subjects not listed in the Government's timetable motion should be debated. He knows that my party, the Scottish Government and I have long-standing problems on enshrining fisheries as an exclusive competence of the European Union, which does not appear in the timetable. Does he agree that there is at least the possibility of raising the issue of fisheries as an exclusive competence in the debate on day 7, which concerns
"the effectiveness of the EU institutions and EU decision-making"?
The hon. Gentleman and I regularly cross swords, but we can make common cause on that point. I confirm that in the Government's view—it is, of course, for you to rule, Mr. Speaker—the themed debate on day 7 is the most appropriate opportunity to debate the EU institutional framework around fishing policy.
The Minister is inverting our normal parliamentary procedures. Our way of scrutinising legislation in Committee is to go through the amendments, which are normally tabled by the Opposition in response to a proposal, one by one and then to consider clause stand part. That is the traditional way. Amendments to the text will allow us to get to the nitty-gritty of what the business is about. The new approach is flummery and a ruse, and it destroys the basis for the credibility that the Government are seeking in introducing this wretched treaty.
It is no use the Minister praying in aid the support of those on the Opposition Front Bench for the novel procedure of having a generic debate first. He is not carrying many people from either side of the House in respect of the new procedure. It seems clear to me that the generic debates will be dominated by the Executive, as they will determine what will be debated, and then by those on the Opposition Front Bench. That will be at the expense of the rest of us—who want a proper debate, on amendments, driven by Members from both sides who wish to scrutinise the detail of the treaty and the Bill. The Minister is failing to carry us. He needs to offer a more convincing argument than his assertion that those on the Opposition Front Bench agree with him on the principle.
I accept my hon. Friend's point—I have not yet convinced him, but I have not yet managed to make my case. Although I know that my hon. Friend holds the Prime Minister's words in great affection, I accept that the quote in itself will not move him to agree with me. However, I hope to make my case.
Does the Minister agree that my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke is completely right about the importance of the amendments? The reason is simple: the amendments deal with implementation into United Kingdom law, whereas the motions set down deal with the question of policy. The Government have completely failed to understand that, in Committee, the House is not so concerned with the policy as with implementation into UK law. That is the crucial point—will the Minister at least accept that I am right on that?
I do not accept that. The process set out in the motion will give us the opportunity to discuss and scrutinise the treaty and the Bill in detail, whether or not there are amendments.
I am grateful to the gracious Minister. In the light of what he said about flexibility between the generic debate and the specific debate on amendments, will he at least give us an undertaking now that he will come to an agreement with those on the Opposition Front Bench to limit Front-Bench contributions in the generic debate, so that the Government are not seen to be over-dominating those debates?
That is a reasonable point, although I think that the hon. Gentleman would accept that the difficulty now is that I am a quarter of the way through the first page of my brief and we are already half an hour into the debate. However, the general sense of his point is fair; it is important that we have the right mix of Front-Bench and Back-Bench contributions. That is for the usual channels to bear in mind as they formalise the debate for each themed day.
I was going to make this point: if the Minister has 12 pages left, would it not be better for him to sit down and have a longer winding-up speech? In that way, he could respond to the points made in the debate. Is that not a rather constructive suggestion?
I am sure that my fellow Minister, my hon. Friend Dr. Howells, would enjoy that opportunity, but I have to deny him it; I am going to work my way through these pages and set out the Government's case. I shall try to do so now. Although I will, of course, take further interventions, I want to make at least a little progress beyond page 1.
Before you joined us, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I had just concluded the introductory quote from the Prime Minister in his post-European Council statement on
As for the specific motion before us, I wish to make some comments on the nature of the structured debate that is proposed, reflect on previous Committee provisions, offer some comment on the length of time that the Government consider to be appropriate in Committee, and identify the specific themes that the Government intend to—
I want to draw the Minister back to something that he said earlier. When he was questioned on the time split, he seemed to say that we would see how things went. Is he therefore suggesting that the Government will take a view during the debate, and if they decide that the time balance is unsatisfactory, they may return to the House with a revised motion to vary the way that the debate is progressing to reflect better the mood of the House?
I will deal with those points a little later, because I intend to make some comments that will perhaps reassure the hon. Gentleman.
Let me turn to the need for a structured consideration of the Bill. The approach that we set out in the business motion ensures that we have a structured debate around the key themes of the Lisbon treaty and enough time to debate the relevant amendments. The Government are clear that the best way to achieve that is through structured consideration in Committee, with debates organised around those themes. As the House knows, Bills implementing amending treaties are short, and in the past Members have had to be ingenious to construct selectable amendments to enable debate on a given treaty. As a result, the structure of debates has often been confusing. In this business motion, we aim to guarantee that Parliament can scrutinise the Lisbon treaty. The bulk of the treaty will be incorporated into UK law through clause 2. The motion enables Members to debate the benefits of the Lisbon treaty for the UK and the international community through a series of themed debates on substantive motions. The House will, in addition, have plenty of time to consider amendments, following the usual procedures for Committee of the whole House. A clear structure of that type also means that we have sufficient time allocated to discuss the key issues and general principles as well as detailed questions.
The Government tabled this motion last week to ensure that those inside and outside the House have a clear timetable that sets out when important issues relating to the treaty will be considered in the Committee. That can only be a further improvement to the way in which we scrutinise the treaty.
In that case, could my hon. Friend answer this simple question: who decided which important subjects that are affected by the treaty should be left out of the discussion?
The Government have framed the themed debates in the broadest possible terms. In respect of transport, as I have already said to my hon. Friend, there will an opportunity, with the indulgence of the Speaker and Deputy Speakers, to discuss those matters in the debate on the single market, climate change and energy. She will also know that there is an opportunity on days 9, 10 and 11 to discuss wider specific amendments to the Bill.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that the provisional timetable for the European Union (Amendment) Bill has been circulated by the Chief Whip—I assume that that has also happened on the Opposition Benches—and it is clear that the debate on
I am not sure that I can give an entirely definitive reply to the hon. Lady. It will depend very much on how the debate goes. She acknowledged that this is a particular procedure that has been devised, and the Chair will obviously be bound by it.
In drafting the motion, we also looked with great care at the provisions for previous Committees. There are lessons to be learned, to which I have already alluded, from previous EU debates on the timing and structure of parliamentary scrutiny. Committee proceedings lasted four days on the Single European Act, five days on the treaty of Amsterdam and just three days on the treaty of Nice. Of course, with great hesitation I refer to the organisational debacle that was the Maastricht treaty process, which lasted for 23 separate days. An analysis of previous debates also shows that the majority of hon. Members throughout the House consider the Committee debates, with the Chamber being the property of a few lonely souls, as something to be avoided.
I turn now to the length of time in the motion and the effect of it.
The hon. Gentleman must know that the propensity of hon. Members to attend the Chamber for a Committee of the whole House will depend upon their intensity of feeling on the subject.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With great respect, Sir, that will depend also on what we are allowed to debate. In response to the point of order raised by Mrs. Dunwoody, you gave an extremely honest answer, but you said you could not guarantee that transport could be debated when energy is the subject of the debate. This afternoon, two prominent Labour Members have asked for debates on transport; it is a crucial issue that affects us all. If you cannot guarantee that a subject can be debated, Sir, can you not tell the Government to go away and think again?
The occupant of the Chair might often be tempted in that direction by hon. Members, but the hon. Gentleman will know that that is not possible. The matters that can be debated by the House in Committee will depend on the amendments that are put down. If they are in order, it will be possible for them to be debated. I do not think that I can go further than that at this stage.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Are you not the custodian and guardian of the Back-Bench interest in this House? I personally believe that you are. I strongly oppose the procedure that the Government are seeking to force upon us, and the time that they are allowing for debate in Committee is so limited that it will not enable those who are deeply interested to come back for a second time, which is what would typically be the case in a Bill Committee, either on the floor of this House or otherwise.
That is not strictly a point of order for the Chair because the motion before the House sets down a procedure, and an amendment to that procedure has been tabled. Those are the confines of the debate, and it is clear already that there is more than one point of view in this House about the way in which this matter should be decided. That is the matter for substantive debate at present, and it is not a matter of order for the Chair.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could you help the House? If we agree to this motion, it will govern the Committee proceedings. Can you tell us what restrictions there will be on debating matters on Report that will have been covered, in part or more extensively, through amendments in Committee on the Floor of the House?
My earlier point about lonely souls, which instigated the first in the latest points of order, was simply a reflection that any objective reading of the history of the Maastricht treaty would show that Members from both sides of the House were coming into the Chamber with flasks and sandwiches to sustain them through an evening's debate.
I think that for any such thing to happen, it would have to be discussed first and a recommendation would have to be made by the Modernisation Committee.
Order. Unless the right hon. and learned Gentleman is raising a point of order, we are back to the substance of the debate. I call Mr. Murphy who may, in turn, cede to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
The Minister has so far not made an argument in favour of his new procedure. He has merely asserted what it is. He has gone on to say that it is what it is because of what he has been told were the deficiencies in previous Committees. I was involved in all four of the treaties that he described, and I do not recognise what he is saying. The Single European Act and the Amsterdam and Nice treaties were comparatively non-controversial and were therefore taken in quite a short time.
Maastricht is the best comparison with this treaty. I took part in the Maastricht debates as a Minister, and the Minister's description of the problem is a complete transformation of history. The problem for the Government was that the House, as a whole, would not allow us to waive the 10 o'clock rule. We could bring debates to an end only when we could get a closure, which was rarely. Only when everyone had spoken themselves into exhaustion could we get a timetable at all. That was inconvenient for the Government, which I suspect is what has weighed most heavily on the Minister's mind. It meant that the subject matter was chosen by the Members of the House, who argued about it for as long as they decided. We moved on from subject to subject as the House allowed us. The votes were all the difficult ones on amendments—
I look forward to having the opportunity to listen to the right hon. and learned Gentleman make the rest of that speech a little later in our proceedings.
Let me return to the points that I was making about detailed scrutiny. The proposal in the motion before us will allow 36 hours of detailed amendments and scrutiny. That compares with 18 hours on the Nice treaty, 12 hours on Amsterdam and 15 to 18 hours on the Single European Act. It compares favourably with previous motions.
I shall make some progress on the subject of the length of time available and the effect of the motion, and shall then come back to hon. Members.
As I said earlier, the number of days that we have set aside for the scrutiny of the treaty and the Bill are the same as the total number of days spent on the Single European Act and the Nice and Amsterdam treaties. The substance of the motion is in the table that has been provided to the House. Paragraphs (1) to (6) of the motion include definitions and apply or disapply various Standing Orders.
I shall now turn briefly to the subject of the table and make some technical remarks.
The purpose of setting aside proceedings under
Paragraph (2) states that the proceedings on an allotted day will be taken in accordance with the table. Paragraph (3) applies existing procedures for programme motions and paragraph (4) protects the proceedings in respect of
The Minister makes a mistake in saying that suspending
That is not the case. The moment of interruption can be extended—that deals with the hon. Gentleman's reasonable concerns and I hope that it reassures him. A supplementary business motion amending the table can be taken under paragraph (6). It can be taken forthwith, if it does not reduce the overall time available to the House, and it can be tabled as late as the night before the relevant allotted day.
We all acknowledge that the process for scrutinising the Bill is new, although Front Benchers accept it in principle. We wish to signal that we will be flexible and try to get the balance exactly right between a session of four and a half hours and one of one and a half hours, and two sessions of three hours. As we balance the interest in the themed debates with the weight and relevance of the various amendments, the division could occasionally be between three hours and three hours. At this stage, our early assessment is that the four and a half and one and a half hour split is the correct way to proceed.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his generosity in giving way. I am sure he knows that, under the new procedure for Public Bill Committees, formerly Standing Committees, a generic debate can happen at the beginning of the sitting. I have had the pleasure of serving on two Public Bill Committees—that on the Sale of Student Loans Bill and that on the National Insurance Contributions Bill—which took advantage of that, whereas the Committee that considered the Finance Bill last year did not. Evidence can be taken and members of the Committee can hold a generic discussion. In my estimation, following that route shortened the time that was taken overall in the Committees on which I had the pleasure of serving. I salute the Government for trying to replicate it in the Committee of the whole House. However, I urge my hon. Friend to keep the split under review because there may be too much in the in the first half and not enough in the second. The general approach of a generic discussion is eminently sensible and may shorten proceedings on the Floor of the House.
I share my hon. Friend's assessment. He underlines the importance of my point, which is that we intend to be as flexible as is feasible to ensure that debate is balanced between the Bill, the treaty, the themes and specific amendments and that the temperature and wishes of the House are respected.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again—I know that he is a reasonable chap. The purpose of
What we are seeking to do is protect the time available to the House to scrutinise the treaty and the Bill. I know that the hon. Gentleman raises his point out of genuine concern for the organisation of the business of the House, but it is not an observation shared by all his colleagues.
Usually, the following day is when the provision comes into effect, but the point remains: if there were a nuclear incident that threatened the principal cities of this country, that would clearly meet all the criteria for an emergency debate. In fact, the Government might insist that that debate be held here on that day, if it is not initiated by a member of the Opposition. That is the point of an emergency debate. Delaying an emergency debate until the first business on the following day shows that it has precedence over the business that the Government are so insistent on protecting, because
What we have said in the motion is that we will approach the issue in a flexible way that ensures not only the right balance between amendments and discussion on themes, but that the motion can be revisited on a daily basis. On
May I encourage the Minister not to be too stubborn on this point? The point about an emergency debate is that it is, in the House's and Mr. Speaker's judgment, on an emergency. Although we are all anxious to protect time for European business, it is not necessarily any more important than any of the other business that the House considers. The only question is not how long there should be for European business, but whether it should come after an emergency debate that has been approved. The Minister would reassure the House if he showed a little more flexibility now, rather than at an unknown future date, on a point that does not go to the heart of the Government's strategy.
I have sought on three or four occasions to emphasise how flexible we wish to be on all such issues. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who is a former Foreign Secretary, that we would, with your agreement, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and with Mr. Speaker's indulgence, enable that degree of flexibility whenever and wherever possible, either in the House's interest or the national interest.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could you explain for the benefit of the House whether if the motion deciding how a debate under
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Am I right, Sir, in thinking that
"the Speaker shall announce either...the length of the debate and the time at which it is to be held" and so on? Is that not the wording of
The fact of the matter is that the situation will be governed by the motion before the House, if the House approves it. That alters the situation, and that is the case that the Minister is arguing.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have just given an extremely clear ruling. Does this not amount to the fact that, if the House approves the motion before us today, we shall be putting ourselves into a straitjacket from which there is no release?
It is difficult for the Chair to interpret some of the nuances of the debate here, but the fact is that I have given a clear ruling on the meaning of the motion. As far as I can see, however, there is nothing to prevent another variation motion being put forward if the circumstances demanded it.
Very much so, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In an earlier point of order, I raised the question of the implementation of United Kingdom law. On the basis of what has just emerged from these exchanges, I understand that we are now being restricted to having four and a half hours' debate on policy and only one and a half hours on the implementation of law. I hope you will agree that that is an inappropriate use of the manner in which programme motions are arrived at.
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that that did not follow sequentially from the previous point of order. Nor was it a point of order; he was getting to the very substance of the debate that we are trying to progress.
Further to an earlier point of order, which was a point of order, may I just make sure that I have got this right? Am I right in saying that, if the House passes this motion, it places itself at the mercy of the Government as to whether an amending motion may be proposed? Would that be true not only of this motion but, should the Government deem it reasonable to do so, to changing the periods of time allowed for general debates and for amendments? Should we not therefore say to the Minister that, in order to carry through his desire to be flexible, he would need to give us something more than a general promise to be kind?
The answer to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question—which was a point of order—is yes. In the second part, however, he veered into the substance of the debate, which is not a matter on which I can rule.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On the point about a
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is a very helpful ruling, but surely the decision on timing would be taken away from Mr. Speaker and given to the Government, because only they would be able to introduce a motion to override and contradict the motion before the House today. The discretion over timing that resides solely with the Speaker would therefore be removed. The Minister's desire to be flexible would depend entirely on the wishes of the Government at the time, and not on Mr. Speaker. Is not that a severe erosion of Mr. Speaker's discretion and powers? I suggest that the House adjourn and come back to the matter after further discussions with Mr. Speaker.
The answer to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's point of order is yes. In the latter part of his question, however, he was debating the substance of the motion that is before the House. If the House disagrees with the motion, it can of course decide not to accept it. The right hon. Gentleman and one or two of his colleagues are now talking about what is at issue in the debate. We still have several hours left in which to pursue these matters.
I am not worried about the sandwiches.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, you indicated that this was a matter for the Modernisation Committee. As I happen to be the senior Opposition Member on that Committee, let me put this question. If the Government wish to change Standing Orders or their interpretation, should they not, prior to putting a motion to do so before the House, actually refer it to such a Committee of this House? In fact, the House's integrity and independence, to which Standing Orders make an important contribution, is being affected by the Government business motion. It is an abuse of this House.
My earlier invocation of the Modernisation Committee was essentially related to flasks and sandwiches. What the hon. Gentleman is arguing now is not a matter for the Chair; it is a matter for substantial debate by the House. That debate is specific in its terms so it is now for hon. Members to devote themselves to discussing the merits or demerits of the motion. I am anxious not to find myself in a position where the Minister's contribution to the debate take second place to mine.
I believe that my hon. Friend is being far too flexible, which is half the problem we have at the moment. Let me suggest that he get past page 3 so we can actually start debating what is going to happen— [Interruption.]
I would like to make a little more progress, if hon. Members will allow me. They might like to look again at the detail of the table appended to the business motion, which refers to the latest time for conclusion, meaning that, if it so wishes and if there is a degree of co-operation, the House can conclude any of its deliberations much earlier. That applies to issues raised in the House or elsewhere. The time allocated is the latest time for conclusion, which is the most important point I would like to make about the table attached to the motion.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been listening carefully and thinking about your rulings, which I fully understand. However, I would be grateful for your guidance. If I wished to order the suspension of the business of the House under
I can respond to the hon. Lady's two points. First, as I understand it, the terms of the motion simply alter the timing of any
I think the answer to that is no. I hesitate in front of such a learned assembly to make an absolute definitive statement that such a device has never been used on any occasion. As far as I can best recall, however, I do not believe that a motion in these exact terms has been put before the House previously.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would like to bring you back to the first of the points put by Mrs. Dunwoody. Could any Member stand up and propose a motion to negative this timing arrangement and reinstate the normal timing arrangement or would it have to be the Minister who did so, given that he made the original arrangements? Could we achieve that as individual Members if we could get a majority to support us?
The right hon. Gentleman is not the first Member to seek to draw the Chair into the substance of the debate. I suggest to him that that is the direction in which this process is moving. I can give only certain rulings. I have tried to help the House by making clear what I see as the distinction between the rights of the House under
"Though such orders are usually more all-enveloping than guillotines... and they remain a controversial innovation, their details may often be settled with more agreement than guillotines enjoyed."
Would you rule, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this is indeed not only an innovation but is extremely controversial—more controversial than the arrangement that we had before?
I am going to make some progress.
The table sets out the proceedings on each day. For the first eight days, we will start with substantive motions relating to each of the themes. The Government also thought it important to provide for the substantive motions to be amendable. Following a themed debate, the House will consider amendments relating to that theme. Once it has completed the themed debates, the remaining Committee days will follow the usual procedures for a Committee of the whole House.
The themed debates will cover the key areas of the Lisbon treaty. Rather than being abstract debates, they will be grouped under recognisable headings covering the necessary component parts of the treaty, but also putting them in the context of the Government's objectives and wider European Union enlargement. The themes contained in the table and the motion are justice and home affairs, energy, human rights, the single market, common foreign and security policy, international development, EU institutions and decision making, and climate change.
The Minister mentioned energy. There is only one new article on energy in the treaty, which the Government opposed on the correct ground that there are powers in the existing treaties to liberalise the energy market. Why is this much-compressed timetable to include a whole day of debate on energy, and no debate on provisions relating to the powers of national Parliaments, which go to the root of the relationship between the House of Commons and the European Union? Is this not a further illustration of the fact that the whole timetable motion is more about the Government's policy objectives than about the legal powers of the House and the country, which are what we should be debating?
Not at all. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will seek to remove that EU competence on energy as we go through the process, and I look forward to debating the amendment in question. However, a co-ordinated European approach to energy is of vital national importance to the United Kingdom, not least in the light of the challenge in Russia, energy supply and diversity of routes to market. The policy arises from the Hampton Court agenda on liberalisation of the energy market. It is in our interest in the context of strategic safety and security of routes to market, diversity of supply and renewables.
We make no apology for proposing a full day's debate on energy. I think that Conservative Front Benchers have also proposed a full day's debate, which suggests a strong acceptance of the importance of energy policy across the European Union.
I will make some progress.
The allocation and division of subjects has been carefully considered to ensure sufficient time to debate all the key issues. We have, for example, singled out human rights, for which we have set aside a whole day in a self-standing sitting that will cover provisions on the charter of fundamental rights. There will also be a full sitting to consider the institutional provisions. It is also worth clarifying that, although the bulk of the treaty—the themes I have just mentioned—will fall to be considered under clause 2, other themes will, of course, fall under subsequent clauses.
The charter lies at the core of my concerns about the treaty. Will the Minister undertake to look carefully again at the timetable that has been outlined on the day devoted to human rights, in order to give a proper debate on the charter and particularly chapter IV on solidarity, which the Government appear to want to avoid at all costs?
I have already given an assurance, which I hope reassures my hon. Friend, that we intend to be flexible about the timing and balance of themed debates and discussions of specific amendments. I also hope that I will be able to reassure my hon. Friend about the nature of the charter of fundamental rights and the fact that it applies fully in the UK—that the charter records rather than creates new rights, and that the protocol does not equal an opt-out from it in any sense whatever.
We have made it clear that we do not have an opt-out from the charter of fundamental rights. What we have negotiated is legally binding in protocol and it is within the competence of the European Court of Justice or any domestic court to strike down any UK law. The charter of fundamental rights will apply in every EU nation—all 27 member states—but I look forward to discussing this issue in great detail with my hon. Friends over the next few weeks.
The Minister did not respond to the point of my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory about when we will have time to debate the powers of this House in relation to Europe under the changes in the treaty. The Government's statement on the reform treaty contains no section on energy, but there is a long section on the role of Parliaments in which we are told that national Parliaments will be given a direct say in the EU's law-making procedures for the first time. As matters stand, we are not even given a say in our own law-making procedures. Under this timetable motion, when will there be an opportunity to debate the position of this House?
There is an opportunity to discuss that during the full-day debate on institutions. There will also be an opportunity in open day debates, which are not themed, on clauses 3 to 7 to have detailed discussions of every amendment that meets the approval of the Speaker and is brought before the House.
The Government have listened to requests for time to discuss a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. I am happy to confirm that there will be time to debate, and vote on, that; there will be a hook to do so under consideration of clause 8.
I have already given a detailed response to that. We are seeking to protect the time available to the House by allowing an extension beyond the moment of interruption. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.
My hon. Friend Mr. Jenkin has made an important point. The Government frequently put on statements to delay and thereby compress a debate on a main subject later in the day. Given that the Minister has tried to reassure us throughout his speech that there will be time for the House to debate these important issues, will he give an assurance on behalf of the Government that there will be no attempt to make statements on matters that are not of the greatest importance to the House? Alternatively, will he be willing to extend the debate beyond the 10 o'clock limit?
I am certain that the hon. Gentleman shares the view that, as was alluded to in an earlier exchange, it is important that, where there is an issue of great national and international importance, the opportunity exists for the Government to make a statement on it—indeed, they have a responsibility to do so. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured that time is protected as part of the motion, and that the moment of interruption can indeed be extended. I think that we have struck the correct balance on that point.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have already heard from you, very helpfully and clearly, that this motion prevents Mr. Speaker, in the usual course of business, from allowing an emergency debate under the relevant Standing Orders concerning the correct timing of such a debate. Would that also apply to the timing of a statement, or would it still be completely in the gift of the Government to interrupt vital scrutiny of this Bill with a statement or many statements of their own choosing—whether or not there happens to be an emergency—just because it suits their political agenda to do so?
Order. As I understand it—I do not want to tread on the Minister's ground—the Government's motion envisages that if there are statements or Mr. Speaker grants an urgent question, the time devoted to consideration of this Bill is protected. That is clear, and I think that the Minister has himself just said that.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to build on that, and the House agrees entirely with your interpretation. The problem is, however, that the Minister uses conditional language such as "may be". He has to give a commitment to the House that he is prepared to move the 10 o'clock motion, for example, on the day of business in question. Is there a commitment to do that?
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I notice that on allotted days 1 to 8, there is indeed protected time for debate. However, there is no protected time on allotted day 9, and on day 11—the very important day on which we can debate clause 8 and the referendum—reference is made simply to the moment of interruption; there is no protected time period. Am I right in thinking that if, on the day when we will debate the very important issue of a referendum—the most important, in the eyes of many—there were two Government statements and the normal rules of the House were in place, we could have a very compressed debate?
I have already made it clear on a number of occasions that the Government fully intend, where necessary—because of a statement or matters of that nature—to extend the moment of interruption. The situation is also set out in the table regarding themed days; reference is made to there being four and a half hours after commencement, and one and a half hours after commencement on specific days. It is important to make that point very clearly. This is about protecting a core number of hours each and every day, and I give the House the very clear commitment that the Government intend to protect the opportunity to scrutinise both the Bill and the treaty in great detail. When it is necessary to have a statement—Members on both sides of the House acknowledge that on occasion, such things are important—the timetable is protected.
It cannot have escaped the Minister's notice—I am sure that this is deliberate—that on all the other days, there is indeed a fixed period of protected time for this House, except on the day when we will debate clause 8 and the referendum. The Minister might have noticed that that is probably the single most controversial thing that we will talk about. No amount of protected time is allocated for that day, and we are simply relying on the Minister's good nature to protect the time. The House would be much more comfortable if day 10 and, in particular, day 11 had a protected number of hours of business. I should be grateful if the Minister tabled an amendment to that effect.
We have said that we intend to be flexible; there will be an opportunity to table revisions to this timetable each day. Bob Spink made an important point about the length of Front-Bench speeches—we have now been debating for an hour and 20 minutes—and the issue raised by Mr. Harper is also important. We will pay great attention to it, and we will ensure that time is protected for that clause 8 debate on the referendum.
I wish to bring my comments close to a conclusion, because time is slightly against us and we still have to hear from Simon Hughes.
I am grateful to the Minister. Nobody could criticise him for his performance this afternoon—he has tried to give way whenever possible. He has been on his feet, although he has been up and down, for almost an hour and a half, so how can he tell the House with any degree of conviction that an hour and a half, or even four and a half hours, is long enough to debate important constitutional and controversial issues? He has needed his hour and a half. If we were dealing with an allocated time, no Back-Bench speeches would have been made—there would have been no speeches other than the Minister's—and that illustrates what a tight rein the Government are placing on the House.
As I said—about 45 minutes ago—the issue is whether the right balance on themed days is four and a half hours and one and a half hours or, as the Opposition Front-Bench team suggests, three hours and three hours. I have indicated, on nearly a dozen occasions, the Government's intention to be flexible. Where the temperature and will of the House is behind altering the balance, we would be minded to do so. I envisage that, on occasion, where a limited number of amendments or a substantial number of relevant amendments have been tabled, such a change would take place. The three-hour split might, on occasion, be appropriate.
May I bring the Minister back to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean? The Minister is saying that he intends that the time will be protected for important matters such as debating the referendum, but the Government intended to hold a referendum on this treaty and have backed out of that. I am sure that he will understand that there is a bit of scepticism on the Conservative Benches about these intentions. Please may we have a guarantee that the time will be protected, rather than be given these warm intentions, which this Government have broken time after time?
The Minister mentioned Euroscepticism, and I thought I just had to rise to that. He said that he wanted to draw his remarks to a close so that the House could hear from the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey. May I clarify why it is necessary to do so? I understood that the Liberal party had outsourced its policy making on this issue to the Government and was simply in their pocket on it.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the typical ingenuity with which he digs at the Lib Dems as only he is able. The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey, who divided the House a little earlier, will be able to speak for himself, at great length, a little later. I am conscious of the fact that there are only four and a half hours of this debate left in which to allow him to speak, so I shall make some progress.
I have given way to the hon. Member for Stone and other hon. Members on perhaps a couple of dozen occasions, so I am now going to make some progress.
The Government hope and expect that there will be a chance to debate the policy and issues as comprehensively as possible, drawing in a range of contributions from both sides of the House. There will also be a shorter time allocated afterwards on the technical amendments, which will benefit from the context of the wider discussion during the debate. The Business of the House motion, as I have already said, allows the proportion of time on a given day to be altered. I am happy to give the undertaking that we will consider suggestions put forward today and subsequently about the balance of time allotted, within the parameters set out in the motion.
I am grateful to the Minister and I am sure that he will wish to consider my point when reviewing the arrangements. So far, discussion has concentrated on the length of time available for the referendum clause—which is of course vital—but tucked away in the same column are the new clauses. As the Minister will know, I have tabled two new clauses—one on the Bill of Rights, which goes to the heart of proceedings in this House and the importance to be attached to them, and one on the supremacy of Parliament, which is also extremely important. For those to be put into the same category as the referendum would place an enormous time pressure on the debate. I hope that the Minister will review that situation.
As I have already said, we will listen to all reasonable suggestions on such matters. Days 9, 10 and 11 give the opportunity for such debates, and they are not themed.
When we compare the Government's approach to that of other European countries and their parliamentary ratification process—Ireland alone intends to hold a referendum, because of its domestic constitutional requirements—I would put the UK on the top rung, given the quantity of time allowed and the potential quality of the debate that we intend to have. The motion represents a comprehensive, efficient and structured programme for scrutiny of the Bill. It will provide Members and those outside the House with greater clarity on, predictability of and control over the proceedings. I hope that it will ensure that the crucial process is fully mainstream, with participation on both sides of the House and detailed scrutiny of the major themes of the treaty. I commend the motion to the House.
I beg to move, in line 24, leave out from 'TABLE' to end and add—
|Allotted Day||Proceedings||Latest time for conclusion|
|1||(A) Motion—'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning the following matters: asylum and migration policy.'||3 hours after commencement|
|(B) Committee on the Bill: any selected amendments to Clause 1 and the Question, That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill; any selected amendments to Clause 2 relating to the matters specified in paragraph (A).||3 hours after commencement|
|2||(A) Motion—'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning the following matters: fighting cross-border crime; justice; policing and human trafficking.'||3 hours after commencement|
|(B) Committee on the Bill—any selected amendments to Clause 2 relating to the matters specified in paragraph (A).||3 hours after commencement|
|3||(A) Motion—'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning energy.'||3 hours after commencement|
|(B) Committee on the Bill—any selected amendments to Clause 2 relating to energy.||3 hours after commencement|
|4||(A) Motion—'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning the economy, social security and public services.'||3 hours after commencement|
|(B) Committee on the Bill—any selected amendments to Clause 2 relating to the economy, social security and public services.||3 hours after commencement|
|5||(A) Motion—'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning human rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.'||3 hours after commencement|
|(B) Committee on the Bill—any selected amendments to Clause 2 relating to human rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.||3 hours after commencement|
|6||(A) Motion—'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning the single market.'||3 hours after commencement|
|(B) Committee on the Bill—any selected amendments to Clause 2 relating to the single market.||3 hours after commencement|
|7||(A) Motion—'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning foreign policy.'||3 hours after commencement|
|(B) Committee on the Bill—any selected amendments to Clause 2 relating to foreign policy.||3 hours after commencement|
|8||(A) Motion—'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning security and defence policy.'||3 hours after commencement|
|(B) Committee on the Bill—any selected amendments to Clause 2 relating to security and defence policy.||3 hours after commencement|
|9||(A) Motion—'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning international development.'||3 hours after commencement|
|(B) Committee on the Bill—any selected amendments to Clause 2 relating to international development.||3 hours after commencement|
|10||(A) Motion—'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning the effectiveness of the EU institutions and EU decision-making.'||3 hours after commencement|
|(B) Committee on the Bill—any selected amendments to Clause 2 relating to the matters specified in paragraph (A).||3 hours after commencement|
|11||(A) Motion—'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning the role and legal status of the EU institutions, including legal personality.'||3 hours after commencement|
|(B) Committee on the Bill—any selected amendments to Clause 2 relating to the matters specified in paragraph (A).||3 hours after commencement|
|12||(A) Motion—'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning the distribution of competencies between the EU institutions and Member States.'||3 hours after commencement|
|3 hours after commencement|
|13||(A) Motion—'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning national parliaments.'||3 hours after commencement|
|3 hours after commencement|
|14||(A) Motion—'That this House approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning climate change.'||3 hours after commencement|
|(B) Committee on the Bill—any selected amendments to Clause 2 relating to climate change, remaining amendments to Clause 2 and the Question, That Clause 2 stand part of the Bill.||3 hours after commencement|
|15||Committee on the Bill—Clauses 3 to 7.|
|16||Committee on the Bill—Clauses 3 to 7, so far as not completed on Allotted Day 15.||The moment of interruption.|
|17||Committee on the Bill—Clause 8, the Schedule New Clauses and New Schedules.||The moment of interruption.|
|18||Remaining proceedings on the Bill.||6 hours after commencement.'|
The Foreign Secretary obviously decided that he would be too busy in Brussels to attend the debate today, and the Minister for Europe will now know why. The Foreign Secretary probably anticipated better than others the difficulty that would arise. Indeed, my hon. Friend Sir Patrick Cormack just made a valid point. The Minister has taken an hour and a half to respond to valid and legitimate interventions —and not only from Opposition Members—but the same time is meant to be allotted to the consideration of amendments on vast tracts of the Bill. He said that he would be sensitive to the will of the House and flexible on the time, and he should concede—although he will not—that the will of the House as represented by those hon. Members in their places today is that this motion should be withdrawn and replaced with one that shows greater consideration of the wishes of many hon. Members.
We certainly do not agree with the motion, and we will vote against it. We will, of course, vote for our amendment, not because we agree with any of the procedures involved but because we wish to propose an amendment that ought to be acceptable to the Government and that would address many of Members' concerns about the time available for consideration of amendments. We are no fans of the procedure employed in the motion or of the constraints that it sets on debate. We will vote to lift some of those constraints, and we will vote against the motion. I hope that that makes things clear to the hon. Lady.
In his speech, the Minister achieved a remarkable feat, for which I envy him: in a debate on European matters, he achieved complete unanimity between my hon. Friend Mr. Cash and my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke. I have striven for years to bring that about, and it has taken only one and a half hours of procedural shambles from the Government finally to achieve it. For a Minister who said that he was going to use these debates to create divisions in the Conservative party, it is not exactly an auspicious beginning.
The Minister also performed a number of interesting U-turns in the course of his speech. On the motion to which the Government ought to have given so much thought, and to which they were so attached that they put it on the Order Paper for approval, he now says that they will revisit the time allocated on a daily basis. However, the debates on the treaty start tomorrow. The debate on the charter of fundamental rights, which his hon. Friends rightly asked him about—the motion calls them debates on human rights—are next Tuesday. He said that he would be flexible and perhaps place new motions on the Order Paper about the matter, but he does not have very long to do so, given the timetable that the Government have adopted.
The Minister conceded to my hon. Friend Mr. Harper that on day 11 the time for debate will be protected. Day 11 may of course include the important debate on a referendum, and given the Government's flagrant breach of their election promise on that subject, that is a welcome concession. However, his biggest U-turn of all was on a policy matter. He completed the Government's 180° turn of the past seven months by saying that the Government had neither sought nor claimed to have achieved an opt-out from the charter of fundamental rights. Many of us remember Mr. Tony Blair, in his last week as Prime Minister, standing at the Dispatch Box and saying:
"It is absolutely clear that we have an opt-out from both the charter and judicial and home affairs."—[ Hansard, 25 June 2007; Vol. 462, c. 37.]
Does my right hon. Friend think that the reason why the Minister needs only an hour and a half for amendments on each of the topics is that the Government have only one argument—"We've given the powers away, we'll drive the Bill through with Liberal Democrat votes and we don't care a damn what you think about it all"?
My right hon. Friend is certainly right that the Government want to drive the Bill through, although I suspect that this evening they will not have even the Liberal Democrats' votes, so I shall not be as rude about them as I usually am. No doubt Simon Hughes will make his case in a moment—or for most of the evening, in all probability.
The arguments employed by the Government on the matter of parliamentary scrutiny of the EU constitutional treaty have varied over the years depending on their policy at the time. In early 2004, having given up the argument that the EU constitution was of no real importance and only a tidying-up exercise, Tony Blair argued that it was too important for a referendum and of such vastness and complexity that it could be examined only by parliamentary debate. The idea of the former Prime Minister being deeply attached to parliamentary scrutiny and debate was always a little suspect, and it was soon fully reversed when he announced that the character of the subject's importance had changed and that it did require a national referendum.
Notwithstanding their election commitments, the Government have returned to the second of those three positions, as the Prime Minister said at his press conference on
"this should now go to Parliament for very detailed discussion by Members of Parliament".
"will be debated in great precision in the House of Commons".
It is a surprise to the House of Commons, as the Minister has discovered in the past hour and a half, that that great precision involves suspending
There is every right to expect that on day 11, when we debate the commencement clause, there will be every opportunity to debate a referendum. With my right hon. and hon. Friends, I have tabled a new clause to that effect, so the House will have an opportunity to vote on the issue.
I am reassured by what my right hon. Friend said about what might happen on day 11 when we debate clause 8 and the referendum. Given that so much interest will be shown by Members from all parts of the House in the issue, is it not appropriate that that debate should go on for more than one day? A four-and-a-half-hour debate, and another one lasting one and a half hours, are totally inadequate for what the House considers a fundamental constitutional issue.
I agree that we need to debate that matter as exhaustively as possible. I would like that debate to go on for many days and, indeed, the whole idea to be defeated. As I have pointed out, the amendment that we have tabled is simply an attempt to improve the Government's proposals such that the Government ought to find them acceptable, given the position that they have adopted. My hon. Friend and other hon. Members who have objected to the entire basis of the Government's motion are quite right to do so.
Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify something? If and when the Lisbon treaty is ratified by this Parliament, is it his and his party's policy, should they win a future election, to reopen the treaty, hold a referendum and campaign for a no vote, despite the fact that the treaty will have been ratified, not only by our Parliament but by every other Parliament of every other EU member state?
The right hon. Lady is hugely interested in what the next Conservative Government will do, and that mounting interest is wholly understandable, given the political situation in this country. We have debated that issue separately, and we will do so again. If I went into all of that, I suspect that I would be well out of order.
It is against the background of the Government's stated objective of permitting very detailed discussion and consideration with great precision that the House must assess the procedural motion that they have tabled. At the same time that the Prime Minister made his commitment to very detailed discussion, Government spokesmen attempted to soften up the press by indicating that there would be 20 days of debate on the Floor of the House. That figure was reported in the Sunday newspapers on
It is notable that the Prime Minister, who renounced spin when he took office last June as if it were a disgusting aspect of Blairism with which he would never again contaminate prime ministerial hands, has resorted to it across a wide range of subjects, with many announcements being made outside this House rather than inside it. In the same manner, the Government encouraged the belief to grow that there would be 20 days' debate in the Commons on this treaty and that 20 days was a lot of time. In fact, 20 days is not so long for a measure that by general agreement fundamentally restructures the European Union, creates the important new positions of the European President of the Council of Ministers and the high representative for foreign affairs, removes national vetoes in dozens of different areas and provides for its own subsequent amendment without the passage of a further treaty.
The Maastricht treaty, which, as my hon. Friends who intervened on the Minister pointed out, is the most direct comparator for this particular measure, was subject to 29 days' debate on the Floor of the House. That treaty involved, in the words of the Foreign Secretary,
"a smaller transfer of power"—[ Hansard, 3 July 2007; Vol. 462, c. 803.]
than the treaty now before us. Furthermore, those debates took place when the parliamentary day was a good deal longer—for these purposes, it was normally twice as long as a parliamentary day today.
Not only were there 29 days, but the days were filled with debates on substantive motions and proper amendments. There was an opportunity for hon. Members to put their case and to vote on it, but this allocation of time is totally different.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The time available for hon. Members to advance and then vote on their views was not two or three times greater, as it may appear at first sight, but dramatically greater than what the Government are proposing now. The Government propose only 12 days for Committee and all other stages on the Floor of the House. If we add to that last Monday's Second Reading debate, which was reduced to less than five hours because of the need for two Government statements on chaotic aspects of their administration of the country's affairs, and today's debate on the procedure to be employed and the time to be allocated, we reach a total of 14 days. Even leaving aside the Government's previous spin that there would be 20 days of debate and the statement in the House by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport that there would be 15 days' debate, the scale of what is proposed, the breadth of the matters to be discussed and the controversy that is likely to be generated in many areas all mean that 12 days of six-hour debates do not constitute the detailed discussion and consideration with great precision to which the Prime Minister pledged the Government.
The Opposition amendment has some merit, because it suggests allocating more time on some of the detailed matters. In particular, the Opposition, unlike the Government, propose to debate the charter, which is at the core of the concerns held by me and many other Government Members. However, the right hon. Gentleman is following the Government in allocating time to what are effectively generic Government motions. Would it not have been better if he had entirely broken with that principle and stuck with the tradition of the House on debating Bills, which is to allow the debate to take place on amendments and not on Government motions?
I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. In framing our amendment, however, we tried not only to meet the anxieties expressed on both sides of the House, but to come up with a proposal that was acceptable to the Government and to Government supporters, and our amendment is a genuine attempt to come up with such a proposal. In the course of his remarks, the Minister conceded that it might be better to split the six hours between three hours of generic debate and three hours of amendments, which is the proposal in our amendment. The amendment appears to have been successful in that the Government have accepted the arguments for the changing the balance of debate. Given his views, however, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will, like me, want to vote against the motion in its entirety, if the Opposition amendment is not carried.
My right hon. Friend is making a typically powerful case. He mentioned the amount of time for debates on the Maastricht treaty; it is a matter of personal regret that I was not in the House at that time. We are debating not only the number of days, but the amount of time in Committee. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if there are a couple of votes in each Committee stage, that will further reduce the amount of time for debate? Once the Front Benchers have had their say, there will be little time for any Back Bencher to make a meaningful contribution to the Committee stage of the Bill.
Exactly; my hon. Friend has made a telling point. In those situations, those of us on the Front Benches will have to exercise a good deal of restraint—but we will have to do so within one and a half hours. There are, for instance, 27 amendments on the Order Paper relating to tomorrow's one and a half hours on Home Office matters. That underlines my hon. Friend's point. There will be a shortage of time to discuss any of those amendments at all, let alone all of them.
One of the reasons why we need more time than the Government have allowed is that they are in the habit of not being frank and open in their dealings with Parliament, let alone the country, on this subject. For the first six months of last year, Ministers made the ludicrous assertion that no negotiations were taking place in the European Union—even though, as we now know, sherpas were regularly meeting around European capitals.
In answers to my written questions, the Foreign Secretary has refused to publish assessments and details of the treaty when to do so would conflict with his specious arguments on the matter. Last week, he intrigued the House by saying that it was necessary to vote for the treaty because the commission of bishops was in favour of it—implying that, for the first time since the days of Cardinal Wolsey, the House of Commons should decide whether to ratify an international treaty on the basis of ecclesiastical guidance.
Hon. Members not familiar with the commission can be excused their ignorance. It turns out not to be a British commission of bishops, nor even one that includes the majority of our Churches or even the established Church of this country, as the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Stuart Bell, will no doubt know. It is a commission of EU bishops that meets in Brussels and has received funding from the European Union. The fact that it is in favour of the treaty is no great surprise and the fact that the Foreign Secretary felt bound to bring it up as one of his principal arguments to the House of Commons shows that we need a great deal of time to subject to scrutiny the assertions made from the Government Dispatch Box.
My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that, given how they are going about things, the Government are implementing a kind of divine right of kings, which was at the heart of what the Stuarts were about and why they were brought down?
The Stuarts certainly learned to their cost that it is better to listen to Parliament and the country. I suspect that the Government will learn the same thing, also to their cost. The amendment that I have moved provides not for all the debate that might be desirable and necessary, but at least for an amount of debate consistent with what the country had been led to expect and for fuller consideration of subjects that the Government seem to want to pass over in the greatest hurry.
The Government have already approached these matters in a highly partisan way. Ten days ago, they circulated to Labour Members the days and subjects of the proposed debates on the treaty through to the end of February—all, so far, borne out by what has been given to the House—but gave no such notice to the House in general until last Wednesday. Perhaps the interval until the publication of their proposals was caused by chronic indecision in Downing street, the root of most mishaps for Ministers at the moment. However, it is more likely to have been the result of wanting to give other hon. Members the minimum time to prepare amendments for debates on vital issues—particularly those on criminal justice, policing and human trafficking, all of which are to be discussed tomorrow in a debate announced only last Wednesday.
Under the Government's proposals, a full day has been allocated for climate change and international development, even though the treaty makes very small new provisions on such issues. EU policy development on those two issues is proceeding perfectly adequately under existing treaty powers. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Minister, who has promised flexibility, to devote that time to the issues that involve enormous transfers of power and authority from the House to the EU and to do something to correct the severe imbalance in the debates?
Given the flexibility that he has said he will apply, it would be open to the Minister to rearrange the time as my right hon. Friend has suggested. However, I would prefer the Minister to do what is set out in our amendment. He should give many days of additional debate; of course debates can take place on energy and international development, but further days would mean that other vital subjects could be properly addressed in a bit of the detail that they merit. I hope that the Minister will take that on board.
The paucity of time, in the Government motion, for discussing amendments is another reason why we have framed our alternative schedule as we have. The Government's proposal for four and a half hours of Second Reading-style debate each day on the principles of the treaty's provisions in selected areas—but, notably, not in other areas—leaves only one and a half hours each day for the consideration of amendments in a Committee of the whole House.
Whatever one's views of the treaty or that procedure, the distribution of time—three quarters of it for general debate and only one quarter for detailed amendments, within the confines of an overall schedule much shorter than anything that the House had every right to expect and of topics chosen to minimise debate on aspects of the treaty most uncomfortable for the Government—has the overall effect of making inadequate the time available for consideration of amendments tabled by Members on both sides of the House.
My right hon. Friend is making a typically powerful and persuasive speech. If the Government persist with this niggardly allocation of time, is not the case overwhelming that the Opposition ought to consider withdrawing entirely from the proceedings and showing the public what a farce they are?
I certainly think that if our amendment is defeated, the official Opposition and other hon. Members who wish matters to be properly debated should vote against the Government's entire procedural motion. The Government should have to come back again with a motion that satisfies the needs of Members with many different points of view—Labour Members who want to debate the charter of fundamental rights, Liberal Democrats who take a different view from ours on the merits of the treaty, but want adequate parliamentary debate and Members of my own party who, like me, are opposed to the treaty altogether.
The Government should take all that into account and come back with a different motion. They should be defeated on their motion tonight, but I do not go along with my hon. Friend in advocating withdrawal from the proceedings because I believe that we were elected to the House to carry out our duty to scrutinise legislation as best we can.
My hon. Friend raises another attractive alternative, which the Government should certainly consider. There is deep dissatisfaction in the House with what they have proposed. To illustrate the wider concerns about the debates, let me say a word about the six days of additional debate that we have proposed, to align the debates more closely with the importance of the treaty's provisions and with the original Government commitment to have 20 days of debate.
Does the right hon. Gentleman remember "Spitting Image" and the figure of David Steel in the top pocket of David Owen? Is not that the position of the small boy from Westminster school who is in the top pocket of the Prime Minister? Given that the Liberals are now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Government in this matter, why should the Government bother listening to Parliament?
As usual, the hon. Gentleman makes a powerful analogy. As I have explained, on this particular occasion it is not my policy to join him in persecuting the Liberal Democrats, but I am sure that if this is the only day on which they are turning their vote around, I will soon be joining him in our established alliance on this subject.
Will my right hon. Friend respond more fully to the intervention by my hon. Friend Mr. Shepherd, who recommended that this matter be dealt with in the long-established conventional way of a Committee of the whole House? If the Government are not prepared to accept that proposal, why should not the Opposition make it more difficult for them by withdrawing co-operation? Perhaps that would bring the Government to their senses.
That illustrates how strongly Members in all parts of the House feel about this. I will not come to any immediate judgment about my hon. Friend's proposal, certainly not without consulting my Front-Bench colleagues, but I think that if the Government were defeated on their motion they would have to consider all the options, including the House sitting as a Committee of the whole House in the normal way, and including the Opposition's proposals. They would do well to do so, because many of their own Members are deeply concerned about what they have proposed.
Let me illustrate the importance of additional time in just one or two of the areas where our amendment proposes it. First, we propose two days of debate on justice and home affairs. The Government have allocated one day in their procedure motion, but we believe that two days is the bare minimum for such an important subject. The treaty would introduce wide and profound changes to the EU's powers in terms of justice and home affairs. The measures on justice and home affairs are these: a common EU policy on asylum, immigration and external border control
"based on solidarity between member states" in article 61 of the new treaty on the functioning of the EU; in article 61g, measures by qualified majority voting to ensure administrative co-operation between national police and criminal justice authorities and the Commission; and in article 61h, a move to full co-decision on investigating financial links to terrorism—co-decision, I need hardly remind the House, would mean the Commission having the sole right of initiative over legislation and the European Parliament amending or blocking legislation. In article 62, there is a common policy on visas.
Article 63 sets out the common asylum policy in more detail. It includes for the first time the basis for "uniform standards" rather than minimum standards for asylum—a change that was unsuccessfully opposed by the British Government while the constitution was being negotiated. In article 63a, the new common immigration policy is similarly set out, with new powers for the EU on legislation concerning third country nationals and the abolition of national vetoes—again, unsuccessfully opposed by the Government while the negotiations were going on. Article 63b contains the principle of fair sharing of responsibility over asylum, including its financial implications for member states, with potentially far-reaching consequences. These are all meant to be debated in one day—tomorrow.
Articles 65 and 68 deal with civil justice, giving the EU new powers to pass laws on "effective access to justice",
"development of alternative methods of dispute settlement" and
"support for the training of the judiciary and judicial staff"— powers that the Government, during the drafting process, were concerned would compromise judicial independence but have now agreed to.
All that alone would merit at least a day's debate—one might think much more than that—but it does not stop there. Articles 69a to 69g revolutionise the EU's role in criminal justice and policing. They give the European Court of Justice full jurisdiction over that area and extend the European Commission's right to initiate legislation at member states' expense, as well as widening the EU's remit in this area to include mutual admissibility of evidence, rights of individuals in criminal procedure, and rights of victims of crime—and, of course, national vetoes are abolished. The EU would be able to pass laws establishing minimum definitions of criminal offences and sanctions in eight areas. Needless to say, the Government had objections that were overridden while that was being negotiated.
Let me just finish the description of what is covered in this one day of debate, as the Government propose it.
Article 69d includes one of the profoundest changes of all—the right of Eurojust to initiate investigations, as well as the legislative basis to expand its role and new powers on cross-border investigations. Article 69e provides for the establishment of a European public prosecutor, despite the Government's once adamant opposition to any mention of such a post in the treaties. Article 69f expands the powers of Europol.
"As currently drafted...the revised article would provide wide-ranging competence to approximate criminal procedural law on investigative measures. Any such provision would be completely unacceptable"— not my words but the text of the Government's failed amendments to the constitution text, on which they were defeated and gave in.
Those are just the criminal justice and home affairs issues in the main body of the treaty, notwithstanding the highly questionable protocols that the Government have agreed to. The Minister says that there will be line-by-line scrutiny—he said it again on television only this lunchtime. I looked at the treaty earlier. On my reckoning, there are 13 pages covering the areas that I have described—with 40 lines a page, that is approximately 520 lines. The Government propose 360 minutes for the examination of those lines tomorrow—less than 45 seconds per line. That is the line-by-line scrutiny that the Government propose.
While I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's point about time, which he is making very well, is it not the case that on all the issues that he described Britain has an opt-in and is not forced to agree with the other 26 EU member states? Does he think that the opt-in does not work, or does he support it?
This is exactly why we need to debate these things at considerable length. The hon. Gentleman's point of view may be that we have an opt-in and that that is satisfactory. On the other hand, other hon. Members will wish to point out that the protocol on these matters sets out a transitional period after which the arrangements are changed and after which this country may be faced with financial penalties if it does not decide to opt into many of those arrangements. We may have different views about that, but the point of our discussions today—the hon. Gentleman and I may be united at least in this respect—is that we need plenty of time to discuss such far-reaching measures before they slide through this House.
My right hon. Friend is making an extremely convincing point. Do we not need a very great deal of time to discuss the extent to which the protocol purportedly protects us from the extended jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice—a profound change that extends the jurisdiction of the ECJ to the judicial home affairs arena? Have we not seen, through the work of the European Scrutiny Committee, that the protocol that is supposed to protect us is full of holes?
Even from behind, my right hon. Friend looked disappointed not to be getting an intervention from a Labour Member.
We need time to discuss these matters because the opt-in arrangements to which Mr. Davey referred amount in every case to a super-Henry VIII clause whereby secondary legislation is to be used to amend primary legislation as the Government choose, if they opt into these arrangements. We are therefore handing huge powers to the Executive just by agreeing to the Bill.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The European Scrutiny Committee has referred to those points. Its report of
"a stronger position could have been achieved" for Britain by the Government, but was not; that the deal on the protocol to which my hon. Friends have referred
"may lead to serious consequences for the UK"; and that
"some new and possibly unquantifiable risk may have been introduced".
Its report of October stated that the opt-in safeguard was weak because Britain could not then opt out and that the "emergency brake" was not as effective as a veto. I hope that the Minister is taking note of the interventions. They illustrate that if time for debate on all those matters is limited to six hours, and if debate is confined on so many extensive new powers for the EU in respect of matters that could not more intimately affect our national sovereignty with a direct effect on our citizens' rights, it is risible to claim that that six hours constitutes a "very detailed discussion" of the provisions.
Would my right hon. Friend confirm that the danger of the opt-in system is that if the Government opt in, we cannot debate the matters in question in a future general election, offer to change a particular view or get powers back because it is a one-way ratchet? That is why we need hours of time to consider this grave step that takes away the people's right to change their minds and have a better Government.
Once again, I agree with my right hon. Friend.
I was going to give several more examples, but in the interests of time I shall pass over some of them. I think that the House is getting the point that when one looks at the scale and detail of what is being put forward in the treaty, six hours of debate—four and a half hours of it a generic Second Reading-style debate—is not adequate to discuss many of the subjects.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his generosity. In contradistinction to the flavour he is getting from some of the interventions, I am getting the impression that many hon. Members have not looked at the source materials and are basing what they say on rumours and misinformation that is being peddled. For example, the right hon. Gentleman just agreed with Mr. Redwood about the ratchet mechanism, whereas the treaty enables competences to be transferred back to member states.
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the current Government are on the brink of even asking for large numbers of competences to be returned to nation states, he will be waiting for a very long time.
Let me give another example of what is in this treaty. All the things that I just read out about justice and home affairs are items that are in the actual treaty. Let us look at the provision in the Government's procedural motion to have one day's debate on all aspects of foreign policy and defence. In our amendment, we have set out that those should be separated—there should be a day on foreign policy and a day on defence. The treaty establishes a common defence policy; has weighty provisions on arms procurement; allows for structured co-operation that could have the profoundest implications for the future of European defence; and creates a mutual defence guarantee for all member states. Those are changes to which the Government had numerous objections during the negotiations, but objections on which they gave way. To all appearances, we are entering into a new military alliance, and yet that will not even be granted a full day's debate, or even six hours' debate, on the Floor of the House.
Structurally, the treaty radically changes the structure and legal status of the EU. The intergovernmental third pillar is abolished; the European Community loses its separate identity; the EU gains its own legal personality—a move the last Prime Minister described as "potentially damaging"; and we see the establishment of a single President of Europe, about whom we spoke last week, whose appointment is already causing tremors in Downing Street. I notice that in the meantime it was reported in today's newspapers that one friend of the Prime Minister said:
"Tony is a big candidate for any big job, but we think he has important work to do in the Middle East."
The tremors are travelling further through Downing street as we speak.
All those provisions are in the treaty. It sets out for the first time all of the EU's competences vis-à-vis the member states and does so in a way that changes the balance between them, with subtle but important implications. It is our firm view that the balance of powers between member states and the EU merits at least a day's debate, as proposed in our amendment. On national Parliaments, a point raised earlier, this treaty for the first time may impose an obligation on this House in relation to an external institution—a profound constitutional innovation and one about which the European Scrutiny Committee has raised serious concerns. The Committee has said that it remains
"concerned that the provisions on the role of national parliaments are still cast in terms in which a legal obligation can be inferred, despite the undertakings given by Ministers; and...that, given its constitutional significance, this is not an issue where any ambiguity is acceptable".
Clearly, that issue needs to be debated and, given that the Government think that such ambiguity on the matter is acceptable, the least they can do is explain why during several hours of debate on such a constitutional innovation.
It is also extraordinary that the Government do not wish to discuss the new protocol on national Parliaments and subsidiarity, a point to which Rob Marris just referred. Many of us believe that it is probably unworkable, but I am surprised that Ministers do not want to take the opportunity to extol its potential benefits to the House.
I am skipping over some of the things that my amendment provides for because I think that the House is getting the flavour of what I am trying to do, but it makes clear that the charter of fundamental rights should be debated—an omission from the Government's programme that could not be a clearer admission that there are many things in this treaty that Ministers would rather pass over in silence.
Just so this House does not pass over the matter, is my right hon. Friend aware and concerned that article 3 transfers exclusive competence on the common fisheries policy to the European Union? Is he concerned about that and about the fact that nowhere in the Government programme motion is there an opportunity for that important matter to be debated?
I have always been concerned about the common fisheries policy, which has been a disaster for this country in every environmental and economic sense. There certainly ought be opportunities for us to debate that, along with the other matters that I have mentioned, and if the Government were to withdraw the motion and respond to the views of the House, I am sure that that would allow us to do so.
We are, of course, in favour of debating such topics as energy and international development, but it has to be said, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory pointed out, that the relevant treaty provisions are thin. Let us debate them, but the Government should not pretend that the provisions relating to them require more parliamentary scrutiny than the highly controversial implications of the charter of fundamental rights, the future role of national Parliaments or the distribution of competences between nation states and the European Union.
So why are the Government proposing to give less time to those matters either than was previously advertised or than is genuinely required? Is it because they have a vital, heavy and ambitious legislative programme that will be disrupted by an extra six days of debate on this treaty? Of course not. Is it because they are worried that any more sitting days will increase the workload of Parliament to an intolerable extent? No. Is it because they do not want certain parts of the treaty to have an entire day of debate in their own right because people inside and outside Parliament might notice what is being done in their name? That is nearer the mark.
The more detailed consideration there is, the more clearly the treaty will be exposed as the almost identical copy of the constitution on which the people of Britain were promised a referendum. Every detailed examination of what is in the treaty has failed to support the Government's arguments that it is fundamentally different, as the reports from the European Scrutiny Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee have shown. Further proof of another reason has emerged over the weekend. As we have repeatedly said from this Dispatch Box, this treaty's importance relies not just in the clear-cut extension of the EU's powers or abolition of national vetoes but in the processes it sets in train. The document leaked at the weekend shows that EU leaders plan to make a series of important decisions—on subjects such as the role of the EU President; the structure, operation and field of action of Europol; the new powers of Eurojust; the rules governing the European public prosecutor; the powers of the new operational committee on internal security; the nature of structured co-operation in defence; the role and power of the EU Foreign Minister; the organisation and functioning of the EU diplomatic service; and other subjects, too—only after the ratification of the treaty in those countries that are called difficult countries, such as the United Kingdom.
Ministers, it seems, are engaged in trying to hide from Parliament not only the extent of the measures to which they have agreed, but the extent of the measures to which they have not agreed and to which they intend to sign up once these debates are out of the way. There could not be a more cynical approach to the conduct of Government policy, deeply lacking in openness, transparency or honesty. The Government's concern throughout has not been to listen to the public or Parliament but to do their best to exclude both from any decision making about the European Union.
The motion is of a piece with that attitude. That is why it is unacceptable to those of us who are opposed to the EU treaty and why it should be unacceptable to those who are in favour of or indifferent to the treaty but want to see the functioning of Parliament and the scrutiny of an important treaty carried out in a way that lives up to the traditions of Parliament and the history of democratic debate. No parliamentary consideration of the treaty can be adequate without the referendum to which 40 million voters are entitled.
A longer time for consideration that allowed more thorough discussion of amendments, was focused on the most far-reaching provisions of the treaty and allowed greater time for the Government to explain those many aspects of the treaty that they have not yet explained would be a great improvement on what they have proposed. That is why, if the Government will not take their motion away, I ask the House to support the Opposition amendment when we come to vote on it.
The House will be pleased to hear that I do not intend to speak for the same length of time as the previous two speakers. However, I want to make some important points.
First, as a proud Labour MP, it has never been my wish to interfere with the Government's intention to legislate on particular matters, although we have disagreed from time to time. I have been driven into some unusual situations by that. I have had doubts about such a motion on only one previous occasion, but I am afraid the Minister has not convinced me that this motion makes adequate provision for debates such as those that I and many other Labour colleagues want.
I have already intervened several times, so the House may have gathered what my objections are, but I shall quickly run through them now. The motion provides for eight days during which we will discuss clause 2. In effect, the Bill is a single-clause Bill. The treaty's effects on UK legislation are included in that clause. Most of the amendments will be tabled during those eight days, but the days have been divided in an unusual way. The House will not go into Committee for the first four and a half hours of each day while it is scrutinising the Bill. That is a constitutional novelty. On Friday, I will have been in the House for 12 years and so I suppose that I am a relatively junior Member, but in those 12 years I have never seen the scrutiny of a Bill involving a generic debate, determined by the Executive, for the first three quarters of the day, with the House going into Committee only for the last 25 per cent. of the day—the last hour and a half, in this case.
The first problem with the form that has been adopted is that not only is it a constitutional novelty but it allows the manipulation of the debates by the Executive to their advantage. The themes that have been determined by the Executive are clearly intended to exemplify what they see as the beneficial aspects of the treaty. However, many other aspects of the treaty will not have the same beneficial effects on the UK. The Government have deliberately set about creating a set of debates on themes that are intended to exemplify the beneficial effects of the legislation and the treaty, but that is not how legislation ought to be scrutinised in this place.
The second and equally important problem with this way of proceeding is that we know that generic debates—Adjournment debates and other debates on Government motions—are largely dominated by the speakers from the two Front Benches. We have just seen an example of that. The debate started three and a half hours ago, and I am the first Back-Bencher to speak. The four and a half hour generic debates will be dominated by those on the two Front Benches and it is clear that the voices of Back Benchers will not be heard in the way they would if the House were in Committee, where they could seek to amend the legislation and thereby affect the treaty. It is clear that the miserable one and a half hours each day might be dominated by a series of Divisions, while the four and a half hours will be dominated by the Front-Bench spokespeople and, in particular, by the Executive. That is not the way in which the House should proceed.
It seems that such a process will also distort the character of the debate. It is clear that the division between those who sit on the Front Benches is about the role of the nation state and national Parliaments vis-à-vis a superstate or federal states. That is clearly an important debate for the House, but other voices, on our side at least—and I am one of them—want to raise another critique of the EU.
Let me briefly exemplify the kind of debates that we should have, but which are excluded by the motion. Many of us have accepted that the economic powers that in the past were coterminous with the nation state are now supranational and even global. It is therefore inevitable that if we want to attempt to control the effects of those economic powers, we must have some supranational co-operation. The argument in favour of a Europe of the peoples that attempts in some way to control the power of those global corporations has been won.
We want not a liberal, market-driven Europe but a social Europe. However, the terms of the motion exclude the possibility of our having that debate. The debate will largely be between those who speak from the two Front Benches and it will be about the nation state as opposed to the superstate, whereas we want a debate about a liberal Europe as opposed to a social Europe.
That brings me to the subject of what the Minister has denied is an opt-out. I want to speak about the charter of fundamental rights. When the previous Prime Minister, Tony Blair, went to negotiate the treaty, we were told that the red line would not be crossed—the charter would not be allowed to create judiciable rights in the United Kingdom. When he had finished the negotiations and had been on the phone to the then occupant of No. 11, he came out and said, "We've secured an opt-out from the charter." Those were the words he used, both on the record and in briefings to the press. Now the Minister denies that an opt-out has been secured. That needs to be debated because the charter of fundamental rights is central to the sort of Europe that is being constructed. Will it be a liberal, market-driven Europe, where inequality is intensified and companies are allowed to move across the globe with no accountability to the work force or the nation states? Will it be a Europe where the interests of ordinary people are secured by the charter of fundamental rights? In our debates, there is no opportunity to test whether the Minister was right to deny the opt-out or whether Tony Blair was right to say that there was an opt-out.
Has my hon. Friend seen the rulings of the European Court of Justice on the Laval and Viking cases, the implications of which split labour lawyers throughout Europe? We need to discuss that thoroughly, especially in the context of title IV and our opt-out of the charter of fundamental rights. The consequences could drive a coach and horses through workers' protections throughout Europe, especially in this country.
The Viking and Laval cases, which were determined in the European Court of Justice recently, clearly signal that we should hold a debate on a neo-liberal Europe, where corporations can move across the continent uncontested by trade unionists.
Let us consider title IV of the charter of fundamental rights, from which the Minister claims that there is no opt-out whereas Tony Blair said that there was. That needs to be debated. Page 173 of the treaty refers to the United Kingdom, ostensibly led by a social democratic Government, and Poland, which is hardly a social democratic country. Articles 1 and 2 clearly contain an intention to ensure that the UK and Poland are exempt from most of the justiciable rights in title IV, which is entitled "Solidarity". Paragraph 2 of article 1 states:
"In particular, and for the avoidance of doubt, nothing in Title IV of the Charter creates justiciable rights applicable to Poland or the United Kingdom".
What is this amazing title IV, which the programme motion excludes from debate? I shall not go through it in detail because you would rule me out of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. However, it is important to explain why I do not find the motion in its current form acceptable and why I am frankly tempted by the Opposition amendment. Many colleagues are also tempted as they consider how to vote. Title IV gives workers throughout Europe the right to information and consultation within an undertaking. It gives trade unions the right of collective action and bargaining. It grants a right of access to placement services, a protection in the event of unjustified dismissal and a right to fair and just working conditions. How can the Government have said that the treaty's solidarity clauses cannot be incorporated into UK law?
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech from his own point of view. As with Michael Foot and Enoch Powell in their day, combination in opposition on a matter of principle can be achieved. Does the hon. Gentleman hope that the broadcasting authorities, for example, will pay attention to the views that are being expressed? So far, there has been almost no serious commentary or analysis of important questions, which have to be resolved.
I take the hon. Gentleman's point because the views that I am expressing rarely appear in the media. However, millions of people hold those views.
Let me draw the Minister's attention to the fact that every trade union supported the amendment that I tabled, which Mr. Speaker, perhaps rightly, failed to select. The trade unions are concerned by the UK Government's apparent decision to exempt the UK from title IV of the charter. If the media are not adequately reflecting our views, it is essential that the House at least structures its debates to allow Back Benchers such as me and others to express their desire for a more social and less neo-liberal Europe than the Government currently envisage.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful case against a neo-liberal Europe. He will have heard the Minister deny that we have opted out from title IV solidarity. Is not the confusion that has ensued as the day has progressed an argument for a full day's debate on the charter of fundamental rights as it affects working people?
I listened carefully when my hon. Friend said that he was considering voting for the Conservative amendment. However, although it is better than the substantive motion, might it not be best to go back to square one? All the flaws that he mentions in the context of the charter also apply to other subjects that are being missed out of the debate. Would it not be a cleaner decision to vote against the substantive motion?
My hon. Friend tempts me to another course of action, which I shall consider during the evening. However, I want to stress to my hon. Friend the Minister and anyone else on the Treasury Bench who is listening, that some of us accept the argument for some sort of supranational co-operation on a social democratic basis to try to control the powers that the globalisation of capitalism has unleashed. I am more than half convinced that a European entity of some kind is necessary, but I am equally adamant that what the Government have negotiated unleashes the power of big business, while the opt-out that we appear to have secured diminishes the power of organised labour to resist the actions of specific corporations.
I want to consider the Viking and Laval cases briefly.
Is the concept that the bureaucrats and Peter Mandelsons of this world—[Hon. Members: "Ooh!"] I am sorry to say his name, but there is a perception that such people exist in a sort of nether world. However, have not this week's events shown—Peter Mandelson, who is keen to push through the various trade agreements, said today, "This must happen before Bush loses power"—that there is close working between the bureaucracy and the neo-liberal forces?
I am grateful for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The point that I am trying to make—perhaps inadequately—is that the terms of the motion seem to have been deliberately constructed to engineer a debate on the Government's view and the Opposition's view and the nation v. the supranational entity. I should like amendments to be debated to allow us to hold a proper debate on the opt-out, to which the Minister often referred.
I want briefly to consider the Viking and Laval cases before handing over to somebody else. Those cases clearly determined a hierarchy of rights in the EU, in which the rights of property, free competition and an open market are of a higher order than those of ordinary working people to organise collectively to defend what they perceive as their interests. If the opt-out, as I insist on calling it, continues, that gives a clear signal to the ECJ that the Government entirely accept the argument that there is such a hierarchy and that the rights of trade unionists and others hold a lesser place than the rights of capital to move freely across the European Union.
Therefore, I will be an invidious position when it comes to tonight's vote at 10 o'clock. I want my Government to get their legislation—they have many excellent pieces of legislation about to go through the House—but I am not convinced by the Minister's claim that there will be the flexibility to enable us to secure the kind of debate about a social Europe versus a liberal Europe that I would like. Therefore, I am looking to him or his colleagues to indicate in the next hour or two that there will be a clear opportunity to debate and to vote on the charter, and on title IV in particular. Otherwise, I might well be tempted into the Opposition Lobby tonight.
I am not surprised that the two Members who signed the motion in the name of the Government are not here. The Leader of the House, who is often here working diligently, is noticeably absent and the Foreign Secretary is yet to show his face. They have left the estimable Minister for Europe to deal with how the Government hope to get their proposal—we debated it a week ago today and they got general support for it, including from our Benches—from an agreement in principle to the other end of its progress. However, now that the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman and the first Labour Back Bencher to speak, Jon Trickett, have both made it clear that the proposed route is not acceptable—I will say similar things to them—it will be clear to the Government that they have got themselves into a muddle and that they cannot hope to go down that road.
The Government came up with the idea that it would be good to discuss an important treaty—it is the reason for the European Union (Amendment) Bill, but it is not the Bill itself—by grouping subject areas of the treaty into discussion of different provisions in the Bill. However, anybody who looks at the Bill will see that it is only marginally detailed. It goes to the specific mechanics for implementing the treaty—for example, clause 2 is the important one that says that if we join the treaty to a list of treaties for which we already have legislative power, it has direct effect in the United Kingdom. However, the Bill does not set out the different subject areas. The Government therefore sought to manage the debate.
What has happened shows how completely flawed our systems for dealing with treaties are in this place. I have argued that ever since I arrived here, and my colleagues have sought to persuade Governments of it in the past. We cannot expect colleagues and Governments satisfactorily to shoehorn a debate on a treaty into a debate on a Bill.
The hon. Member for Hemsworth said that he would hand the baton on to somebody else when he finished. I was a bit worried that he was hoping that I would pick it up for the neo-liberal view of the world that he described. I am happy to be a Liberal, but that was not quite my understanding of my position—I am a much more traditional Liberal than that, for which I am sure he will be thankful.
The hon. Gentleman argued that there should be both a debate about the general implication of the treaty and whether it would effectively give institutional power to deal with the private sector—a perfectly proper debate about one of the reasons colleagues such as me have supported the development of the European Union—and a debate about specific proposals, such as the implications for workers' rights and the rest, related either to the parts on which we currently have no obligation, but to which we could opt in, or to the charter of fundamental rights, which is attached to the treaty but not a part of it as far as the UK is concerned. That would be perfectly proper, but we will not get a chance to debate those matters at all. Under the proposal, we are being presented with an attempt to shoehorn debates about some things into limited time, which will be inadequate, as is abundantly clear.
Last week my hon. Friend Mr. Davey made clear our position on the central issue. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches believe that the treaty is a good thing, that it will be good for Britain, that we were right to ratify it and that we should agree to it. That is our position and we do not resile from it. We also had an exchange, which is now familiar, about whether we should have a referendum on the treaty or on the wider issue. The House knows the positions: the Government said that there should be no referendum, the Conservative party wants one just on the treaty and we want one, once the treaty is agreed, on whether the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union. We would campaign in support of our remaining in the EU.
However, those are not the matters for today. Before I even saw the Conservatives' amendment, I was clear that the Government proposal would not work and that we should vote against it—defective though the Conservatives' amendment is, it is a better attempt than what the Government have proposed. At 10 o'clock tonight, my colleagues and I will therefore vote against the proposal in motion No. 2. We are absolutely clear that it is defective. We shall support amendment (f), standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, because it is the best alternative in town, although it, too, is substantially defective.
Hoping that we will defeat the Government tonight and that those such as the hon. Member for Hemsworth will have the courage of their convictions and vote out this procedural proposal, I now make the offer, which I am sure would be accepted by those on the Conservative Front Bench, to the Minister for Europe and the Deputy Leader of the House that we sit down after tonight's proceedings and do what we should have done in the first place: negotiate not a perfect solution—we are in an imperfect context—but a much better solution. Such a solution would not only allow debate about the substance, but allow the legislature to decide the important issues and propose them to the Government.
Of course we can do that thematically, by taking, for example, the charter of fundamental rights one week and justice and home affairs, which are currently on the agenda for tomorrow, another week. However, the decision should be led by the legislature, not the Government. We know what the Government's position is. The Committee stage of parliamentary proceedings is not the time when Governments should make their proposals; it is when parliamentarians from the Government Back Benches and all Opposition parties should test them by amendments and come to a conclusion.
Leaving aside for the moment the question of a referendum—although we would be interested to know what the hon. Gentleman would say on that—would he also agree, speaking from his party's point of view, that it is important that such matters as new clauses, in particular those on saving the Bill of Rights and the supremacy of Parliament, for instance, should be properly debated as well?
Absolutely. I shall come back to that, although I do not want to make a long speech, which might disappoint colleagues—over the weekend, I contemplated using motion No. 1 or motion No. 2 as an opportunity to make a record-breaking speech, which would have been a very long speech indeed. I think that I am second in the parliamentary league table—[Hon. Members: "Only second?"] I was overtaken, sadly. My speech was from the days of trying to resist the abolition of the Greater London council, when I spoke from the then Labour Opposition's Front Bench, much to the chagrin of the Labour party, which had deserted its post. However, I decided not to do that today, because I thought that a collection of arguments from throughout the House making it clear that the proposed procedure was unacceptable would be better.
Although the hon. Gentlemen's suggestion would mitigate the worst part of the Government's proposals, what was wrong with the traditional way of handling such a Bill, on the Floor of the House? Is that not the way forward?
That would certainly be a way forward. Unless there had been agreement that the new system was better than the old system, it would probably have been better to keep the tried-and-tested system. I do not belong to the dinosaur tendency, which says that we never change our procedures. Indeed, I welcomed the Minister's suggestion that we try to be thematic. That seemed a welcome initiative and I do not resist it just because it is a new idea—if we did that, we would never make any changes to the procedure in this place at all. However, it might be better to go back. Indeed, if we defeat the Government's motion tonight, that is certainly where we will be, with the normal procedures. That is a better starting place than the proposal that has turned out to be totally inadequate to the task ahead of us, even though it might have been attempted in good faith.
I want to deal with some of the specific subjects that have already been identified as having been missed from the provisions on the allocation of time. We can have lots of inter-party knockabout on these matters, but, to be fair, all parties agree that there is a common interest in debating certain sections of the treaty for roughly the same length of time. However, the Opposition are making an extra bid for certain other sections to be included, and everyone has spotted the fact that the Government are trying to rush things through far more quickly than is justified. I shall come back to that issue, which I hope deals with the point raised by Mr. Cash.
Certain matters are not provided for in the timetable, and are perhaps not commonly agreed to be valid subjects for debate. They are not the central issues, but they relate to the economy, social services and public services. Adoption rights and aspects of family law, for example, are not unimportant to people, and we ought to have an opportunity to debate them. There certainly ought to be an opportunity to discuss the role and legal status of EU institutions. The Conservatives get themselves wound up about that and misrepresent the case. It is not the great monster that they pretend it is, and I shall be happy to take them on in that regard. Many organisations have legal status. The Universal Postal Union, for example, has legal status. The treaty is bringing the situation up to date by proposing that certain new structures should have legal status. So this issue is not a monster, but we should still debate it properly.
There is also a good debate to be had on the distribution of competencies between the EU, as it will be, and the national Parliaments. The treaty actually gives national Parliaments more say, not less, in that regard, although one would not think so if one listened to the Tory party. For the first time, the treaty explicitly provides a right to leave the European Union as opposed to staying in it. I would be happy to debate that, because it shows the merit of the treaty—
It is not a red herring. It is an absolutely central proposal in the treaty— [ Interruption. ] It is not even a matter of fishing policy.
There is also a suggestion that we should have further debates on the role of national Parliaments. I should be happy to add all these topics to the agenda. There is also a strong case for devoting more time to debating the central issues, including foreign policy and defence. The treaty proposes changes in structure, which I welcome. For example, it is a good idea to have one person responsible for foreign policy, rather than a Commissioner and another senior official.
There are many good things in the treaty, and they are big enough issues to warrant debate, as are the issues that are on the agenda for tomorrow, for which the time allowed is inadequate. There should be an opt-out in relation to justice and home affairs, and the Government have negotiated just such an opt-out. My hon. Friend Mr. Clegg, now our party leader, argued strongly for that, as did our previous party leader and our new spokesman on home affairs, my hon. Friend Chris Huhne, who will speak tomorrow. He will also make that argument, which is one that I have advanced all the time. Those matters are rightly not part of our commitment at the moment. There is a proper debate to be had on what could happen to make them part of our commitment, however. Would there need to be proper protection for Parliament, to protect us from the position changing from an opt-in to being part of the obligation?
Asylum, migration, border crime, justice policy, policing and human trafficking all deserve more than a day's debate, whether the days are split into two periods of three hours or in any other way.
Is it not the case that the Liberal Democrats have already committed themselves to voting for absolutely and utterly everything in the treaty anyway, and that they cannot therefore be seriously interested in scrutinising it with a view to seeking changes? Are they not simply engaging in a game? The reality is that if people vote Liberal Democrat, they will get Brussels.
I know the hon. Gentleman's position, and he knows ours. That is not new in this place. We think that the treaty will bring benefits to Britain. We believe that a European Union of 27 members needs different structures from the European Union of six, nine, 15 or 25 members. We need to avoid the nonsense of changing the presidency every six months. We support all those things, but that does not mean that we are against scrutiny. We have argued over and again that we do not give adequate scrutiny—
I am dealing with the hon. Gentleman's usual manner, Madam Deputy Speaker.
We are very happy that the treaty should be scrutinised. I have made the point that the scrutiny should have come first, before we dealt with the Bill. However, we support the Bill because it will allow the United Kingdom to make the treaty part of UK domestic law. Without proper scrutiny, however, some of the proper questions that Mr. Davidson and other colleagues want to ask cannot be asked. Such questions could well throw up issues that, by definition, scrutiny is designed to reveal. We have never given anyone a blank cheque but, at the end of the day, the Government of any country have the executive responsibility to seek to negotiate treaties with other countries. If we had been the Government, the result would have been different. Unfortunately, we were not elected to form a Government last time, but I hope that, before the hon. Gentleman and I have finished our time here, the Liberal Democrats will have formed a Government. He will then be able to hold us to account.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We should scrutinise everything in the treaty in detail. He says that he supports it because, overall, he believes that it is good for Britain. Does he not agree, however, that the final judgment should rest with the people, and that there should be a referendum on the issue?
I believe that the final judgment about whether the United Kingdom should be part of the European Union should rest with the British people in a referendum. On the treaty, however, given the structure of the document now before us, I do not believe that there could be a valid debate or decision by the British people, as it would be limited to the matters in the amending treaty. Because most people in Britain did not take part in the last referendum in 1975, and because this is still a big issue, we would welcome and value an opportunity to have a referendum on the big question of whether the United Kingdom should stay in the European Union, and we hope that Parliament will agree to provide that opportunity once the treaty has been agreed. I hope that Mr. Evans and other colleagues will support that proposal. Out there, the British public are not concerned about the details of how many Commissioners there are. They are interested in the big question, and that is what we ought to be voting on.
The point that the hon. Gentleman has just made may or may not be valid, but why, at the last election, did he and his hon. Friends stand in front of their electors and promise that they would give the people a say on a document that is incredibly similar to this one?
There is a very simple answer to that question. The hon. Gentleman is right. At the last election, all three major parties said that they would give the British people a vote. His party said that it would do so within six months; the other two did not specify a time. At that stage, it was understood that the proposal was that there would be a totally new, all-encompassing, once-and-for-all document—a new constitution for Europe. In all the time that I have been here, I have always said that big constitutional matters should be the subject of a referendum. Subsequently, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, the proposal did not get through the referendums in France and the Netherlands. As a result, it went back to the drawing board. He can look at my copy of the treaty if he wants to—